The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Two years ago, I reviewed The Buried Giant for CBR7, so I won’t hash out the summary and details for you, but will instead link to that review for a summary. What I’d like to do instead, since I’ve reviewed this book before, is to sink my teeth into the themes that made the book seem doubly relevant to me.
The book is about a couple’s quest to visit their son’s village that gets wrapped up in a knight’s quest and a young boy’s prescience, along with the aging Galahad’s seeming lack of purpose, but it turns into a commentary on the different kinds of pain that come from memory: both from forgetting and remembering. This prompted a discussion at our book club (since it was The Chancellor’s pick): is it indeed better to just forget, since remembering brings up old wounds and suffering?
I can see the reasons why forgetting might be “better,” but in the age of Trump, I have to firmly disagree. I was born in 1984, so I remember vaguely a few Cold War anxieties and the kinds of stories still emerging from World War II. I grew up in the 1990s being firmly taught never to use pejorative epithets towards any minorities for any reason.
I have heard the n-word more times from adults than I care to recall. I have heard horrible things said about Barack and Michelle Obama. I have witnessed on the news the gleeful use of the swastika and other Hitlerian rhetoric. And I weep. How can we forget? And somehow, we have forgot the incredible suffering that we have wrought upon each other. And now, we’re in the process of doing it all over again.
That’s what I got from this reading of The Buried Giant. Our forgetfulness is poison, even if it eliminates pain. We hurt each other and we remember how much it hurts instead of how to prevent the hurt from happening again. To me, Ishiguro was prescient in his writing, even though he wrote this before Brexit and before Trump. This is a novel that would work well in a “state of Europe” sort of thematic group or class, and it would pair well with Zadie Smith’s Swing Time.