Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World by Haruki Murakami (And, Here’s To Beginning The Japanese Literature Challenge 9!)

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“Well, it’s like this. Deep in your consciousness there’s this core that is imperceptible to yourself. In my case, the core is a town. A town with a river flowing through it and a high brick wall surrounding it. None of the people in the town can leave. Only unicorns can go in and out. The unicorn absorbs the egos of the townpeople like blotter paper and carry them outside the wall. So the people in the town have no ego, no self. I live in the town – or so the story goes. I don’t know any more than that, since I haven’t actually seen any of this with my own eyes.” (p. 359)

And that, from the first person point of view of our narrator, is about as succinct a description of this bizarre book as I can record. Bizarre, but of course wonderful at same time.

When the novel opens we are in an elevator, an elevator as big as an office, which travels so smoothly it is hard to tell if it is moving at all. It opens to reveal a chubby, lovely seventeen year old girl dressed entirely in pink, who takes him to a dark abyss into which he must jump in order to meet an old man in “a secret laboratory behind a subterranean waterfall just to escape inquisitive eyes.”

The old man is the girl’s grandfather, a biologist who says he is researching the mammalian palate. Apparently he has hired our nameless narrator, later called a Dreamreader, to launder and shuffle numbers by converting them in his brain.

Two entities are at war with each other over data; one is the Calcutecs who protect information, the other is the Semiotecs who steal information. Here, in part, lies the hard-boiled detective stuff, for when our narrator is given a skull from the old man as a present, it is the Semiotecs who break into his apartment to steal it. Apparently, this skull has value for reasons not entirely clear to us. (Only later do we discover that this is where the minds are kept.)

Alternating chapters with the grandfather, dark slimy tunnels, a seventeen year old girl and our narrator, are parallel chapters in which he dwells in the Town. The Town has a Wall, and a River, a Gatekeeper and a Pond. But, it doesn’t have anyone’s shadow. Those who dwell in the town must be severed from their shadows, which are sent to exile. “As the Gatekeeper warned you,” the old officer continues, “one of the conditions of this Town is that you cannot possess a shadow. Another is that you cannot leave. Not as long as the Wall surrounds the Town.”

The Town resembles Stepford to me, or the land where It dwells in A  Wrinkle in Time. It does next seem that its inhabitants (such as the Colonel, the Gatekeeper, the Librarian) are allowed personal choice, or freedom to be themselves. In fact, it seems as if they have been robbed of emotions which make life less than orderly. The Librarian, in fact, is unfulfilled. No matter how much she consumes for dinner, she is never satiated. She claims it is because she has a gastric disorder, but I think the emptiness reflects her heart, rather than her stomach.

Our narrator’s shadow tells him:

“Just now, you spoke of the Town’s perfections. Sure, the people here-the Gatekeeper aside-don’t hurt anyone. No one hurts each other, no one has wants. All are contented and at peace. Why is that? It’s because they have no mind.”

“That much I know too well,” I say.

“It is by relinquishing their mind that the Townfolk lose time; their awareness becomes a clean slate of eternity. As I said, no one grows old or dies. All that’s required is that you strip away the shadow that is the grounding of the self and watch it die. Once your shadow dies, you haven’t a problem in the world. You need only to skim off the discharges of the mind that rise each day.”

We read this novel to look at parallel universes which Haruki Murakami presents to us. We read it to dwell in the fantastic, and finally, to ponder the mystery of it all. The Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of The World won the Tanizaki Prize in 1985. Part science fiction, part fantasy, part “hard-boiled” detective (influenced by Murakami’s admiration for Raymond Chandler), this novel is all Murakami.

Some favorite quotes from this book:

They who never wanted family are now lonely old men.

Maybe no one finds it, or even misses it, but fairness is like love. What is given has nothing to do with what we seek.

~o0o~

With this novel begins the Japanese Literature Challenge 9. It runs from June, 2015 through January, 2016, and for the challenge you “must” read only one piece of Japanese literature. I have listed the people who indicated interest, or said they would jump in with both feet, below the button. I hope that anyone else who desires to read Japanese literature will join us in our discoveries. How excited I am to begin! Welcome! Please find the review site here.

