I read most of Tigana before. I think. There was a period when I wasn’t very diligent about finishing one book before starting another, and the problem compounded to the point where I was reading six books at once and retaining next to nothing of any of them.
Memory was a talisman and a ward for him, gateway and hearth. It was pride and love, shelter from loss: for if something could be remembered it was not wholly lost. Not dead and gone forever. Marra could live; his dour, stern father hum a cradle song to him. And because of this, because this was at the heart of what Devin was, the old vengeance of Brandin of Ygrath smashed into him that night as if it had been newly wrought, pounding through the vulnerable center of how Devin saw and dealt with the world, and it cut him like a fresh and killing wound.
Spoilers, spoilers, but what Ye Olde Brandin of Ygrath did, via the convenient and all-explanatory medium of sorcery, was to take away the name of a country. From people’s minds and lips–no one not born there, when it was still what it was (Tigana) can say the name, or hear it, or remember it, or know the people from there as having come from there. The name of the country as well as its capital cities, gone. Ripped from the minds of everyone–but left, notably, in the minds of those born there, to give them something to spend their entire lives mourning. The country of Tigana has been reduced, not just politically but in the minds of the populace to a “lower” version of another neighboring (once its own arch-nemesis, it seems) country.
When you try to hear the name, if you were not born there, it slides out of your mind. And while I had forgotten all of this when I decided to “re”read the book, bits of it it rang distant bells as I went through. “Something about a coffin next?” I’d think, and in the next few chapters there would indeed be something about a coffin. “Isn’t that guy possibly the son of that other guy?” And eventually we’d find out he was. But my favorite favorite part is when an already respected character, from Tigana, attempts to say the name so his friend can hear it, at the friend’s request. The friend was born elsewhere and knows he is helping a revolutionary cause, for people he loves and trusts, but for a country whose name he cannot hear. “Tigana,” the Tiganan says, and the other man’s brows knit. He asks for it again. “Tigana,” and the other man sweats and squints and tries so hard to focus on it, but it slips away. Again. “Tigana.” And he can’t hang onto it, and is flustered and ashamed and turns away ultimately.
But what I loved, and anticipated deliciously as soon as vaguely-remembered characters came together in a vaguely-remembered place, was the tenderness with which the Tiganan complied with the request. His commitment to continue saying the name they both know the other cannot hear, his gentleness in allowing a hopelessly futile attempt again and again and again. I don’t know why I love that so much, but as soon as I sensed it coming I skip-jogged down the page to get to it. It wasn’t resolution in the face of overwhelming circumstances that charmed me, but, again, the gentleness with which such resolution was allowed. The anticipation of fury that would come from failure and the allowance of that, too. Between equals, or those who treat each other as such anyway. Beautiful.