I had just finished "The Garden of Forking Paths". I was about to start some Kafka, but I wandered into a $10 bookshop to see if there was anything that I could read in between. I looked at the front table. Nothing. Inside I wondered about a book about Heidegger. I went back to it twice, but decided I had enough Heidegger for the moment. I resolved to be virtuous and save my money for another occasion. I had one last look at the front table on the way out, and there it was. A solitary hardback copy of "The Strange Library" for $10. Almost 70% cheaper than anywhere else. I read it the following morning on a one hour train trip.
The book is beautifully typeset, designed and printed, with marbled paper and scientific illustrations from old books found in the London Library. The English version is totally differently illustrated to the Japanese version.
It was serendipity that I would segue from "The Library of Babel" to "The Strange Library". Borges' library is a symbol of a universe that is both chaotic and infinite. Beneath Murakami's library, a young boy is led to a reading room in the basement that is "as dark as if a hole had been pierced in the cosmos". Normally, a library connotes the quest for and gain of knowledge and comprehension. Here, it houses a labyrinth in which the narrator suffers loss. In contrast to the cosmos, the library makes him realise how it feels to be alone and the depth of the darkness that surrounds him. At his age, at least, the narrator is unable to generate enough light to counter the darkness outside.
The sheep man makes an appearance. There's no black cat, but early in his life the narrator is bitten by the black dog (of depression?). There's a pet starling and, of course, a pretty girl the same age as the narrator.
In Borges, the style is dense with words and abstraction. In Murakami, it's sparse and uncluttered, the stuff of fairy tales, if still dark.
The novella ends with one cycle of the moon. There's no sense of what is to come. We can only assume that the narrator will approach adulthood with little guidance, little reassurance, little comfort and no library card.
"If you don't hurry, you'll be lost for eternity."...more
Bears - salmon - honey - trade - Earthquake Man - crazy box - stories - unrequited young love - bra trick - keep watch - in case - sky falls - earth cracks open - you don't get it - none of this seems real
"Time wobbled on its axis inside him, like curtains stirring in a breeze...It was as if nothing had changed since the time they were 19."...more
Many of Murakami's novels deal with the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This probably accounts for their amazing pFrom Young Adult to Mature
Many of Murakami's novels deal with the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This probably accounts for their amazing popularity, especially with young Japanese readers.
However, you have to wonder whether Murakami can continually plough the fields of this subject matter at his age, without losing his youthful audience.
As at the date of publication of this novel, he is aged 65, which in some countries is the traditional mandatory retirement age.
I suspect that "Colorless Tsukuru" is a strategic move that anticipates how he will write and what he will write about in the future. It might even enhance his reputation with older readers.
Adolescence in Retrospect
The eponymous protagonist is 36 at the time most of the novel is set. It is sixteen years since Tsukuru and his four colorful friends turned 20 years of age and in a sense made the transition to adulthood.
Although the novel is still loosely about this transition, it is told from the perspective of somebody much older, if still affected by it.
In a way, Tsukuru's pilgrimage returns him, not to some source of religious belief, but to his adolescence.
The pilgrimage is a necessary journey to the source of an understanding of his current self. However, temporally, he must eventually return to the present, when he is 36.
Inevitably, his pilgrimage will help him understand his immediate past (the last 16 years) and his present, but also his future.
My copy I
On Being Blue
At the age of 20, Tsukuru's tight-knit community comprised of four other school friends (whose names all contain the Japanese words for colors - red, blue, black and white) suddenly dissociated themselves from him without giving him a reason. From his point of view, there was no reason, and therefore every reason.
He started to think of himself as colorless, an absence, a nothing, a zero. His life consisted of nothingness. He genuinely and quite understandably lived in an abyss, on a precipice, inside a void, surrounded by darkness.
Initially, he was tempted to commit suicide. However, even this act requires some positive deliberation, and eventually he can't even collect himself together enough to take the step of jumping off the precipice.
He continues to live, not because he has decided in favour of life or against death, but he simply can't be bothered to make any decision at all.
Tsukuru assumes that the relationship with each of his friends would have continued through adulthood, but for his friends' abandonment of him. He assumes that it has continued between his four former friends.
As a result, Tsukuru clings to what he has lost, in the belief that it still exists. In a way, he holds onto something from his adolescence well into adulthood.
Doing so prevents him "growing up" and having "more adult" relationships, getting married and becoming a parent.
As the title indicates, the narrative of the novel consists of a pilgrimage which forces him to confront his situation.
The immediate trigger is 38 year old Sara, who is keen to have a serious relationship with him, but questions whether he is ready.
She senses that Tsukuru is trapped by an emotional and spiritual blockage. The only way to deal with it is to locate his four friends and find out why they abandoned him.
He can't simply pretend it didn't happen and move on. He has to find out and deal with it, no matter how bad their reasons might be.