JLC9

Participants:

Gary at Pomes All Sizes
MarinaSofia at findingtimetowrite
Carol at Brilliant Years
Jacqui at Jacqui Wine’s Journal
Sakura at Chasing Bawa
Claire at Word by Word
TJ at My Book Strings
Jackie at Farmlane Books
JoV at JoV’s Book Pyramid
Suko at Suko’s Notebook
Iliana at Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Nadia at A Bookish Way of Life
Kelly at Orange Pekoe Reviews
Ally at Snow Feathers
Terri at Terri Talks Books
Rare Bird at a murder of crows
Cathy at 746 Books
Akylina at The Literary Sisters
Edgar at Simple Images 2
Brona at Brona’s Books
James at James Reads Books
Mee of Bookie Mee
Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza

I’ve Been Missing Japanese Literature So Much of Late…Coming Soon: Japanese Literature Challenge 9

As June approaches, so my thoughts turn to Japanese literature. For that is when I typically begin the Japanese Literature Challenge which runs through January. I wondered how I would make it fresh this year, but my friend Parrish Lantern felt that it needs no added incentive; reading Japanese Literature is its own reward. For those of us who love it, that is surely so.

But, I’ve been reading Jacqui‘s, and MarinaSofia‘s, posts concerning their #TBR20 (stack of twenty books waiting to be read), and I realized I’d like to do the same with my own stack of Japanese literature. It has accumulated to double stacked shelves, since the first Japanese Literature Challenge begun in 2006, and now I plan to read these books for the ninth Japanese Literature Challenge this year:

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I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying For Awhile by Taichi Yamada (purchased because I loved Strangers so much);

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Evil and The Mask and Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura (because I loved The Thief so much);

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The Tattoo Murder Case and Honeymoon to NoWhere (because I’ve not read anything by Akimitsu Takagi before);

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Asleep and The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (because a dear friend bought me Asleep when she heard how much I enjoyed Kitchen, and I was sent a first edition of The Lake years ago);

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South of the Border, West of The Sun, After the Quake,and Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (because those are the only three books left that I haven’t read of all he’s written);

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Spring Snow and Runaway Horses by Yukio Mashima (because they are books 1 and 2 of his Sea of Fertility series);

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The Decay of the Angel and The Temple of Dawn by Yukio Mishima (because they are books 3 and 4 of the Sea of Fertility series);

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Nocturnes and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, as well as:

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A Pale View of Hills and The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (because the only book I’ve read by him is The Remains of The Day)

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Naomi and Seven Japanese Tales by Junichiro Tanizaki (because I’ve not yet read anything by him, and the Tanizaki Prize is one of the most sought-after writing awards in Japan).

~o0o~

Soon the Japanese Literature Challenge 9 will begin. The review site is here, where those who wish to participate can leave links to their reviews. As a reminder, the challenge runs from June, 2015 until January, 2016, and all you “have” to do is read at least one work of Japanese Literature.

The review site has a page called Suggested Reading in case you’re looking for further titles. However, if anyone wishes to read any of the books I have listed above, I would love to have a shared read together. Just let me know.

JLC9

I hope you are as eager to begin as I, and remember these famous words from Haruki Murakami: “Whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.”

We will hold ourselves wide open to possibility.

What’s The Strangest Thing In Your Library?

Here is an upside down picture of the box I folded:

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beside the heart-shaped rock that I found:

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which reside on my desk all the year round:

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But, Random House asks, “What’s the strangest thing on your desk that you’ve found?”

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Find the strange things on Haruki Murakami’s desk, and a plethora of information about this most wonderful author, here.

 

Oh, and Happy New Year!

Discussion for Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami (1949- )

As promised, I am posting the questions Random House gave us for the purpose of discussing Haruki Murakami’s latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. So many questions seem rather a lot, so I’m going to choose to address only a few. Feel free to choose any you like, and respond here in the comment section or on your own blog. May the discussion commence!

 

1.   What is the significance of the name of the novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage? Why is Tsukuru branded “colorless”? Would you say that this an accurate description of him? Is this how Tsukuru sees himself or is it how he is seen by others? What kind of pilgrimage does Tsukuru embark upon and how does he change as a result of this pilgrimage? What causes these changes?

