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The buried giant : a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

The buried giant : a novel (original 2015; edition 2015)

by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Title:The buried giant : a novel
Authors:Kazuo Ishiguro
Info:New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
Collections:Your library

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The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)

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Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)
A master piece. I read the novel on the recommendation of a good friend. At first I was hesitant about the novel, because many critics gave it a mixed review, but by the time I finished, I was totally bewildered by why anyone wouldn't love this book.

The novel is essentially an arthur legend written as a fable. The language is crisp and simple, the book is easily a two day read and hard to put down. It's really beautiful and moving, I found myself at different points tearing up, tense, and at the end feeling great sadness. The plot is simple and is written as an unfolding mystery. The main characters are an elderly couple that leaves their community to look for their son. All of Britain is covered by a mysterious mist that causes people to forget, frequently even events that occurred moments before. The couple is living in a post-Arthurian age where the Saxons and Britons live among each other. During their journey they encounter Sir Gawain, a seemingly Don Quixote character seeking to hunt down the dragon, a Saxon warrior and a young Saxon boy. Over the novel, it's revealed that the mist is caused by the breath of a sleeping dragon, enchanted by Merlin. Apparently there had been brutal war between the Saxons and Britons, where the old man was a diplomat and created a peace treaty between the Saxons and the Britons only for the Britons to violate the treaty and slaughter Saxon women and children indiscriminately. The wizard Merlin cast a spell on the dragon so that the people of the land would constantly forget and peace would settle across the land. Throughout the novel, everyone acts as if the dragon is the great threat to the land, but in the end the real monster is the brutality and hate of man. The dragon is described as a pathetic half dead sleeping animal. But the Saxon warrior who was raised among Britons does not forget, and throughout the novel he hints at the immense hate between the Saxons and Britons. It's revealed that he seeks to kill the dragon so that Saxon invaders can motivate the Saxons living among the Britons into war. The couple seek to kill the dragon, believing that they need to have their memories in order to pass into the afterlife together rather than separately. They previously meet Charon who tells them that the dead are ferried to wander an island by themselves never running into anyone else on the island but couples of great love who have strong memories can be ferried together.

When the dragon is killed, the memories return. The couple discovers that their son was dead. He ran away after the couple fought over the wife's infidelity, only to die of plague. The husband out of pride and anger refused to allow his wife to visit the son's grave. The boatman questions the couple, assures the man that they will spend the afterlife together, but that the boatman can only ferry one person at a time. The husband hugs the wife before returning to the shore, without looking at the boat or trying to convince the boatman. It's left ambiguous if the boatman was lying or telling the truth.

The great theme of the novel to me is the relationship between collective memory and reconciliation. The novel tries to tackle the question, is forgetting the same thing as reconciliation? Is reconciliation even possible? During the forgetfulness imposed by the mist, the Saxons and Britons lived side by side, but the Saxon warrior confidently predicted that with the death of the dragon, the Saxons would rise up and a new cycle of war would start (a frightening allegory for Partition and the Yugoslav Wars). The dragon was about to die of old age, and it seems like the novel argues that forgetting is not the same thing as reconciliation. At best, it's a band-aid covering a problem that inevitably returns. At the same time, the novel bleakly suggests that perhaps if the scar is deep enough, reconciliation is not possible. How do people who are victims of genocide and filled with hate really reconcile with the aggressors? The Saxon warrior speaks of brutal scenes where people under siege, seeing their families slaughtered and knowing of their impending death would watch the invaders get slaughtered out of a sort of reverie for pre-revenge. The Saxon criticizes the Christian belief that a few prayers and acts allows God to forgive brutal and inhumane conduct. In the end, the couple do not seem to be able to travel together to the afterlife despite the many years they shared happily after their feud (perhaps due to the mist). It's ambiguous but it seems clear that's what occurred. In an earlier part of the novel, they encounter a woman who haunts Charon because she claimed that he lied to her, saying that he would take her after he took her husband so they could spend time together. Similarly, we see that Charon is happy telling little white lies (that he will collect the toll from the couple from their wayward horse, knowing that he will not find the horse). The old man seems to realize that despite Charon's assurances he will not see his wife in the afterlife, as he walks back to shore without speaking to Charon or looking back.

