Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Garden of Wisdom Literature: Kazuo Ishiguro's 'The Buried Giant' and the Secret Histories From Which We Hide

I loved this book. Any attempt to describe the setting or plot or characters or themes is likely to encounter something like derision. The couple are long married, aging, but don't really wish to think of themselves as old. Their living conditions are rough, primitively agrarian. They live in something like a cave dug out of the side of a hill. They share in the work of a community, in the fields or in others sorts of basic labor, but they speak to, and behave toward, one another with the gentility and courtesy of lovers in some courtly romance. One recalls that the author is Japanese, and that one of his previous novels is about the life of a perfect butler, "The Remains of the Day." The loving couple can't remember much about the past, but then nobody can. It appears their entire country is under some spell called "the forgetting." Have I mentioned that the events take place in Britain shortly after the time of King Arthur? Our ideal, older pair remember something about the times of Arthur, but they can't seem to remember anything about their son. Where did he go? Why did he leave their village? Maybe they should go visit him -- even though they don't know where he lives. Knights in heavy armor ride about the countryside. Outlaws are a concern. Supernatural beings make an appearance. Their only notion of a destination leads them to a Saxon village, where a "warrior" has just killed "a giant," the mere rumor of whose existence had terrorized the common people. Then there is the matter of the boatman.
             None of these details help much in conveying the reader's deeply stirring experience of having found a magic doorway into an allegory of age-old, nearly forgotten, still robust wisdom. We learn, in time, that there is a reason for the general forgetting. It is questionable whether the general restoration of memory will do more good than the universal spell of forgetting did. Must there be "truth" before there can be "reconciliation"? Or is a general, communal forgetting the best way to put societal traumas behind us? And what truths must our genteel, loving, deeply bonded couple learn for themselves? ... 

            This book itself is a spell. A beautiful, enchanting spell like the company of a saint, or a guru, or a hermit on a hill who has seen everything. You never want it to be broken. You wish the story would never end. Sadly, however...