 

I think that before Tsukuru went on his pilgrimage, he was colorless. Consider this quote from early in the novel, “Tsukuru Tazaki was the only one in the group without anything special about him. His grades were slightly above average. He wasn’t especially interested in academics, though he did pay close attention during class and always made sure to do the minimum amount of practice and review needed to get by…He didn’t mind sports but was never interested enough to join a team…He had no deep interest in the arts, no hobby or special skill. He was, if anything, a bit taciturn; he blushed easily, wasn’t especially outgoing, and could never relax around people he’d just met. Everything about him was middling, pallid, lacking in color.”  In comparison to his friends, in comparison to a life he could be living boldly, Tsukuru is indeed colorless.

 

2.   Why does Tsukuru wait so many years before attempting to find out why he was banished from the group? How does he handle the deep depression he feels as a result of this rejection and how is he changed by this period of suffering? Is Tsukuru the only character who suffers in this way? If not, who else suffers at what is the cause? Do you believe that their distress could have been avoided? If so, how?

 

I think that Tsukuru lacks the courage to attempt to find out the particulars about his banishment. He was wounded so deeply, he simply could not face the rejection; in the face of that wound it must not have really mattered why his friends rejected him, as much as the fact that they did.

 

How can only one person be affected when relationships fail? All suffered, even if not quite as acutely as Tsukuru did. In his rejection, their bond of unity was broken.

 

3.   Do you consider Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki a realistic work of fiction? Why or why not? What fantastical or surreal elements does Murakami employ in the novel and what purpose do they serve? What do these elements reveal that strictly realistic elements might not? Kuro says, “I do think that sometimes a certain kind of dream can be even stronger than reality” (310). In considering genre, do you believe that this is true?

 

To me, the dreams in this novel were not real; they did not really happen. I think they were Tsukuru’s subconscious at work, that many times we suppress ways we really feel, or thoughts we really think, and they come back to us in dreams until we sort them out. The dreams very power perhaps make them “stronger than reality”, but only because of the hold they have on our emotions.

 

4.   Tsukuru reveals that his father chose his name, which means “to make things.” Is this an apt name for Tsukuru? Why or why not? How does Tsukuru’s understanding of his own name affect the way that he sees himself? Where else in the story does the author address making things? Are they portrayed as positive or useful activities?

 

5.   Why is Tsukuru’s friendship with Haida so important? What is the outcome of this relationship? How does the relationship ultimately affect Tsukuru’s perception of himself? Does it alter Tsukuru’s response to the rejection he was subjected to years earlier in any way?

 

6.   Why does Haida share with Tsukuru the story about his father and the strange piano player who speaks of death? What might this teach us about the purpose of storytelling? How does Tsukuru react to this story? Is he persuaded by Haida’s tale? What does the story teach us about belief and the power of persuasion?

 

7.   Sara says that we live in an age where “we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather than information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people” (148). Do the characters in the story know each other very well? Do you believe that technology in today’s world has helped or hindered us in knowing each other better?

 

8.   When Tsukuru finally sees three of his friends again, how have each of them changed? How do they react to seeing one another after all this time? Are their reactions strange and unexpected or predictable? What unexpected changes have taken place over the years, and why are they surprising to Tsukuru? Has anything remained consistent?

 

9.   When Tsukuru visits the pizzeria in Finland, how does he react after realizing he is the only one there who is alone? How is this different from his usual response to isolation throughout the story? Discuss what this might indicate about the role that setting plays in determining Tsukuru’s emotional state.

 

10.   Does Tsukuru’s self-image and understanding of his role within the group align with how they saw Tsukuru and perceived his role in their group? If not, what causes differences in their perceptions? Do Tsukuru’s thoughts about his rejection from the group align with his friends’ understanding of why he was banished? How did Tsukuru’s banishment affect the other members of the group?

 

11.   Why do Tsukuru and Kuro say that they may be partly responsible for Shiro’s murder? Do you believe that the group did the right thing by protecting Shiro? Why or why not?

 

12.   The Franz Liszt song “Le mal du pays” is a recurring motif in the novel. Shiro plays the song on the piano; Haida leaves a recording of it behind; Tsukuru listens to it again and again; Kuro also has a recording. Why might the author have chosen to include this song in particular in the story? What effect does its repetition have on the reader—and the characters in the novel?