After reading the book, I was really depressed but on further reflection, I think the message is deeper than that. Despite the Saxon's hate of the Britons, going so far to tell his protegee that if he dies before he can train him, the protegee must promise to hold a hate for Britons forever, never letting any respect or love infect his hate for Britons, the Saxon finds that after killing the dragon, his heart is soft towards the Britons, partially because of the time he spent with them growing up as children. Even the protegee thinks to himself that surely the Saxon meant to exclude the early couple from the Britons he is supposed to hate. Despite the senseless brutality and slaughter, in the duels between the Saxon and Gaiwan, as well as a common Briton guard, there is civility, an acknowledgement of common humanity, the tragedy of conflicting duties and a respect for the dead. There seems to be hope that despite the Saxon's predictions that living along aside each other for so long, the Saxons and Britons will not resort to wholesale slaughter of each other. But if that forgetfulness was needed for the Saxons and Britons to live together in the first place, it seems like forgetfulness is necessary but insufficient for reconciliation. While the couple hoped to travel together into the afterlife, perhaps the sad truth is that everyone makes the journey alone. Charon is not depicted as a cruel man, he only wants to do his duty and give people the little comfort he can. In the end, the couple did reconcile, but such reconciliation would not save anyone. The story about couples traveling together was simply a comforting tale. Perhaps that's a metaphor for reconciliation, that ultimately it's a story we tell ourselves that makes the cruel reality of life more bearable.

The novel is a beautiful metaphor for collective guilt, memory and the cycle of violence. In areas like Yugoslavia and India pre-partition different cultures who lived along each other could suddenly turn into escalating sectarian violence, stirred by some old memory of a historical wrong. The novel clearly depicts that in the relationship between the Saxons and Britons leaving it ambiguous what actually occurs. We have the advantage of knowing that eventually the Britons and Saxons become one people, the modern British people. In some way the entire story of the conflict between the two are lost in this mystical age. Is that why they were able to become one people? Did the collective memory loss of this age of violence make reconciliation possible? Or most pessimistically, did one people wipe out the other? If forgetting is needed but not enough for reconciliation, what is enough? Is it years spent living together past the wounds of the past? Is even that enough for reconciliation? These are all questions this great novel raises.

A post script- the friend that recommended me the novel suggested that the man sought reconciliation by suggesting to visit their son. In a way the entire novel is an allegory for the journey of reconciliation seen in that light.
( )
  vhl219 | Jun 1, 2019 |
Mmm, sorry. This book just doesn't work for me.

I am a huge fan of Never Let Me Go. It's heart breaking, gorgeous, and so infinitely lovely and painful.

The Buried Giant isn't Never Let Me Go. It isn't even close.

This book had so many great ideas. The dragon, the mists, the characters. But it just doesn't come together. Ishiguro has a habit of starting chapters in the middle of the scene and then backtracking to how the scene started, and it's incredibly confusing. Nothing fits together the way it's supposed to, and the story and characters all fall flat.

