On some mornings when head still floats with fragments of scenes from a bad dream, it is indeed a delight to see the sun shining through the window. I am aware that there is always dual reality to contend with and that thoughts about the past and future can weigh on the mind as they distract or paralyze you from living in the present. Keep calm, don’t worry, it is going to be OK.I tell myself.
For the past weeks, I have read a few fictions that do not offer one of those feel good endings but they do make you teary. The narratives in these fictions describe acutely our common behaviour and how selfish and self-centred human beings are inclined to behave. It is one thing to know that people are seldom truly kind as we each have the trappings and weaknesses of our own to deal with , it is the other thing to know that we should not stop trying because we can strive to do better.
In Kazuo Ishiguro‘s much anticipated science fiction, Klara and the Sun, the narrator is an Artificial Friend named Klara. The story begins with the store where Klara, a solar-powered humanoid robot is standing there watching carefully the behaviour of people who come into the shop to browse and also those who pass in the street outside. The AFs are solar-powered and designed to offer companionship to children of parents who have bought it. Klara and all the other Artificial Friends need to take in as much sun as possible for their nourishment. She remains hopeful that she will soon be chosen by a customer. One day, fourteen year-old Josie chooses her. Klara becomes the best android friend one can possibly have. Klara is extremely observant, loyal and kind. Through Klara, we see that we are in danger of losing the human heart in the name of advancement for the human race.
Josie hangs out with Ricky who is not lifted like her. Josie’s mother organises a gathering for her to mingle with her peer group and she invites Ricky along. From the exchange and the way Ricky communicates with Josie’s peers, Klara notices how Ricky is different from those lifted children who have been invited to the interaction meeting. She also finds that Josie behaves differently in the presence of these teenagers, and words said by the store Manager come to her mind. She is advised by the store manager not to invest too much in the promises of humans. She recalls the boy AF she saw ‘through the gap between the slow taxis, walking despondently along the RPO Building side, three paces behind his teenager’, and she wonders if Josie and her will ever walk in such a way.
Rick tells Klara that Josie and him have a plan for themselves. Both Josie and Rick know that if Josie hangs out much more with her peers, they are afraid she won’t be Josie anymore, she will end up becoming one of them. Klara assures Rick that she and Rick have similar goals and as the story goes, they both care a great deal about Josie.
Klara is indeed full of insights. Josie is frail and she has poor health. When Klara learns about what Josie’s mother’s true intent for her role is, she resolves to learn everything she can possibly learn about Josie. When Paul, Josie’s dad asks if she thinks she can pull off the role, she responds that it won’t be easy but she believes that it will be within her abilities to learn everything about Josie. Paul then asks her. Do you believe in the human heart? I don’t mean simply the organ, obviously. I’m speaking in the poetic sense. The human heart. Do you think there is such a thing? Something that makes each of us special and individual?
Klara has this to say about the human heart.
‘It might indeed be the hardest part of Josie to learn. It might be like a house with many rooms. Even so, a devoted AF, given time, could walk through each of those rooms, studying them carefully in turn, until they became like her own home.’
‘ Of course, a human heart is bound to be complex. But it must be limited. Even if Mr Paul is talking in the poetic sense, there’ll be an end to what there is to learn,’
‘ Manager, I did all I could to learn Josie and had it become necessary, I would have done my utmost. But I don’t think it would have worked out so well. Not because I wouldn’t have achieved accuracy. But however hard I tried, I believe now there would have remained something beyond my reach. The mother, Rick, Melania Housekeeper, the Father. I ‘d never have reached what they felt for Josie in their hearts. I’m now sure of this, Manager.’
Klara has an epiphany. There is something very special about Josie, but it isn’t inside Josie because it is inside those who love her.
Klara and the Sun is a charming story. Although I enjoy reading stories about Artificial Intelligence, the premise of the story is about genetic engineering and that is definitely unsettling.
The theme of the story is in essence : what does it mean to love ? and raises the question : What makes us ‘human’?
Love after love written by Ingrid Persaud is a story about Betty Ramdin, her teenage son, Solo and their lodger Mr Chetan
It follows three narrators – Betty, navigating life as a young widow, her teenage son Solo and their lodger Mr Chetan. They have very different temperaments and somehow together they form an unconventional family in Trinidad and have a close bond that lasts a lifetime. Mr Chetan and Betty have secrets and one night after drinking some rums they open up to one another. When she finds out that he is a closet gay man who is unable to claim his sexual identity, she spills some dark secret that she has been carrying all these years. Solo overhears the conversation and becomes enraged and confused. He manages to get his mother to purchase an air ticket for him to fly to New York. He lies about why he is going there to visit his uncle and cousins during his vacation when he has every intention to settle in America, far away from his mother who has brought him up singlehandedly.
When I began reading the novel, I did not like the voices of the narrators. The prose is intended to be rhythmic and it took me a while to get used to the language that is much colloquial, blended with Trinidadian dialect.But as the story unfolds, you get acquainted with the characters and you want to know what will become of Solo and whether Betty and Mr Chetan will remain as platonic friends.
