Lois Lowry’s magnificent novel of the distant future, The Giver, is set in a highly technical and emotionally repressed society. This eagerly awaited companion volume, by contrast, takes place in a village with only the most rudimentary technology, where anger, greed, envy, and casual cruelty make ordinary people’s lives short and brutish. This society, like the one portrayed in The Giver, is controlled by merciless authorities with their own complex agendas and secrets. And at the center of both stories there is a young person who is given the responsibility of preserving the memory of the culture–and who finds the vision to transform it.
Kira, newly orphaned and lame from birth, is taken from the turmoil of the village to live in the grand Council Edifice because of her skill at embroidery. There she is given the task of restoring the historical pictures sewn on the robe worn at the annual Ruin Song Gathering, a solemn day-long performance of the story of their world’s past.
It’s a world where deformed people are routinely abandoned to death at birth, and where children, or “tykes,” are redistributed to other families should one parent die, where parenting is full of shouts and slaps (but also, we see in glimpses, some kisses and handholding) and where those who can’t contribute or work in an obvious fashion are ruthlessly discarded. Kira is saved only by her skill. She can weave and she can design patterns that nobody has seen before just by calling them up from thin air.
Down the hall lives Thomas the Carver, a young boy who works on the intricate symbols carved on the Singer’s staff, and a tiny girl who is being trained as the next Singer. Over the three artists hovers the menace of authority, seemingly kind but suffocating to their creativity, and the dark secret at the heart of the Ruin Song.
The “Ruin” song, sung by the singer explains the war-filled history of the past world, from the beginning of time to their present (our future). It starts with the story of creation, leading to the rising and falling of civilizations. This cycle of damage and renewal are similar to the history of prehistoric times, the ruin of the Ice Age, the rise of governments like the Roman Empire, and ending with warfare, conflict and death. The times of ruin, can be related to modern day as the world wars and nuclear extermination with scattered periods of peace and relaxation.
“The Ruin” specifically refers to the predidcted future of humanity. It is fortold that our race and everything on earth will be distroyed because of some great event. Kira’s population is some of the people who have survived this horrible wreckage. “The Council of Guardians” are all very old and contain much knowlege. It is possible that these men know very deep secrets into the past, and is why they are treated as royalty. They contain information that will lead their peoples future.
“Ruin.Rebuilding.Ruin again.Regrwoth” Pg.117
“She could see their pattern for growth and now each time the ruin was worse and the rebuilding more difficult.” Pg.118
With the help of a cheerful waif called Matt and his little dog, Kira at last finds the way to the plant that will allow her to create the missing color–blue–and, symbolically, to find the courage to shape the future by following her art wherever it may lead.
With astonishing originality, Lowry has again created a vivid and unforgettable setting for this thrilling story that raises profound questions about the mystery of art, the importance of memory, and the centrality of love. —Patty Campbell