Reading The Buried Giant

Actually, for the second time. It’s worth it.

#TheBuriedGiant is Kazuo Ishiguro’s new book. It takes place in a mythical time after the death of King Arthur. Its principal protagonists are an elderly couple of Britain, a Saxon warrior (raised among Britons) named Wistan, an elderly knight (Sir Gawain) of King Arthur’s Round Table, a young Saxon boy (Edwin) who becomes a warrior-in-training, and several boatmen, who ferry persons to their final resting place, an island that is in view of the land. Most of the story is told by an omniscient third-person (who I believe is the boatman we meet in first-person at the end of the story). Sir Gawain breaks into first-person narration twice in the story.

It is a quest story–or quests. The elderly couple are on a quest to find the grown son they no longer recall, and the warrior and Sir Gawain are on separate–and opposing–quests to the she-dragon Querig. Edwin is driven to locate his disappeared mother. All of them–Britons and Saxons–are on a quest to either remember or forget the terrible events, many years past now, of violent and traitorous conflict between the Britons and the Saxons.

The book is narrated in a gentle voice, and the characters, when not involved in combat (individual or collective) are gentle and courteous with each other. The elderly man of the couple, Axl, refers to his wife only as “princess” when speaking to her directly. It is a strange language for us world-weary people of the 21st century, who have grown callous in our relationships with friends, and, too often, narcissistic, xenophobic, and harsh in when we meet strangers on the way. I was blessed to hear #KazuoIshiguro read from this book at #92Y, and the gentle tone of voice he used as he read has remained with me as I read for myself.

This story is about the price of peace (individual and collective), about forgiving and forgetting or remembering and forgiving as two distinct paths forward after conflict (individual or collective). The former, the story seems to say, is a quick fix, but carries no guarantees; the latter is hard, painful, and uncertain, but, once humbly and sincerely embarked upon, more lasting.

That is the way of the elderly couple, in the end. Actually, we don’t know quite how the story ends, but that’s not the detail that matters.

I loved this book for its willingness to struggle with these questions. It’s also a good story..

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