“For in this community the past was rarely discussed. I do not mean that it was taboo. I mean that it had somehow faded into a mist as dense as that which hung over the marshes. It simply did not occur to these villagers to think about the past—even the recent one.” (Part I, 1, p.7-8)
Kazuo Ishiguro returns once again to his favorite themes of memory and loss, except this time it involves a dragon, which is not merely present, but lies at the very heart of the plot. Set in the time when native Britons and invading Saxons had been fighting over the abandoned Roman province of Brittannia, tendrils of mist curl around villages in which Britons and Saxons live in peace, forgetful of the terrible acts of slaughter that had enabled Arthur to establish his realm and keep the invaders at bay. Sure, the Saxons will indeed recover the memory of the wrongs done to them, and that the Britons will be swept amid carnage and fire from the future England. The she-dragon, Querig, curiously is responsible for this mist of amnesia.
At the heart of the book is a deeply affecting portrait of marital love, and of how even the most precious memories can end up vulnerable. Axl and Beatrice are an aged couple who, in the grip of the mysterious amnesia that had afflicted Britain, decided on the whim to visit a son that they had not seen for years, if not forgotten so much as existed. The embark on a journey that constantly tests their affection for each other. They meet a boatman whose duty is to ferry people to an island of the dead. Only if a couple can convince him of their devotion will he allow them to travel together. From that moment on, they dread their acts will fail them. Then they meet a warrior who is to kill the dragon, a man who is bit by the dragon and so the blood in him will seek congress with the beast, and an advocate for the dragon.
The story at times teeters into pastiche and takes rather weird turn of events. While maintaining Ishiguro’s usual provoking and elegant prose, the story might have stretched credibility. Read it as a fairy tale and let the jigsaw pieces piece together at their timing. All that said, it is a profound meditation on trauma, memory, and the collective lies nations and groups create to expiate their guilt.
362 pp. Faber & Faber UK. Pocket Paper [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]