Photo/IllutrationKazuo Ishiguro, the 2017 laureate in literature, delivers a speech during the Nobel banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm on Dec. 10. (TT News Agency via AP)

Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro once noted to the effect, "People don't lie for lying's sake. They lie to hide something, so they won't have to face the reality."

The sheer difficulty of confronting one's painful past appears to be the theme of many of his works.

"The Remains of the Day" is a narrative in the first person by protagonist Stevens, an English butler, recalling his days in the service of Lord Darlington.

Near the end of World War II, Darlington comes under censure as a Nazi sympathizer and an anti-Semite. Even though Stevens dismisses the accusation at the time as an outrageous slur, he later comes to recall sufficient evidence to support that claim.

But while acknowledging this reality, he still tries to whitewash it. This mentality is probably all too familiar to anyone.

"The Buried Giant," Ishiguro's latest novel, takes the form of a fantasy to address collective memory.

The protagonists come to a land ruled by a she-dragon, whose breath, known as "the mist," causes mass memory loss. As a result, nobody in the land remembers past wars in which they had tried to kill one another.

The protagonists face the grave moral dilemma of whether to slay the dragon and lift the mist, or to keep living in peace in collective amnesia.

Recalling the past is especially difficult when it involves memories of having harmed someone. The temptation to simply turn one's back to it is all too great.

But Ishiguro challenges readers with the question, "Are you prepared to face the past as an individual or as a group?"

Every nation has a negative history.

In December, exactly 80 years ago, Japanese troops committed atrocities against many Chinese civilians in Nanjing.

The difficulty of reviving heart-wrenching memories and the danger of erasing them are the timeless themes raised by this year's Nobel laureate in literature.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 13

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.