Book Review: Forsaken, An AIDS Memoir By Alexandre Bergamini & Translated By Renuka George

If this book has to be a homage to anything, it should be to the strength that the writer displays as he chronicles his life before and after being diagnosed seropositive.

From the first reading of the text, a reader of Alexandre Bergamini’s Forsaken might be struck by the absolute beauty of the prose, where Bergamini’s words and Renuka George’s translation fuse together to create a text that is at once extraordinarily evocative and personal. Forsaken is a memoir, but reads like a personal diary that Bergamini has split into three phases of his life.

If this book has to be a homage to anything, it should be to the strength that the writer displays as he chronicles his life before and after being diagnosed seropositive. For him, the disease is no more debilitating than the isolation he feels after being forsaken by his friends who find it difficult to cope with him. Bergamini carries this isolation throughout his book. Perhaps, he would like for us to realize that for a seropositive gay individual like him, loneliness is just a matter of getting used to. We see through his narrative that he forges a few connections, but nothing ever stays. The writer mourns and the reader sympathizes.

Bergamini lays it bare: his desire to love, be loved, and to be complete. His memoir, then, no longer revolves just around his struggle with a disease, but also with his longing for companionship and acceptance. His journeys take him through a string of men — some kleptomaniacs and some just not right – and every time, he decides to move on and love again.

Bergamini also elucidates the loss of his body with jarring simplicity, painting a picture of losing control, losing authority over it to a disease. The body now belongs to various medical experts, to doctors, to nurses, to pity, to exclusion and to a disease that has no cure:

“The taller the hat, the greater the threat. I am not sure that I want to live, disabled, impotent. Introducing substances you know a little about, into the body you do not know much more about, does not appeal to me, does not attract me. I live if I so desire. My desire expires. Soap bubbles reflect a fading world.

The anonymous doctor revealed nothing about the unexpected. He confirmed it, nonchalantly, assembly line style. Stuck.”

Bergamini also discusses sexual tourism at length – a subject that continues to be credited as one of the major reasons for the spread of AIDS across continents. Sexual tourism made it easier for the virus to spread to third world countries which weren’t equipped to handle the virus. This allowed the first world to sit back and blame anyone other than their own administration. For years, AIDS has been linked to less medically advanced nations, poor sexual health and poverty, but Bergamini reveals how first world nations such as France dealt with the problem by first ignoring it, then targeting their homosexual population and then, by knowingly transfusing infected blood into accident patients. At one point, France even ‘donated’ their infected blood bank to other countries.

“Post-mortem care cannot be given to a seropositive person. Most of the time, the doctor decides that AIDS/HIV is a contagious disease: the body must be placed immediately in the coffin in order to ‘avoid any contact’. No later than twenty-four hours after the death, in the place the person has died. The body is placed inside a hermetically sealed metal coffin, set inside a wooden coffin. The law hasn’t evolved since 1986.”

Peppered along with the various diary-esque narratives are these notes that detail the effects of AIDS on the LGBTQ community, and especially gay men. The fact that the disease validates the persecution of homosexual men makes it more harrowing. If they didn’t have a reason to separate and attack the gay men earlier, they have it now, and the government or medical fraternity are not much help either. The author efficiently provides medical reports and articles that detail activities taking place in France and elsewhere during this period.

In this way, Bergamini documents the personal with public. In this way, he can treats the society as the Other and retains himself, his inner world. He writes about the turmoil in his body and mind as the world just begins to realize the effects of this virus. He arrives at peace only when the medical field determines that the drugs make it possible for him to no longer be contagious sexually.

This is when the text comes to a close, and the author finally settles into a ‘happy ending’.

About the author

Tanya S

An English Lit student, Tanya S is constantly oscillating between what to eat and what to read. On most days she can be found watering the money plant on her bookshelf.