 

“Le mal du pays” is a song with a haunting melody. And, any song that we hear during a particular time in our lives never really leaves us. Don’t you have the experience, when you listen to such a song, that you’re back in that moment? You can almost physically feel the time, the memory, the people you were with. I think this song carried such meaning for Tsukuru not only because of its beauty, but because of the import it had in his life from the people who meant something to him.

 

Also, Haida tells him, ” ‘Le mal du pays.’ It’s French. Usually it’s translated as ‘homesickness,’ or ‘melancholy.’ If you put a finer point on it, it’s more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’ It’s a hard expression to translate accurately.” What better piece of music to accompany Murakami’s themes of sadness and alienation?

 

(I was so moved by what Haida says later, about Lazar Berman playing Franz Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage suite ‘Year 1: Switzerland’ that I bought a copy for myself, and I’ve been listening to it ever since. “A Russian, Lazar Berman. When he plays Liszt it’s like he’s painting a delicately imagined landscape. Most people see Liszt’s piano music as more superficial, and technical. Of course, he has some tricky pieces, but if you listen very carefully to his music you discover a depth to it that you don’t notice at first. Most of the time it’s hidden behind all the embellishments. This is particularly true of the Years of Pilgrimage suites. There aren’t many living pianists who can play it accurately and with such beauty. Among more contemporary pianists, Berman gets it right, and with the older pianists I’d have to go with Claudio Arrau.”)

 

13.   Sara tells Tsukuru: “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them” (44). What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her statement?

 

I highlighted this quote every time that it appeared in the novel, and I’ve counted at least three. This quote has particular significance to me because when my first husband left his son and I in 1997, I could not bear any memory of our life together. I threw out whole photo albums, and boxes of letters he’d written to me. I was foolish enough to think that in discarding the memory, I could erase the time.

 

It is not that simple, and even the memories don’t stay hidden for long.

 

I don’t believe we can erase either the memories, or the history, of our lives.

 

14. Kuro says that she believes an evil spirit had inhabited Shiro, and as Tsukuru is leaving her home, Kuro tells him not to let the bad elves get him. Elsewhere in the story, the piano player asks Haida’s father whether he believes in a devil. Does the novel seem to indicate whether there is such a thing as evil—existing apart from mankind, or is darkness characterized as an innate part of man’s psyche?

 

15.   While visiting Kuro, Tsukuru comes to the realization “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds” (322). This, he says, “is what lies at the root of true harmony.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with his statement?

 

16.   Why does Tsukuru seem to be so interested in railroad stations? How does his interest in these stations affect his relationship with his high school friends? Later in his life, how does this interest affect his understanding of friendship and relationships? The author revisits Tsukuru’s interest in railroad stations at the end of the book and refers to the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways in 1995 great disaster of 3/11 in Japan. Why do you think that Murakami makes mention of this incident? Does this reference change your interpretation of the story?

 

I have read Murakami’s book Underground which tells of the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo. I think the reference to that incident applies to Tsukuru because innocent people are often the victim of someone else’s cruelty. The question becomes not, “Why did I suffer this way?” but “How can I get through it with courage and grace?”  Tsukuru was as innocent as those who were gassed, yet he suffered terribly at the hands of others who care mostly about their own agenda.

 

17.   Is Tsukuru’s decision with respect to Sara at the end of the story indicative of some kind of personal progress? What is significant about his gesture? How has Tsukuru changed by the story’s end? Do you believe that the final scene provides sufficient resolution of the issues raised at the start of the story? Does it matter that readers are not ultimately privy to Sara’s response to Tsukuru’s gesture?

 

18.   Tsukuru wishes that he had told Kuro, “Not everything was lost in the flow of time” (385). What does he believe was preserved although time has gone by? What did the members of the group ultimately gain through their friendship despite their split?

 

19. How does Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki compare to Haruki Murakami’s earlier novels? What themes do the works share? What elements of Murakami’s latest novel are different or unexpected?

 

I find that this novel has many themes that are prevalent in Haruki’s writing: loneliness, depression, and alienation are all present here as well as in Kafka on The Shore, Hear The Wind Sing, Pinball, 1973, and especially Norwegian Wood. For me, this book had many parallels to Norwegian Wood. In particular, I found a quote I’d copied from that book, “No body likes being alone that much. I don’t go out of my way to make friends, that’s all. It just leads to disappointment.”  This quote alone seems to sum up so much of the way Tzukuru felt before he went on his pilgrimage. Thank goodness Sara told him, “You need to come face-to-face with the past, not as some naive, easily wounded boy, but as a grown-up, independent professional. not to see what you want to see, but what you must see. Otherwise you’ll carry around that baggage for the rest of your life.”