But man, Never Let Me Go is a great book. Shame The Buried Giant isn't great too. ( )
  miri12 | May 31, 2019 |
It's a rare treat to stumble across something so beautiful and magical - the sort of book one can relax into like a hot soak at the end of a long day. It broke away from a large number of the genre tropes to provide a piece of literary fantasy. It speaks on war, revenge, hate, love - not romance, but love. It was pure pleasure to read. ( )
  Zoes_Human | May 14, 2019 |
Beautiful, loving, and unbearably sad allegory of aging and memory loss that it is, I almost gave up on this book! Originally frustrated by the details of the Arthurian "envelope" it is delivered in, as soon as I placed the home the loving couple started from as an institution where most people inexplicably lived in the fog of memory loss and their candle had been taken from them (for safety), I fell in love with it. Axel's devotion to Princess and his patient journey with her through attempts to find a cure and to keep her safe are heart-breakingly real in spite of the historic and fantastical setting. When we lose memory, when cognition lets us down, who knows what ogres and pixies might fill the void? The love story is exquisite! ( )
  Theczarina | May 10, 2019 |
“That’s true, good lady, but then we boatmen have seen so many over the years it doesn’t take us long to see beyond deceptions. Besides, when travellers speak of their most cherished memories, it’s impossible for them to disguise the truth. A couple may claim to be bonded by love, but we boatmen may see instead resentment, anger, even hatred. Or a great barrenness. Sometimes a fear of loneliness and nothing more. Abiding love that has endured the years—that we see only rarely. When we do, we’re only too glad to ferry the couple together. Good lady, I’ve already said more than I should.”

Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple, live in post-Roman Britain. They – like everyone – are suffering from some strange memory loss that prevents them from recalling large parts of their lives:

“Now I think of it, Axl, there may be something in what you’re always saying. It’s queer the way the world’s forgetting people and things from only yesterday and the day before that. [...] Like a sickness come over us all.”

Sometimes, though, either Axl or Beatrice do remember things from their past; just like one morning Axl remembers their son who has moved to a village not too far from their home. Not having seen him for many years, they decide to visit him. The entire book is basically about their journey and the people they meet.

This book is definitely not for the casual reader – you always have to read closely and attentively or you will miss a lot of small details that are not always of great relevance but which help form the “big picture”, e. g. we learn early on that Beatrice and Axel aren’t allowed to own and use a candle at their home. When they’re talking about a cloak much later on, we learn said cloak was one they “later we lost in that fire”.

Furthermore, the entire book can be read in a number of ways – as a somewhat simple story of the arduous journey of our elderly couple, or maybe that journey itself isn’t one of physical hardship but an allegory for their life together and the challenges they encountered.

Even individual encounters and deeds during the journey can often be interpreted in many ways. The more abstract interpretation is all the more plausible as the writing style is very formal, sometimes excessively so:

“Master Ivor told us of it, and we thought it poor news to succeed your brave intervention.”

Nobody – at least today – talks like that. While this is, undoubtedly, yet another means to achieve a feeling of estrangement, it is too much for me.

In addition to this strange formality, the narrator often doesn’t directly describe the landscape but how it could or would have been at the time narrated:

“There would have been elms and willows near the water, as well as dense woodland, which in those days would have stirred a sense of foreboding.”

This adds again to the feeling of estrangement from the literal story itself and makes it harder for me to actually enjoy the story. It distances the reader from the story and while that might be the right way if you only care about your art and not your reader, I didn’t like that.

I always felt like I was being led by the nose somewhere and tried to anticipate it. I felt like being manipulated to be “educated” and I didn’t enjoy it.

The weird forgetfulness everyone is afflicted by makes for very strange dialogue like this one:

“What’s this you’re saying, princess? Was I ever the one to stop us journeying to our son’s village?” “But surely you were, Axl. Surely you were.” “When did I speak against such a journey, princess?” “I always thought you did, husband. But oh, Axl, I don’t remember clearly now you question it. And why do we stand out here, fine day though it is?”

Uh, yes, and why are you tormenting us with repeating dialogues like that all the time?! It’s really truly annoying to have to keep reading stuff like that.

On the other hand, it’s the most important narrative feature of this book so I do understand the general need to make sure we fully understand it and its implications. Even more so since both Beatrice and Axl do remember additional fragments of memories whenever they talk in length about any given topic. Quite a bit of information is given in that indirect way.

Especially information that has been hidden before – because every character in this entire book is hiding things – some major, some minor – from everyone else. Sometimes with good reason, sometimes we simply don’t know and have to find our own answer.

Everything in this book is taxing like that, even down to the names of our heroes:

Beatrice literally means “she who makes happy" - and she is Axl’s one and only. The only person for whom he really cares and she makes him happy.

