While referring to the story of Saul and David, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, notes: “We do not know if we are dealing with … historical report, theological conviction, or literary strategy. Perhaps all these factors are operative.” This is worthy of remembering as we read scripture. In fact, it is worthy to remember regardless of what we are reading. Seldom is anything simply a historical report. Convictions, be they theological, ideological, cultural, or economic are most often lurking just beneath the surface. And all writing comes to us in some form or other and as they say, the medium is the message. So indeed “perhaps all these factors are operative” all the time in all writing. Part of our reading work is to understand how these three factors are rolled into one, and to discern the due emphasis of each.
Sunday past I referred to Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2016 novel, The Buried Giant. The reviews are so spectacularly varied, leaving us asking what this book is about!
Here are some of the reviews:
- “Lush and thrilling, rolling the gothic, fantastical, political, and philosophical into one.” —The New Republic
- “Devastating. … As emotionally ruinous an ending as any I’ve read in a very long time, and it made me circle back to the opening pages, to re-enter the strange mist of this sad and remarkable book.” —Mark O’Connell, Slate
- “Splendid. … The Buried Giant is a simple and powerful tale of love, aging and loss.” —The Wall Street Journal
- “A beautiful, heartbreaking book about the duty to remember and the urge to forget.” —The Guardian(London)
- “A novel of imaginative daring that, in its subtleties of tone, mood and reflection, could be the work of no other writer.
… In the manner of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Ishiguro has created a fantastical alternate reality in which, in spite of the extremity of its setting and because of its integrity and emotional truth, you believe unhesitatingly.” — Financial Times
- “Ishiguro is a deft gut-renovator of genres, bringing fresh life and feeling to hollowed-out conventions. … The love story at its center shimmers with a mythic and melancholy grace.” —Vulture
- “A literary tour de force so unassuming that you don’t realize until the last page that you’re reading a masterpiece.”
- “A profound meditation on trauma, memory, and the collective lies nations and groups create to expiate their guilt.”
—The Boston Globe
I invite you to read The Buried Giant to see for yourself, and don’t be surprised when you reach the end of the book that you discover that you were reading a totally different story to the one you thought you were reading. This new story may awaken you like a splash of cold water awakens a sleepy face in the early morning, or it may emerge slowly in the days and weeks after having long finished reading, like a bud stretching slowly toward summer.
Now why would it be any different with the Bible? The stories in the Bible are as multi-layered and therefore carry the potential to provoke as spectacularly varied insights and interpretations? All being worthy to the extent that they bring justice, healing, and freedom in the world. I am willing to wager that not one person who reads The Buried Giant will ask if it is true or not? As in, is it factual? As in, did it happen or not? Why? Because intuitively we know that truth is larger than fact. Some truth is so large it can only fit into fiction. With fiction we do not ask if it is true or not, but rather what truth is in the story? We ponder for days, months, even a lifetime, what this or that symbolises? Again, why would we think the Bible is any different?