 

 

 

As for you, do you agree with any of these thoughts? Do you have something you’d like to add or address which I’ve left out? I’d be so glad to read what you have to say.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: Initial ThoughtsAfter My First Time Through

Colorless Tzukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgramage

The first sentence is rather shocking. “From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.” It’s not exactly a hopeful beginning, and yet right from the beginning we are in touch with a familiar theme of Murakami’s: despair.

Tsukuru Tazaki’s despair is born of loneliness, a legitimate feeling since his four closest friends have abandoned him with no explanation. He is left wondering what he could have done to be rejected so completely, and having not even the strength to ask for explanations, he retreats to Tokyo.

As Tsukuru reflects on his four friends, he feels empty and isolated by comparison. One of the reasons is that each of the four had a name containing a color. The two boys’ last names were Akamatsu-which means “red pine”- and Oumi-“blue sea”; the girls’ family names where Shirane- “white root”-and Kurono-“black field.” Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a color in its meaning. From the very beginning this fact made him feel a little bit left out.” Even though Tsukuru’s name does not have a color, it does have significance; tuskuru means “to make or build.” It is a name which perfectly fits a character who is able to build train stations, and more importantly, who must build meaning into his life again.

While Tsukuru Tazaki swims laps at a pool in Tokyo, he meets a new friend, Haida (whose name means literally, “gray field”. And he also meets Sara, who is the impetus behind his pilgrimage. She knows that he cannot carry on without knowing the reason for his expulsion from the group, and it is she who encourages him to meet each one of the friends sixteen years later. Three times, by Chapter 11, this quote is given, “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”

Tsukuru’s pilgrimage is to find out why he was rejected. But more importantly than that, in my opinion, it is to find the strength to carry on regardless of the past. His pilgrimage is to put the past to rest, while bravely embracing the future with a confidence which has been dormant for far too long.

(I plan on rereading this book before September 12, on which I will post the discussion questions put forth by Random House. From there, those who have read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage are welcome to answer any of the questions they choose. Please know now much I enjoy the discussion we began with the book cover yesterday. I look forward to more insight from your comments and reviews in the weeks to come.)

Yesterday by Haruki Murakami

Erika stared at the candle flame flickering in the breeze from the A.C. “I often have the same dream,” she said. “Aki-kun and I are on a ship. A long journey on a large ship. We’re together in a small cabin, it’s late at night, and through the porthole we can see the full moon. But that moon is made of pure, transparent ice. And the bottom half of it is sunk in the sea. ‘That looks like the moon,” Aki-kun tells me, ‘but it’s really made of ice and is only about eight inches thick. So when the sun comes out in the morning it all melts. You should get a good look at it now, while you have the chance.’ I’ve had this dream so many times. It’s a beautiful dream. Always the same moon. Always eight inches thick. I’m leaning against Aki-kun, it’s just the two of us, the waves lapping gently outside. But every time I wake up I feel unbearable sad.”

“YesterdayIs two days before tomorrow,The day after two days ago.”


When I finish a piece by Haruki Murakami I can envision the setting. I can feel the mood. I feel like I’ve been introduced properly to the characters. His writing makes the smallest detail seem incredibly important. But I can’t always say that I understand what he’s writing about. I look for a theme, or a lesson, or even a significant point, and I feel a bit lost. To me, Yesterday speaks ultimately about the brevity of our lives, the melting of what’s important, and the sadness inherent in every relationship.
What I do understand is how his characters feel. His description of them resonates with me in such a way that it feels as if he’s describing my own heart. My own life: 
“I couldn’t speak. Not being able to find the right words at crucial times is one of my many problems.”
And:
“Brooding over how things had turned out–after everything had already been decided–was another of my chronic problems.”
Thanks to Mookse and The Gripes for the heads up about the appearance of Haruki Murakami’s short story. You can read Yesterday in The New Yorker here.

