I read this book because it was recommended to me by a young man of my acquaintance, who'd read it for school. I read it, and was amazed by the book, which has a very "Brave New World
" sort of feel, but the book became ever-so-much better, when I examined it from a Buddhist perspective.
The story begins in an unnamed community, in which the people are living predictable, ordered lives, under a system called Sameness which, as the story unfolds, is revealed more and more to be an illusion (something which in Buddhism is called Samsara). Under Sameness, the community members go about their daily lives, under strict guidelines for behaviour, clothing, and possessions. Each member undergoes annual transitory rites, designating them an age-category, from Newchild, to One, Two, and so-on, until the rank of Twelve. Each stage of their graduation is marked by new clothing, mandated hairstyles, or new possessions, which are also recycled to the upcoming generation, when custom requires it. Age twelve is the point at which each community member is assigned his/her job, and begins training therein.
The story itself centers on a twelve-year-old boy named Jonas, who's been born with a noticeable difference in eye-colour, which marks him as special, from the beginning of the story. In the early part of the story, he begins to notice things about the world around him, which hint at truths beyond those most can see, and he has no words to explain them to his friends.
In the course of his passage rites, Jonas is selected as the new Receiver of Memories'a highly-honoured role in the community, which he later finds out are the community's attempt to stifle the truth about the nature and existence of suffering in the past. Memories are transferred to him from the Giver'the previous Receiver'of hunger, pain, death, violence, and Jonas begins to see the world around him very differently. He sees the violence of death in a childhood game of War, which is'in the community'only an incomplete memory, disbursed into the community, presumably when Jonas's predecessor, a girl named Rosemary, kills herself, unable to bear the truth of all the pain and suffering.
Rosemary's death, though, reveals to the Giver a couple of things about his role (He is a Bodhisattva, delaying his own Liberation, for the good of the community.):
1) The Receiver's role is to guard the community against the truth of suffering.
2) With Rosemary's death, the potential for Liberation-for-All (Nirvana/Nibbana) is revealed to the Giver (in memories of war, revealed in children's games), and he waits to find the next Receiver (Maitreya/Future Buddha).
Jonas, the story's Future Buddha, is exposed to the truth, as was Siddhartha, and recognizes the extremes between the mindless existence of the community-members, and the asceticism represented in the life of the Receiver. With the Giver's help, he comes to an understanding that there's a Middle Way, in which the memories reserved by those filling his role, can be returned to the people, if the Receiver escapes the community.
Giver and Receiver hatch a plan to liberate the community from delusion, and Jonas escapes with Gabriel, a Newchild, into realms beyond the safety and security of the community. In the end, however, he finds that the only truth beyond the Samsara of Sameness is death (through hypothermia). His last act reveals his greatest compassion and Awakening, as he transfers memories of love, warmth, Christmas, family, a sleigh-ride, lights, and a vague memory of Christmas music, to Gabriel, as they lay on the ground, freezing to death. Jonas's memory of music suggests that the Giver has also died, and that his memories of music have been disbursed to the community.