Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant” and the memory question

Posted: March 29, 2015 in Book Reviews
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Imagine what would happen if World War I had ended, a great peace had been brokered, and then because of a mass loss of memory no one remembered why they had fought or what anger and hatred remained.

Imagine what would happen if, after the American Civil War, no one remembered their lives in the antebellum South or their fight against slavery in the north. What if a great peace were negotiated, the north and south became friends, and then all memories of hatred were lost in a strange fog that occluded all memory?

What if a husband and wife were deeply in love, even after growing to an old age, despite some very difficult events in their past. What if they could not remember that past because of the same mysterious memory loss I just twice mentioned.

Would the loss of these memories be good because they fostered peace?

Would they be bad because the past was forgotten?

And… What would happen when these memories were restored? Should they be? Who would want them to be? Who would not? 

These are the questions that we are forced to ponder when an elderly Briton couple named Axl and Beatrice leave the comfort of their Villiage on a quest to find their son. En route to his Villiage they take custody of a Saxon child and befriend a Saxon warrior on a mission from his king. Thus begins the tale recounted in the long awaited novel The Buried Giant, the 7th by Kazuo Ishiguro.

The Buried Giant was published in March 2015 after Mr. Ishiguro’s long absence from the world of fiction. It is too early in the year to know what is to come. But, it would not surprise me if this book stands as one of 2015’s best.

I’ve yet to find a method to summarize the plot that avoids spoilers. So, I won’t say more about the travels of Axl and Beatrice. What I will say is that, details aside, this book is chock full of metaphor and stands as an extraordinary study of the power and peril of memory. 

I’m a vocal proponent of never forgetting the horrors of the past. I’m a believer in the notion that history is destined to repeat itself. This book did not change my mind and I don’t think that such is its intention. But, one of the powers of the book is that it made me consider the alternative. And… I love stories that make me think!

Kazuo Ishiguro is a master writer. He has well honed his craft. He is a storyteller of great accomplishment who has crafted a beautiful lesson in memory, couched in the guise of an equally beautiful quest.

Any more and I’ll spoil the story. But I will say that it’s a great tale of quest, a finely crafted work of fiction, and a masterful application of allegorical storytelling. 

Enough said, now go and read. Feel free to share you thoughts here because I want to hear them. Is it worth risking the need to confront the past by opening the door to memory? Or is the bliss of forgetfulness a hidden blessing?

You tell me.


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