Hear The Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami: Favorite Quotes and Authors Mentioned

Quotes which Caught My Attention:

“There’s no such thing as perfect writing. Just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”

“Nonetheless, writing can also be fun. Compared to the sheer difficulty of living, the process of attaching meaning to life is altogether clear sailing.”
“Whatever can’t be expressed might as well not exist.”
“You’ve got to listen to the radio. Reading only isolates you. Admit it.” 
“Nobody could figure out why she died. I doubt if even she herself knew.” 
“Everything passes. Nobody gets anything for keeps. And that’s how we’ve got to live.”
(I’m intrigued in reading this book how the story revolves around a certain girl with four fingers, a girl our hero apparently loves very much. Yet, quite piercingly, she hangs herself in the woods and isn’t found until two weeks later. Hear The Wind Sing reminds me very much of Norwegian Wood, and while I will reread the later, I’m going on to Pinball, 1973 first. I have to read The Trilogy of The Rat in order now.)
Titles and authors mentioned in Hear The Wind Sing:
Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Henry James

Moliere

Sorcieres by Michelet
The Last Temptation of Christ by Kazantzakis
One and A Half Times Around The Rainbow by Derek Heartfield (fictional author)
War and Peace by Tolstoy
The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky
(Of this diverse list of authors mentioned by Murakami in Hear The Wind Sing, I’ve only read War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov.That’s no surprise to me, as I love Russian authors as much as Japanese. Anyway, I’d like to read more of what’s listed here because they must be important to Murakami in some way.)
I read this book as my first book of 2014, and also for the Japanese Literature Challenge 7 and January in Japan.

"To Translate and be Translated" by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is 64 years old today, born on January 12, 1949.
I can’t properly express how much his writing means to me. The fact that I am able to read it all, in English, is a huge gift. So perhaps the best thing to do, in honor of his incredible skill which has been translated to non-Japanese readers like me, is to leave an excerpt from A Wild Haruki Chase: Reading Murakami Around the World. This is a chapter he wrote himself, entitled “To Translate and be Translated.”
I never reread my own works unless there is some very special reason. It may sound impressive for me to say that I do not look back on my past, but the truth is that I find it a bit embarrassing to take my own novels in my hands, and I know I would not like them anyway if I were to read them. I would rather look forward and think about what I will be doing next.
So it is not unusual for me to completely forget what and how I wrote in my earlier books. Quite often, when a reader asks me what a particular passage means in a certain work, I wonder if there is such a passage at all. It also sometimes happens that I read something that catches my attention in a book or magazine and think, “This stuff isn’t bad at all,” only to discover that it is an excerpt of my own writing. As presumptuous as it sounds, that is what happens.
On the other hand, I am quick to recognize my writing when the passage being quoted is one that I do not like. For whatever reason, I can always tell. I tend to forget the good work but remember clearly those places that I am unhappy with. It is a strange thing…
Anyhow, typically by the time a novel of mine is published in another language a few years after I have finished writing it, I can no longer remember clearly what I wrote. Of course I never forget the entire plot, but much of the detail will have been wiped clean from my memory–not that I have a very good memory to begin with–just as the moisture from a summer shower on an asphalt road evaporates quickly and soundlessly.
I usually leaf through translations of my novels if they are in English. Once I start reading one, I often find it absorbing (because I have forgotten how it goes) and fly through to the end, thrilled and occasionally moved to laughter. So when a translator asks how the translation is, all I can say is, “Well, I was able to read through it smoothly. Seems good to me.” There are hardly any technical comments that I can make–“This part was so-and-so, that part was so-and-so.” Although I am asked what it is like to have my novels translated into other languages, I honestly have little such awareness.
If a translation can be read smoothly and effortlessly, and thus enjoyably, then it does its job as a translation perfectly well-that is my basic stance as the original author. For that is what the stories that I conjure and lay out are really about. What the story says over and beyond that is a question in the realm of the “front room” that waits after a translation has safely cleared the “front yard” portion of the work, or of the “central room” that lies further on.
For me, one of the joys of my works being transformed into another language is that I can reread them in a new form. By having a work converted into another language by someone else’s hand, I can look back and reconsider it from a respectable distance and enjoy it coolly as a quasi-outsider, as it were, whereas I never would have read it again if it had remained only in Japanese. In so doing, I can also reevaluate myself from a different standpoint. That is why I am very thankful for the translators who translate my novels. It is certainly a delight to have my works read by readers in other countries, but at the same time, it is a joy that my works can be read by me myself–though, unfortunately, for now this is limited to English.
Put differently, when a literary world that I have created is transposed into another linguistic system, I feel as if I have been able to dissociate me from myself, which gives me a good deal of peace. One may say, then, that I might as well write in a foreign language from the start. But this is not so easily done, for reasons of skill and capability. That may be why, in my own way, I have tried to write my novels using prose that I have constructed by first converting Japanese, my mother tongue, into a mock foreign language in my head-that is by clearing away the innate everydayness of language that lies in my self-consciousness. Looking back, it seems as if that is what I have always done.
Seen in that light, my process of creative writing may closely correspond to the process of translation–or rather, in some respects they may be two sides of the same coin. I have been translating (from English to Japanese) for many years myself, and I know how hard the job of translation is, as well as how much fun it is. I also understand to some extent how immensely the flavor of the text can vary from one translator to another.
What is most needed for a good translation is probably linguistic skills. But another quality that I think is equally important, especially in the case of fiction, is a love full of personal bias. Put most radically, I would say that is all you need. What I expect above all in translations of my works is just that. A love full of bias is, in the face of this uncertain world, one of the things I adore the most, with a deeply biased love.”
I don’t profess to completely understand his books. But Haruki Murakami has taught me to suspend my disbelief. He has shown me a world as unpredictable as I know it to be, with characters who are often as elusive as they are present. His writing, with a formidable humility and an honesty, makes me love him all the more.
A Wild Haruki Chase
Here are links so that you can visit his website,  facebook page, or Twitter. And, thanks to Stone Bridge Press who sent me this book.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

