The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 336 pp)
Born in 1954 in Nagasaki, Japan, Kazuo Ishiguro moved with his family to England in 1960. Ishiguro attended the University of Kent receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1978 and continued his education at the University of East Anglia obtaining a master’s degree in creative writing in 1980. A celebrated novelist, Ishiguro has been nominated four times for the Man Booker Prize, winning it in 1989 for his work, The Remains of the Day. Recently, Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go, was adapted to a full-length film featuring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield. Ishiguro resides in London with his wife and daughter.
Ignorance Is Bliss
Ignorance is bliss, or so the saying goes. The phrase raises intriguing philosophical explorations. What makes a better life? At one end of the ring, we see the life burdened by the depravity of the world. We see a life full of tension between the joy and ecstasy of certain aspects of life juxtaposed against unmistakable and devastating pain. The joy of marriage and the profound experience of fatherhood becomes muted against the atrocities of terrorism, slavery, and other forms of injustice.
At the other end of the boxing ring, we see the joyful idiot, unaware of the world’s perils. Happiness is pure, unbridled. The cares of the world are light. Wouldn’t that be a better life?
Setting aside the potential physiological issues of safety that pure ignorance might create. That is, true ignorance might lead you to jump off a bridge because jumping is fun and there’s no idea about the consequences that one will quickly face. Ignorance also potentially deadens the sense, in my estimation.
Think of it this way, can you truly experience the highest of highs if such circumstances are not held in comparison to the lowest of lows? Think of it like a donut on a bat. You swing the heavy bat in order for the regular bat to feel light, likewise, the dark aspects of existence make the light aspects so much sweeter.
This excursus aside, Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, The Buried Giant explores these themes in poetic detail.
The Fantastical World of Britons
Set in the years soon after the great King Arthur, The Buried Giant follows a pair of elderly Britons, Axl and Beatrice, as they traverse a fantastical representation of England in search of their estranged son.
When I say fantastical, I mean a land full of ogres, giants, and dragons.
“Icy fogs hung over rivers and marshes, serving all too well the ogres that were then still native to this land. The people who lived nearby—one wonders what desperation led them to settle in such gloomy spots—might well have feared these creatures, whose panting breaths could be heard long before their deformed figures emerged from the mist. But such monsters were not cause for astonishment. People then would have regarded them as everyday hazards, and in those days there was so much else to worry about” (3).
The evocative mists of the English countryside take greater meaning as they shoulder the allegorical burden of forgetfulness, an aspect of life for every Briton and Saxon in the region. Axl explains,
“But I can’t remember our son, neither his face nor his voice, though sometimes I think I can see him when he was a small boy, and I’m leading him by the hand beside the riverbank, or when he was weeping one time and I was reaching out to comfort him. But what he looks like today, where he’s living, if he has a son of his own, I don’t remember at all” (25).
The mist is the reason for forgetfulness, it seems.
The Upcoming Journey to an Island Unknown
To make matters worse, the couple knows a boat ride to an island fast approaches. Before the voyage, a boatman asks questions to ascertain whether the couple carries enough love for each other to get passage together.
If the mist of forgetfulness hovers over the couple, what if they forget the love they have for each other when they face the boatman?
Avoiding Our Buried Giants
In elegant prose, Ishiguro explores the idea of memory and how it relates to community. He suggests those things we wish most to avoid about our past are our buried giants.
Is ignorance bliss? It can be. But it also rings hollow. Life has too much complexity to avoid the slings and arrows of misfortune.
Ishiguro is a masterful writer and The Buried Giant is a must read.
Verdict: 5 out of 5