The Buried Giant – Book review- Kazuo Ishiguro

 

I  just finished another of Ishiguro’s  novel  , “The Buried Giant ” and I again get this compelling feeling to share it with you all .

This book was written during the times of King Arthur when author found out that there were historical voids  so that  author could  fill   those voids with his brush of  imagination .

This book is a toil of ten years  and was published in 2015.

I have shared with you his previous bestsellers on my blog and author  Ishiguro needs no introductions . He is a British author of Japanese descent and is the Nobel Prize winner in Literature in 2017

As in his past  books, we embark on another fabled journey but this time   to the ancient world of  post King Arthur’s rule where Britons and Saxons are at a  never ending war. It’s a world of Kings , knights Ogres ,demons  .People still  live and die by swords .

In these times ,our protagonists, Axl and Beatrice , poor farmers, who live in a community and are not being treated very fairly by the other cohabitants of the community,  decide to embark on a journey to meet their son who is a couple of days away from them .

But a bizarre  amnesia has seemed to  engulf the whole area  and they have all forgotten their recent and remote pasts .This amnesia is to such an extent that Axl and Beatrice  do not even remember their son’s face .

So as we  travel through the country side ,the valleys ,through the forests and meet many interesting characters we cannot  help but compare our present day world to the author’s world in the novel.

The Saxon village where Axl and Beatrice reach to counsel  with the lady healer, they find out about the lad Edwin ,who had been rescued by a visiting  Saxon warrior from the Ogres .He has a bite mark which the villagers think is  from an Ogre and that would turn him against his own people .Superstitions, self centeredness takes over the villagers  and they want to kill that  small boy .

The warrior, Wistan, is on a secret mission, who has been chosen by his Saxon King to kill the She Dragon Querig  ,who’s breath is causing the amnesic mist in the area. Sir Gawain , who is the nephew of King Arthur and is a Knight , has been the protector of the She Dragon .As per King’s wishes ,he wanted the mist to prevail so that foes could live as friends and the senseless war could be stopped .

Axl and Beatrice are an old couple in love with each other and profess their love for each other in every possible manner and would not be out of sight from each other even for a second but when they regain their memory after the She Dragon is  killed and mist of amnesia is cleared Axl, remembers that theirs  was  not a perfect marriage and there were clinks in the armor which he needs to overlook to make his marriage going

As with Ishiguro’s novels there is always more than it meets the eyes and we  cannot help but wonder that though we are reading a novel set in the past but we could very much be in a present .We still let illiteracy , superstition ,selfishness  drive us

We  know ,there is no such thing as infinite justice and we all need this mist of “Forget and Forgiveness for a peaceful coexistence    but as in the novel, the strong warrior, Wistan not only kills Gawain but also sows the seeds of hatred ,disharmony ,violence for the next generation through the lad Edwin  so that peace never gets a chance and  War perpetuates.

Author again draws our attention that we need to keep the bigger picture in mind and let our love be the winner and not hate .

It is a full length  novel some times it gets a little repetitive specially the interactions between the old couple and the story looses its emotional pull and pace  at some points but all in all there still  remains lots of questions unanswered during the read , so one would like to finish the book .

The setting of the story also does not change and we again get to  revisit the United Kingdom

Master story teller as Ishiguro is , the  language has its distinct flavor and though we are reading simple English we know we are at a different historical  era.

Mankind is in the era of scientific boom but we have not changed our basic characteristics  and the   themes of  our stories are  ageless ,timeless and generation less . Unless we are ready to Bury the Giant , peace and prosperity would always elude us  .Even when Sir Gawain tried to protect the mist of forgiveness we are still pretty much at the mercy of likes of Wistan who see their emancipation only by vengeance, violence and war and unfortunately they  are still winning

 

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Victoria and Abdul -Book review-Shrabani Basu

While reading this book , I had often wondered how this interesting and enigmatic association of a British Monarch and her Indian teacher “Munshi ” had escaped the keen eyes of historians. In Hindi , the word “Munshi ” is more traditionally used for accountants of small businesses but this “Munshi” was definitely much more than to Queen

Much has been written about the times of Raj but this unconventional relationship was partly concealed as systematically the evidences were purged after Queen’s death .The teacher and his family were driven away from their homes .All the correspondences were burnt or confiscated and Munshi’s family was hounded upto India to wipe away any residual documents .It was as if the indulgence that the Queen was allowed in her later years was a matter of great shame to the Monarchy and earlier it was forgotten the better it was. Further, the descendants of Abdul Karim had left the subcontinent after partition of India and had settled in Karachi [Pakistan], which further helped to fade away the memories .Post Indian independence ,many historical buildings such as the tomb of Abdul Karim after his death had also fallen into neglect . Fortunately , as the Queen’s journal were in Urdu [Persian script]and they were left alone by foreign historians ,it helped the author a great deal to analyze this relationship .