There’s nothing that can bring back the memories of one you have loved quite so much as music. I hear the theme of Taxi (Bob James’ Angela), or the Stones singing Sympathy for the Devil, and I’m immediately overwhelmed by sensations connected to my first husband. I can feel him more when I’m listening to those musical strains than I can by trying to picture his face.

Toru Watanabe finds the same thing happens to him when he hears the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood. He is immediately so overcome by the memories of Naoke that he sits on the plane with his head in his hands, and the stewardess asks him if he’s okay. He’s just dizzy, he explains, but I know how much it hurts to relive a love affair which ended so abruptly. For how does one cope with suicide?
No matter how much pain the person who died must have felt, there must be little comprehension of the pain which is left behind. There is no resolution to the relationship, no farewell, no understanding as to why such a thing happened. “Surely,” we think, “if given the opportunity and the time, we could have fixed that broken heart.”
But Toru is left with his own broken heart to fix, and while he has a relationship with Midori upon which he can now fully focus, it does not eradicate the place which Naoko once occupied. No one can replace another.
I found myself writing down the names of authors Murakami included in his narrative, names like:  Truman Capote, John Updike, Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Chandler whereas the rest of his peers “liked Kazumi Takahashi, Kenzaburo Oe, Yukio Mishima or contemporary French novelists…” (p. 30) He listed novels such as Beneath The Wheel by Herman Hesse, The Centaur by John Updike, and The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald which make me want to read all three. Even though I’ve already read the last one countless times.
I found myself writing down quotes, most especially from the beginning of the novel which I shared in an earlier post.
I found myself comparing Toru and I, and finding many similarities between us: we are both quiet, peaceful and lonely; we both like novels no one else seems to and are greatly affected by music. As well as lost love.
I found connections to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle within the pages of Norwegian Wood. Toru says, “I miss you something awful sometimes, but in general I go on living with all the energy I can muster. Just as you take care of the birds and the fields every morning, every morning I wind my own spring. I give it some thirty-six good twists by the time I’ve gotten up, brushed my teeth, shaved, eaten breakfast, changed my clothes, left the dorm, and arrived at the university. I tell myself, “O.K., let’s make this day another good one.” I hadn’t noticed before, but they tell me I talk to myself a lot these days, Probably mumbling to myself while I wind my spring.” (p. 197)
It’s wonderful to read several works by one favorite author because I feel like I’m getting to know him better with each novel I complete. Am I presuming to say that I know Haruki Murakami? Not at all. But, I love living in his world. One book at a time.
Find other reviews from my reading buddies as they are completed this last week of November. I will link to them here when they are published. ReBelle’s review is here, Claire’s here, Nadia’s here, and C. B.’s here.