The first book I took on for my summer reading project was Tigana, by Guy Gavrial Kay; and it was a doozy. Weighing in at 688 pages, it immediately violated two key rules of summer reading- its chapters were long and its pace was slow.
The book is set in a fantasy world that has some geographic and technological similarities to Renaissance Italy, but the similarities end there. The plot follows a group of people whose country was destroyed 15 years before. In fact, not only was the country destroyed, but its memory was erased from the land entirely except in the hearts and minds of its citizens. These people set out to encourage an uprising to destroy the two foreign dictators vying for control of their peninsula.
All of this is complex enough, but Kay furthers the problem by insisting on his own terminology and descriptions for many fairly normal items. He also spends considerable time telling side stories that don’t really advance the central story, which may be helpful for fleshing out the story but hurts the reader’s ability to excitedly move from one plot point to the next.
So as far as summer enjoyment, this book gets maybe three stars out of five. It’s a solid book, but is just too complex to enjoyably skim while tanning at the beach (not that I’ve tested this particular approach, of course).
However, what the book does do well is to meditate on ideas. In particular, it focuses on the challenges of memory and things remembered. The central tension of the book is not merely revenge for destruction of a homeland, or even reestablishment of what was- instead it is that they were erased from the pages of history entirely. Coming to grips with defeat in battle is shown to be chump change in comparison to being forgotten.
The central characters, then, all play different roles in struggling with this problem. One character desires revenge, one desires reestablishment of a kingdom. Another is internally conflicted because she is in love with the man she wants revenge against. A third joins the cause because it coincides with his own interests.
In this, Tigana is unique. Kay is trying to struggle with an idea more than crank out a page-turner, asking you to meditate on conflicting emotional impulses more than set up an exciting adventure.
It’s for that reason that I highly recommend this book. Too often, Christians attempt to caricature various people, classes, or ideas. Revenge is always wrong, we say, and doing what is best for others is right. But what if those things conflict? Love your enemy, we say, but what if love for enemy hurts love for family?
It’s these kinds of challenges in story form that can cause us to be more careful, nuanced, and aware in our ethical behavior. We need that, because real life is too full of tough questions to allow clichés and simplistic caricatures to drive our thinking.
I don’t recommend Tigana as a “summer read.” However, I do recommend it as a book worth reading in a serious way. If we as Christians allow ourselves to skim this type of book, thinking that its plot is too far removed from real life, then we are ignoring the reality of an ethically complex world.