This book’s claim to fame was its adaptation into a major motion picture [Stephen Frier’s film by the same name ] seven years after it was written .It was initially written in 2010 by Shrabani Basu ,who after majoring in History from St Stephens College in New Delhi trained as a journalist and later joined the London Office of Ananda Bazar Patrika as their correspondent The book was republished one more time seven years later. She has many other books to her credit such as For King and another country ; Indian Soldiers on western Front ;Spy Princess-Life of Noor Inayat khan .The book ,Victoria and Abdul ,was a toil of five years and travel of three countries .

Queen Victoria , was the Queen of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901 . In 1876 , she adopted the additional title of” Empress Of India .Tall handsome ,24 years old , Abdul Karim was presented to the Queen at her Golden Jubilee celebration with the other Indian servants. Abdul Karim worked as an assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail and his father was a physician of traditional medicine .Though he was supposed to be with the Queen for a year but an incredible relationship happened and lasted more than a decade .

Though Queen was titular head ,but had always taken a keen interest in affairs of her Monarchy .She had strategically arranged the marriages of her children all throughout the Europe and was later known as the “Grandmother Of Europe and always had some kind of political influence in the country . But after the deaths of her husband , Albert, and later her Scottish gillie , John Brown , whose ring she took to her grave, she had an enormous emotional void in her life .None of the trappings of Monarchy or the presence of her big family could fill it .

Just at that point Abdul Karim entered Victoria’s life and he had all the qualities that Queen admired .He was soft spoken , well mannered ,gentle ,good looking ,proud of his heritage, learned and aware of current affairs .When Queen met Karim she was in her geriatric age group but that did not deter the Queen from forging a human relationship which even to the insiders including her own children was of the most bizarre kind .

Victoria had been brought up as an epitome of morality and the relationship was platonic to its core but it was a combination of various relationship in one . She was a mother, well wisher, guide ,employer and he was a companion ,teacher ,adviser to her .

Queen ,though did not travel to India but was always very inquisitive about this colony ,” The Jewel of the Empire “.Soon after her association with Abdul ,his influence on her was complete . Not only did she start learning the language but Indian curries were being cooked and attires were being worn in the household .Interestingly , the journals she kept of her lessons were of profound importance as they played a great role to unearth this beautiful relationship.

As far as Victoria was concerned, he was a part of her household and expected other members to accept Abdul .But the schism was much wider than the Queen imagined . Abdul lasted for almost ten years but it was almost a daily struggle for Queen to legitimize his position in the household as for rest of them, he was just a part of the” Black Brigade”

In the book “White Mughals “[2002] , written by Dalrymple ,we have witnessed that in early 18 th and early 19 th century, 1 in 3 British men in India were married to Indian women but as British supremacy got established, it was expected that the relations should be of ruler and ruled .We have to recall that post 1857, subcontinent had officially declared its War of Independence and though it was overtly quenched , covertly the milieu was most inappropriate for a relationship between a White Monarch and her Brown servant .

From times immemorial , unconventional human relationships had been under persecution .These relationships are perfectly legal but are not allowed to be preserved as some unspoken rules emerge from some corner . Rules of convention , Rules of race , Rules of religion ,Rules of color , Rules of hierarchy and God knows many other unheard of rules But the bonds of these relationships are much stronger and they resurface time and again with their whiff of eternity .

FROM THE HOLY MOUNTAIN -A journey in the shadow of Byzantium-Author William Dalrymple

As I have mentioned in my previous blogs that I am a great history buff and anything related to history , I cannot keep away from it .In  the past ,I have restricted myself to Indian history as  relating to it was easy but the book I am going to share with you today is a travel book with its unique historical back drop .

William Dalrymple , one of my favorite authors is an authentic historian , who I have been following for the last so many years .He is of Scottish descent and has won numerous awards for travel writing and extensively researched history .