Axl means “father of peace” (or “father is peace”) and even that is quite fitting as we will learn late in the book.

“The abbot will insist we carry on as always. Others of our view will say it’s time to stop. That no forgiveness awaits us at the end of this path. That we must uncover what’s been hidden and face the past. But those voices, I fear, remain few and will not carry the day.”

While I was reading “Giant”, I constantly felt like the author was wagging his finger at me and lecturing me. Literature, to me, though, is not about lecturing. I want “my” books to entertain me, to make me think and question things but not by moralising, lecturing, finger-wagging but unobtrusively.

Maybe that’s too near to “edutainment” (which I have no qualm with) for some but that’s just the way I feel. I don’t like reading the old classics (Schiller, Goethe, etc.) either anymore – they're just too far from my life and times.

“Giant” does read like such a classic or, possibly, a play:

“Should I fall before I pass to you my skills, promise me you’ll tend well this hatred in your heart. And should it ever flicker or threaten to die, shield it with care till the flame takes hold again. Will you promise me this, Master Edwin?”

At least a few amusing passages found their way into this book (possibly by accident!):

“Let’s come away, child,” Axl said. “This is no sight for you or your brothers. But what is it made this poor ogre so sick? Can it be your goat was diseased?” “Not diseased, sir, poisoned! We’d been feeding it more than a full week just the way Bronwen taught us. Six times each day with the leaves.”

Ultimately, though, “The Buried Giant” is lost on me due to its excessively allegorical nature and narrative complexity – if a book is so taxing, I can hardly enjoy reading it anymore, it’s simply too much for me. Maybe it’s Ishiguro handing us all the essential information to make up our own mind and come to our own conclusions and it’s just me.

I didn’t give up on this book but I’m giving up on its author for good. ( )
  philantrop | May 3, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)
Fantasy and historical fiction and myth here run together with the Matter of Britain, in a novel that’s easy to admire, to respect and to enjoy, but difficult to love. Still, “The Buried Giant” does what important books do: It remains in the mind long after it has been read, refusing to leave, forcing one to turn it over and over. On a second reading, and on a third, its characters and events and motives are easier to understand, but even so, it guards its secrets and its world close.
There are authors who write in tidy, classifiable, immediately recognizable genres — Jane Austen, Alexandre Dumas, William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez, to name a few — and then there are those who adamantly do not. These others can surprise us with story lines and settings that are guises to be worn and shucked after the telling. Masters of reinvention, they slip from era to era, land to land, changing idioms, adapting styles, heedless of labels. They are creatures of a nonsectarian world, comfortable in many skins, channelers of languages. What interests them above all in their invented universes is the abiding human heart.

Kazuo Ishiguro is such a writer.
added by lorax | editWashington Post, Marie Arana (Feb 24, 2015)

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ishiguro, Kazuoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gower, NeilEndpaper art; (cover?) typographysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mendelsund, PeterCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weinstein, IrisDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated.
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Book description
'There's a journey we must go on, and no more delay...' This is the extraordinary new novel from the author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize winning The Remains of the Day. The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards - some strange and other - worldly - but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another. Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war. [www.bookdepositiry.com]
In post-Arthurian Britain, the wars that once ravaged between the Saxons and the Britons have finally ceased. Axl and Beatrice, an elderly British couple, set off to visit their son, whom they haven't seen in years. And because a strange mist has caused mass amnesia throughout the land, they can scarcely remember anything about him.
As they are joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and an illustrious knight, Axl and Beatrice slowly begin to remember the dark and troubled past they all share. By turns savage, suspenseful, and intensely moving, The Buried Giant is a luminous meditation on the act of forgetting and the power of memory, an extraordinary tale of love, vengeance, and war.
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Axl and Beatrice
go on a quest and find the
truth about themselves.

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"An extraordinary new novel from the author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize winning The Remains of the Day. "You've long set your heart against it, Axl, I know. But it's time now to think on it anew. There's a journey we must go on, and no more delay. . ." The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years. Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war"--… (more)

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