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Kazuo Ishiguro’s Buried Giant and Me

Kazuo Ishiguro's Buried Giant

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Buried Giant: I light up Kazuo Ishiguro’s life. He said so. Next, I hope to light up Colson Whitehead’s and Cormac McCarthy’s lives.

The Remains of the Day

In Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro writes, “It was like when you make a move in chess and just as you take your finger off the piece, you see the mistake you’ve made, and there’s this panic because you don’t know yet the scale of disaster you’ve left yourself open to.”

I’ve experienced that panic hundreds of times. Week in, week out, deciding to do this, deciding not to do that, wondering just moments later what the hell I was thinking.

What’s worse, I imagine, is when recognition of your mistake and your subsequent panic come 10 (or 30 or 50) years after the fact.

I saw the film The Remains of the Day, based on Ishiguro’s novel of the same name, back in 1994. It was part of my annual quest to see every major Oscar-nominated movie, along with all films Merchant-Ivory.

The film is deceptively light on plot. Somber. A story of repression and realization and regret. Watching the film feels like taking a two-hour stroll on a humid day, the air weighty, the walking, slow. James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) is an English butler who’s so committed to what he sees as his proper role and function as a servant that he doesn’t visit his own father before his father’s death. He can’t see his employer for the man his employer really is. He can’t find within him the freedom to connect with, let alone to love, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson).

What is often can’t hold a candle to what could have been. Twenty years later, Stevens can only look back at what’s left, behind him a trail of the crumbs that remain.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Buried Giant and Me

I attended Kazuo Ishiguro’s book reading and then stood in line to get his signature on my crisp, hardback copy of The Buried Giant. Having met the three people in front of me in line on approximately 1,492 occasions, I dove headfirst into the small talk I suck at. Not surprisingly, I sucked at it that day, too. Following a disconnected, polite exchange, they all smiled and fell silent. Me? I kept rambling. I told them I hoped I could get him to write a special something in my book.

“O … kay,” one of them said.

“He’s just signing his name,” another one of them said. “I wouldn’t bother him.”

“When I did a signing for my last book, I hated when people asked me to write cutesy messages,” the third one said. “Just being honest.”

If I ever do a signing for any book, I swear I’ll sign most any cutesy message my readers like. You heard it here first.

When I got to the front of the line, I told Kazuo Ishiguro I still think about the fraught stillness, the screaming silence of Never Let Me Go. I told him that so much as thinking about James Stevens in The Remains of the Day fills my entire body with heavy sadness. And I told him I was hoping he would write a few words in my Buried Giant.

In my copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, he wrote, “To Carolyn, You light up my life.”

Next, I’m hoping to light up Colson Whitehead’s and Cormac McCarthy’s lives. There’s a near zero percent chance I’ll ever light up Joan Didion’s life, but if I could, I would. Thing is, I adore her, but I don’t think she would find me entertaining.

There’s a BBC-English-accented professor of English literature at the University of Virginia (UVA) with a stern haircut and a sterner glare who could intimidate me into a puddle with so much as a squint. Mr. Jefferson’s Iron Lady, I’ll call her. One day I bounded across campus and flew straight into her. Some people are not meant to be jostled. She’s one. Joan Didion, I imagine, is another.

Whether or not Colson Whitehead or Cormac McCarthy would find me entertaining, I can’t say. Whether or not Kazuo Ishiguro found me entertaining on the day of his book signing, I also can’t say. I am, however, pretty sure he’s the sort of person who pays attention. Simply by the fact that he could tell I was paying attention.

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