George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Kazuo Ishiguro explores that notion in his novel The Buried Giant, set medieval Britain.
Axl and Beatrice are an elderly couple who decide, quite inexplicably, to visit their son who lives in a village a short, but dangerous journey away - they think.
The problem is everyone, the entire population, is suffering from loss of memory. They can hardly remember what transpired even a few weeks ago. Axl and Beatrice don't remember why their son left, exactly where the village he lives in is, or if they'll be welcomed when they arrive?
On their way they take up with a wandering Saxon warrior, Wistan, and also come across Sir Gawain, an aging knight who served King Arthur.
Glimpses of the past intrigue and befuddle all the characters. Have their paths crossed before? Were they friend or foe? And what has caused this loss of memory?
The story is sprinkled with myth and legend and a good thing because this reader had to apply magic to make sense of Ishiguro's plot.
At some point Beatrice becomes convinced that the pervasive memory loss is caused by the breath of the legendary dragon, Querig, who lives high in the mountains. And wouldn't you know it, Wistan is on a mission to kill that very same dragon.
Beatrice now decides her goal is to help dispatch the dragon first. Just how an aged woman in failing health can help is never explained. Once everyone's memory is restored she and Axl will then proceed to visit their son. Sir Gawain also joins in the quest to kill the dragon or so the reader is led to believe.
Ironically, most of the partial memories that continue to be evoked are far from pleasant - turmoil in relationships and war and slaughter of innocent women and children. Axl's worries what the future will hold if memories are restored.
Though the theme of the story is compelling this reader had to wonder why Ishiguro chose such a odd narrative vehicle to present it. The significance of whether knowing history, personal or societal, helps us avoid the same mistakes or encourages us to double-down on them was lost because the story was set in the distant past, muddled in myth and supernatural creatures, and burdened by the archaic dialogue style the author created.