The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I had picked up at a book signing event in March at the Sixth and I Synagogue. Before this, I had only read Mr. Ishiguro's first novel, The Remains of the Day, which was a big hit and turned into an equally fantastic movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. (See the movie; read the book!) He's written six other book, including another popular one called Never Let Me Go, which was also turned into a movie starring Keira Knightly. (I didn't read that one because the movie was disturbing enough for me.) I went to that movie not knowing about the book from which it came and left the theater amazed that the same guy who wrote The Remains of the Day wrote this completely different kind of story.
The Buried Giant is Mr. Ishiguro's first novel in 10 years and, again, I'm surprised by his range and imagination. The story takes place after the reign of King Arthur. The Saxons and the Britons are enemies, though not actively at war. Elderly couple Axl and Beatrice have muddled memories, but seem to recall having a son and decide to embark on a journey to his village, where they are pretty sure he is waiting for them. Along the way, they befriend a Saxon warrior named Wistan, an old knight of King Arthur's Court named Gawain, and a Saxon boy named Edwin, who is on the run after the people in his village turn against him, believing that he suffered an ogre bite and is therefore doomed to be possessed.
Snippets of the past are revealed as characters think they remember certain things. A mysterious mist – a spell drawn by Merlin to end the ravages of war – is causing the memory loss inflicted among them, and Wistan is charged with the task of slaying the dragon whose breath is the source. Along the way, Wistan becomes a father figure to Edwin, grooming him to become a warrior like himself. Meanwhile, Gawain finds Axl vaguely familiar, remembering him as a fellow fighter during the fog of war. These days, however, Axl and his wife Beatrice are determined to help Wistan on his mission because they think that restoring their memories will only strengthen their bond. Yet, both sense unclear bad memories and worry that recalling them in full when the mist subsides will be too much to bear.
During the book signing's interview, Mr. Ishiguro shared his curiosity about memory, which motivated the idea behind this book: "How can I move from writing about individual memory to memory of a society, or shared memories, as in a marriage? That's what I've been sort of wondering about for a long time." While waiting in line to get my book signed, I overheard someone who had already read it: "It's very good," she said. "It's very strange but very good." I agree! Some days, though, I couldn't get into reading this book because the setting and language felt too foreign. On other days, I was fully engaged for hours, curious about what would happen next.
The Buried Giant offers an exciting journey, but the best thing about it is the writing. As he did with The Remains of the Day (and I'm sure his other books), Mr. Ishiguro paints a convincing portrait of a time and place in which readers settle. He writes poetically, setting a measured pace and revealing plot twists and turns in unexpected ways. He focuses so much on relationships and emotions that the setting becomes timeless. With all of his book, he confirmed, "I'm trying to share emotions. I think there's something very valuable in people sharing emotions in music, books, and movies." What became most interesting to me while reading this story was seeing how the characters think, react to situations, and interact with each other. The setting of this book may be ancient and fantastical, but the characters are very real and universally familiar. I love how the mysteries of the past are revealed in this book to offer a full picture of who everyone is. While its ending is open to interpretation, The Buried Giant is a beautifully written, satisfying thinker. Read it and let's discuss!
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