Ingrid Persaud is a compelling storyteller. She has written a heart-wrenching story about love, loss and loneliness. It is an engaging read. Love after love is the winner for Costa Book Awards 2020.
Some years ago I read The Buried Giant written by Kazuo Ishiguro.
The Buried Giant is an allegory and the story is metaphorical.
The novel is about Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple going from one village to the next, hoping to visit their long lost son who had left home since young. The story is set in post-Arthurian England about the sixth or seventh century when the Britons and the Saxons were at war. The Saxons and Britons live side by side in an uneasy peace during a mythical time of ogres, sprites and dragons — most of all the she-dragon Querig whom the warrior, Wistan has set out to kill. In the story, one warrior needs to kill the dragon Querig as badly as another needs to keep her alive. Wistan has rescued Edwin, a boy stolen by ogres. Axl reminds Wistan of someone he met as a child. As the story progresses, Axl begins to remember his own past, as a soldier of some kind. The rescued boy, Edwin, who the villagers believe that he has a wound that is caused by a fiend is in danger in his Saxon settlement. It is the villagers’ conviction that once bitten by a fiend, the boy will before long turn fiend himself and wreak horror within their walls.They fear him and should he remain here, he’ll suffer a terrible fate. So the boy and the warrior join the elderly couple on their journey to their son’s village.
Axl and Beatrice love each other deeply and they are at an age when their memories have become foggy and unreliable, But all the people in their community, and even those in neighboring villages, Briton and Saxon, appear to be having the same difficulties in remembering things from the past. They are told that there is a mist spread by the breath of she-dragon , Querig that robs memories: good memories and bad, lost children, old rancors and wounds.
Beatrix is afraid that she cannot recall their most treasured memories. Here is a snippet of the story between Beatrix and her husband.
‘What are you saying, princess? How can our lover wither? Isn’t it stronger now than when we were foolish young lovers?’
‘But Axl, we can’t even remember those days. Or any of the years between. We don’t remember our fierce quarrels or the small moments we enjoyed and treasured. We don’t remember our son or why he’s away from us.’
‘We can make all those memories come back, princess. Besides, the feeling in my heart for your will be there just the same, no matter what I remember or forget. Don’t you feel the same, princess?’
The husband wakes up with a memory so the wife is eager to know.
‘ Oh , Axl! What memory was that ?’
‘I was remembering a time we were walking through a market or a festival. We were in a village, but not our own, and you were wearing that light green cloak with the hood.’
‘ This must be a dream or else a long time ago, husband. I have no green cloak.’
‘ I’m talking of long ago, right enough, princess. A summer’s day, but there was a chill wind in this place where we were, and you’d placed the green cloak around you, though you kept the hood from your head. A market or perhaps some festival. It was a village on a slope with goats in a pen where you first set foot in it.’
‘And what was it we were doing there, Axl?’
Axl remembers that he and Beatrix was walking arm in arm and there was a stranger , a man from the village, suddenly in their path. Axl also remembers that the stranger took one glance at his wife and stared at his wife like he was beholding a goddess and the stranger had said he had never set eyes on a woman so beautiful and he reached forward and touched Beatrice’s arm.
Beatrice then recall something but not clearly and she thinks the stranger was a drunken man and asks Axl if that was the day when the latter grew jealous and quarreled with the man , the way they were almost run out of the village. Axl denies having any jealous quarrel with the stranger and tells Beatrice that till this day he still feels the pride rising through him at the stranger’s words : The most beautiful vision he’d seen.
‘ If you felt proud , Axl, and you were jealous also. Didn’t you stand up to the man even though he was drunk?’
‘It’s not how I remember it, princess. Perhaps I just made a show of being jealous as a sort of jest. But I would have known the fellow meant no harm. It’s what I woke with this morning, though it’s been many years.’
‘If that’s how you’ve remembered it, Axl, let it be the way it was. With this mist upon us, any memory’s a precious thing and we’d best hold tight to it.’
The elderly couple long for Querig’s end thinking only of the return of their own dear memories. But will the giant, once well buried stir or rise again?The sense of the past lingers on as we know history tends to repeat itself.
Memories are valuable as they are who we are but some memories are best slipped away. While some thoughts can inspire, some can hurt too. Amnesia can be a godsend in some instances as illustrated by the uncomplicated and innocent love of Axl and Beatrix and as they begin to remember things, there is a subtle shift in their love for each other. While some memories may haunt us, but for past wounds to heal, remembering the past is necessary for reconciliation, if at all, to take place. As unresolved past remains buried, history is thus continuously present.
Kazuo Ishiguro has cleverly crafted a fantasy novel where he has invented a mythical landscape set against ancient time when England was first created but the core of the story is still very alive in the present context and its themes relevant to the modern world.
The Buried Giant is a wonderful tale. Some of the characters possess some mystical powers and there are several twists in the story, indeed a mesmerising journey.