Book Review – The Buried Giant

Written By: Kazuo Ishiguro

Final Overall Rating: 9/10

Rating: 9 out of 10.

First of all, this review is purely derived from my own personal opinion. If you disagree, let me know in the comments; I am always up for a good discussion or to answer questions. 

Recommend Yes or No:

Yes. This book is a modern-day classic. In this post-Arthurian piece of literature, Ishiguro symbolizes the disparity between peoples and nations through the marriage and memories (or lack thereof) of Axl and Beatrice. Simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking, this book provides a narrative, both on the individual level and global level, as to why it can be so difficult to move on from the past. And, it also examines what would happen if we forgot our heritage and history altogether. 

(Spoilers Below – Read at your own peril!)

Writing Style: 10/10

Every sentence has meaning – it is there for a reason. Ishiguro writes this book in third person and past tense. I feel like the primary driving force of Ishiguro’s style is to pose his ethical and social questions, regarding humanity, to the reader. He accomplishes this goal through tactically created scenarios and dialogue. Ishiguro also uses heavy foreshadowing throughout this entire novel (in particularly with the fog, dragon, and boatmen). This translation of themes through a web of literary layers portrays human nature in its most raw and primal form. One thing to be aware of, I would consider this a “highbrow” book; so, because it is dense, it might not be enjoyable for all audiences. 

Story: 9/10

The story of The Buried Giant is unique and not at all what I expected. To be honest, I do not know what I expected but it certainly wasn’t this masterpiece. The Saxon’s and the Britons had brought themselves to the brink of destruction, but they don’t know it, because they don’t remember. All they think they want is to live in peace. However, the price for “peace” is high – it is the nations’ memories. With a surprising antagonist and morally gray reasoning, Ishiguro paints a picture of humanity’s intense inability to find and live in peace. 

I do want to talk about the ending a little bit. First off, if you cried rest assured you are not the only one. My heart broke when Axl could not accompany Beatrice with the Boatman to the island of afterlife. I would be happy if I never read about boatman again (if you have read the book then you know what I mean). At the start of the book Ishiguro shows readers Axl and Beatrice’s role model relationship… one of unconditional love. However, as the story progresses foreshadowing eludes that their unconditional love hinges on the amnesia blanketing the past. After the fog of forgetting lifts, Axl and Beatrice remember the damage that they inflicted on one another throughout their marriage. And, even despite their intense love for one another they are unable to overcome their betrayal and acts of revenge. I took this ending to be a representation of the Saxons and Britons (really any persons or nations) failure to forgive and find peace. As a result of pain and hardened hearts, Axl and Beatrice are unable to accompany each other in the afterlife, and Axl is left behind – his love gone and a war brewing. I think that this demonstrates that even when one generation of pain passes on another is left behind to carry on the mantel of animosity. So, unless worldwide amnesia infects humanity, we will continue our cycle of war and destruction. 

I did take one point off of this section, because I felt like the story took too long getting off the runway. This book starts off in a small and dysfunctional town, which Ishiguro uses to build up Axl and Beatrice’s loving relationship to readers. However, I think he could have accomplished building their love in a lower page count – which would have helped give the book better pacing. My advice is don’t give up and make it through the first 100 pages. After this point in the book the story really takes off!

Character Development: 8/10

Ishiguro’s male characters are well developed – even his side characters have personality and defining traits. That is a huge reason why this book and its overarching themes work. The characters are dynamic and by the end of the book they have all evolved through their experiences and choices. Their dialogue is lifelike and believable, and they do not ever break from their character – at least not without sound reason. One thing that did bug me about Ishiguro’s character development was his lack of development in Beatrice (his only real female character). I thought she could have had more of a personality and could have played a larger part in how the book unfolded. Sadly, most of the time she felt more like a breaking doll than a human woman. Another annoyance that carried throughout the book was Axl’s nickname for Beatrice – princess – felt forced, and I just got bothered hearing the word “princess” over and over. However, despite these two issues, I commend Ishiguro on his character development.

Fun Facts about Ishiguro:

  1. Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. 
  2. Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan and moved to Surrey, England when he was five.
  3. When Ishiguro was young he dreamed of being a musician.

Favorite Quote from The Buried Giant:

  1. “I’m wondering if without our memories, there’s nothing for it but for our love to fade and die” (Ishiguro, 45).
  2. “Promise, princess, you’ll not forget what you feel in your heart for me at this moment. For what good’s a memory’s returning from the mist if it’s only to push away another (259)?”

Final Takeaways: 

Do not let memories of past pain stop you from finding your own inner peace.      

Works Cited: 

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York: Vintage Books, 2015. Print.

Kazuo Ishiguro – Facts. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2021. Sun. 31 Jan 2021. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/2017/ishiguro/facts/.

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