The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro is powerful novel of hope, despair, truth and the enticing desire to continue to live with the lie of who we are. All that in a fantasy drama with the most unlikely band of heroes to set out on a quest to slay a dragon.
“…God may not have smiled at us, but we cleansed the land of war. Leave this place, sir, I beg you. We may pray to different gods, yet surely yours will this dragon as does mine.’
Wistan turned away from the pit to look at the old knight.
‘What kind of god is it, sir, wishes wrongs to go forgotten and unpunished?…”
Britain has tossed the yoke of Roman rule, yet its people, Briton and Saxon alike slide into ruin. The great King Arthur is no more and the laws and peace he brought hangs precariously in the balance. The wars that tore the land apart have ceased. Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple desire to leave their village and seek out their son. But they cannot remember where he has moved to or even, truly what he looks like. Along their journey come upon a Saxon warrior and a young boy. The warrior Wistan is set on a quest to slay the dragon known as Querig and the orphan boy Edwin will lead him to it. But strangely it is the old Arthurian Knight Gawain who stands between them and their quest. For it was to him that Arthur and his wizard Merlin had charged with slaying the dragon. But all these years he has delayed in fulfilling his mission. For Gawain understands the truth about the ancient creature and its magic. For it is the dragon’s breath that holds Britain in it’s peace. It causes the citizens to forget.
“…’How right to fear it, sir,’ Wistan said. ‘The giant, once well buried, now stirs. When soon he rises, as surely he will, the friendly bonds between us will prove as knots young girls make with the stems of small flowers. Men will burn their neighbours’ houses by night. Hang children from trees at dawn. The rivers will stink with the corpses bloated from their days of voyaging…”
For what the warrior Wistan knows and the old knight Gawain seeks to protect is that the dragon Querig is not the danger in the land. Britain is its own sleeping giant. Its past, its injustice and its hate of one man against another.
Ishiguro has written in The Buried Giant a reflection of what is happening around the world. How one people cannot and will not forget the wrongs done to it in the past and as long as they cannot forget, can never move forward. There is for us, unfortunately, no magical dragon’s breath to keep our sense of vengeance at bay. This mixture of fantasy, history and adventure is a social commentary of our times as well as our past. What is oppressed today often is the oppressor of tomorrow. Look to the Mid East. Look to the warring nations of Africa. Look to our own race riots in America. The setting for Ishiguro’s novel is Britain, but the division of the human race, whether it be nationality, religion or skin color, is everywhere.
A well written and thought provoking book.