Author  has an intimate connection with India and his affection for the country is real .He  has embraced India more than many of us could and  through his eyes we have rediscovered New Delhi and India many times over .

His first published book ”In  Xanadu- A Quest “  is my most favorite , till date and I have a personally signed copy of the book , when I got it autographed from him at a Mini lit fest in New Delhi ,a couple of years back .I am sure, I would share this  book “In Xanadu -A Quest “  in my future blogs ,where he retraces the steps of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Inner Mongolia in China .It is a travel writing full of interesting incidents and anecdotes  and   is written in a lighter vein and that’s what makes it all the more enjoyable .

In the book “From the Holy Mountain “ we take  both an  inward and outward journey of  the Holy land which was taken by an Orthodox Monk ,John Moschos in 587 AD with one of his young students ,Sophronius .

Author Dalrymple  took us on this journey almost 1500 years later .

John Moschos  later compressed the journey into a book called “Spiritual Meadow” . John Moschos ,in the book ,mentions about his personnel experiences with other monks ,the various miracle stories ,the ecstatic vision and other practices of Eastern monasticism .Interestingly ,Author Dalrymple ,during his journey found that so many of those practices were still prevalent even today , may be in some modified version .

Dalrymple  began his journey in Greece and then via Istanbul in Turkey ,Syria ,Lebanon , Israel  and then concluded in Egypt .The journey included a part of Byzantine empire ,of middle ages ,which was considered eastern Roman empire, under Great King Constantinople ,who in his later life embraced Christianity .

Christianity has been historically a middle eastern religion with its origin in Judaism .In the initial years it was practiced in secrecy as it had conflict with Judaism and early Pagan Roman practices .Then the church meant gathering or community , rather  than a building or structure .Such teachings or  churches were founded by early disciples of Jesus  as they travelled to the various parts of the world .

It became legal to practice Christianity under Emperor Constantinople in Roman Empire  around 313 AD .His vision was to bring the whole Roman Empire together .But the practices of the Christians in the eastern parts  of the Empire were very  different than that of the western counterpart .Orthodox Christianity or the Eastern Christians gave more stress on  physical and mental ascetism .Such practices also mirrored in Sufism , Vendantic mysticism and Buddhist psychology .

Whereas the head of the Western counterpart is Pope , Eastern Christianity is spread out under various religious heads  with individualistic teachings ,in various parts of the World .

As author visited these ancient monasteries, he gave us numerous accounts of  how the orthodox monks competed against each other in physical and mental deprivation for a divine connection .It was interesting to note that such practices overlap among the various religions of those times . As  per author’s comments, rules for practicing religions were  more porous as compared . Even  today , people  in the rural area of the land of  different faiths, during their difficult times , prayed  at the shrines of these orthodox monks and  performed  animal sacrifices .

In ancient days people with money, commissioned important buildings and works of art to give them a societal presence .Similarly ,in   Emperor Constantinople’s time the concept of  Basilica was gradually taking shape and churches were being built , where people would come together and stress on inner transformation rather than outer ritualistic Pagan practices.

Author has a keen eye for architecture as we have  noted in his past books and he describes the monasteries in great details whatever he could as most of them are in states of great dilapidation secondary to antiquity ,violence and no maintenance . But it was amazing to know  that few of those which are still in one piece and functional are practicing the faith exactly what they did 1500 years earlier .

In the book “Spiritual Meadow “ ,John Moschos  described about the practices of miracle healing by the Saints of those times . Author presented many such instances in his usual tongue in cheek fashion where present day monks are preaching about the Saints .

As we travelled with the author through the modern day cities and onto the remote places of worship ,we noted the political turmoil ,unrest and a constant fear of persecution among the  minority residents .Christianity has systematically  been routed out  from its  place of  origin and more  and more people are  moving west wards for a better and secure life .

These areas from time immemorial has been under great strife .Cradle of three great religions of the world ,Christianity ,Islam and Judaism  has always  been  a socio politically disturbed region.   Peace never returned to these areas and this   journey itself   seemed  like  a challenging adventure .

Amongst the many other present days ironies of the Modern World ,The Holy Land ,has not witnessed a lasting peace for the last two centuries  and we really pray for a miracle when the true essence of Humanity and Religion would prevail.

Wishing you all  a happy Easter weekend .