The Story in the Song
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 3 June 2018
This is Book 2 of the Giver Quartet, and though the characters are different, it is set in the same story universe of the phenomenal first book. However, unlike the technologically advanced society we saw in “The Giver”, this book features a strangely regressive village setting, which seems to suggest that civilisation had reached its zenith and now this future society has become more backward.
A crippled girl, Kira, lives in a strictly regulated village until she becomes orphaned when her mother dies and sent to “the Fields”, leaving her defenceless among hostile neighbours lacking any communal spirit, which is unusual in a community like this. We begin to find out the functional way of life among her people and how children or “tykes” are regarded - fenced in as they are like cattle while their mothers worked round the house and the men hunted or laboured away from the house. Kira, being “damaged” for her disability, and having lost her father to alleged wild beasts on a hunt just before she was born, should have been sent to the fields to die if her mother had not shown violent resistance. She picks up the weaving trade from her mother, and it is her magical talent that ultimately saves her from being banished and whisked of by the “Guardians” to live in the Council Edifice, a courtly building that is the only urban relic remaining from the past.
Kira’s task as a master weaver and repairer of the Singer’s robe, a ceremonial garment flaunted at the annual Gathering, contains images of the history of the villages, that accompanies the Singer’s epic song like a retelling of it. Her role is monumental because after the repair of the existing painted parts of the robe is done, she is to draw images on the empty portions to fill in the future. She soon finds out she is not the only “artist” on the block, and there is another boy, Thomas, who is kept in another room to work on the Singer’s staff, and together, with the aid of her little friend, Matt, a ghetto boy with his dog, they begin to discover nothing is as it seems and secrets behind the idyll of their newfound comfortable and purposeful lives.
It is remarkable that Lowry builds her story world with seeming ease, for example, in the way the number of syllables in someone’s name places him or her in a specific generation, so a teenager like Kira would have two syllables in her name, her friend, Matt, still a tyke only has a one-syllable name. Kira’s mentor and rescuer Jamison, holds a three-syllable name, while the old woman who teaches her how to colour her threads is called Annabella. It also suggests the evolving identities that are never stable. The locales, like the Fen, which is the village ghetto from where Matt lives, is also true to life in all its poverty and desolation. The sense of unease that pervades the novel, does not go away even when one finishes it, and perhaps that is the point Lowry makes, and what makes this story a hopeful dystopian tale, ironic as the description sounds.
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