Sara realises that what happened to Tsukuru was so traumatic that it not only destroyed his vitality, it destroyed his desire, his appetite, his longing.
She sets him off on the pilgrimage, not believing that he will automatically be happy, but confident that when he returns, he will be able to deal with life's challenges more effectively.
She doesn't anticipate some fairy tale ending in which everybody lives happily ever after. She simply believes in the ability of two loving adults to sort out their problems. Together.
Colorless, but Constructive
Tsukuru was always disappointed that his name didn't represent a color, like his friends. However, more importantly, it means "to create, to make, to build".
At work, he is an engineer who build railways stations that are at the hub of the transportation and communications network.
Ultimately, he has to learn to recreate, remake, rebuild himself, just as he would refurbish an existing railway station.
His station is not ready to be demolished, it just needs a little renovation.
Tokyo Metro Subway Map
Tsukuru learns much from and about his friends during his pilgrimage. I won't spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that they have moved away from each other in their adult lives. The community that Tsukuru assumed had persisted without him doesn't exist. He has missed little as a result of his abandonment.
Instead, each of his friends has encountered their own challenges and problems making the transition to adulthood.
The causes are different for each of his friends. However, Murakami's message seems to be that we aren't so much challenged by external forces, like fate or evil.
What prevents us from succeeding or being happy is our own fear of failure. In love matters, we often don't express our love for another, because of a fear of non-reciprocation.
Don't Let the Bad Elves Get You
Murakami implies that we miss out on a lot of life experience and happiness, just because we lack the courage to try.
Our confidence shines its own light. It shows us the way, but it also attracts others.
In contrast, our lack of confidence is a form of darkness that obscures our vision and frustrates our happiness.
This insight connects with Murakami's increasing interest in the role of the subconscious.
While we have grown used to the magical realism in Murakami's novels, he is increasingly moving in a direction that suggests that the real darkness and unknown in within us, within our sub-conscious.
As with psychoanalysis, part of growing up is about translating the unknown into the known, and the unconscious into the conscious.
One of Tsukuru's friends farewells him with the words, "Don't let the bad elves get you!"
It's good advice, but it emerges from a discussion about the inner demons that plagued one of their other friends. In her case, the bad elves resided within.
So, not only do we have to keep a watch out for ourselves, we have to keep an eye on ourselves, our own demons. Perhaps, the real message is that we shouldn't let our bad selves get us.
We Can Be Happy
Ultimately, Tsukuru's pilgrimage takes him to the source of the subconscious forces that drove him towards anomie, depression, anxiety and potential suicide.
There is a sense in which this subject matter might still be intended for young adults. However, I don't think there is any preconceived limit to the audience for Murakami's fiction.
In contemporary Western society, if not Japanese and Eastern society as well, adults are just as much plagued by anxiety as adolescents. In fact, if adults were a lot happier, perhaps their children might be happier.
Happiness isn't necessarily comprised of material wealth. I think that Murakami is trying to help generate a spiritual wealth, whether or not it is theistic.
The Hero's Journey
Joseph Campbell believed that the story arc of most literature and film is a hero's journey, and that the hero has a thousand faces. (view spoiler)[Campbell was a big influence on George Lucas' method of story-telling. His film "Star Wars" is mentioned in this novel. (hide spoiler)]
One of Murakami's aims seems to be to persuade us that, in our own lives, one of those faces should be our own.
His fiction has increasingly become an attempt to combat the inauthentic prescriptions of cults and self-help groups.
Murakami's latest novel might be constructed around a hero's journey.
I suspect that the following Wiki description of Joseph Campbell's concept of the "monomyth" might even describe many of his earlier novels:
"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
"Colorless Tsukuru" differs from this definition and Murakami's earlier works in that Tsukuru returns in order to deal with his problems, believing it's not adequate to escape them in some fantasist world.
It's arguable that there is no neat ending to the novel. However, you could infer that when Tsukuru returns, he will be capable of longing and he will find someone who is prepared to help him build something new. And isn't that what we all want from life, whether we're an adolescent or an adult or both?
My copy II
Gray is a mixture. Find gradations of darkness, Not just black and white.
All through secondary school, my four best friends had names similar to mine. But not similar enough for my liking. Our surnames were all based on colours: White, Blue, Greene, Browne. And me. My name was Ian Gray then. Notice that my name had no "e" on the end. I desperately wanted that "e", so that I could be like them. I did some research in the library and discovered I couldn't change it by deed poll until I turned 18. By the time we were all 17, we were in our last year of school. I had already decided that I wanted to go to university in Canberra. The other four wanted to remain in Brisbane (notice the omnipresent "e"). Each year, I would return home, and it was just like I hadn't been away. We were the colourful five. While away, in another world, I had forgotten about changing my name by deed poll. Then one holiday when I was just about to return to Canberra to complete my last year, Blue came around to my home. It was just the two of us. Nobody else was home, not even my family. I was shocked by what he told me. He said that the four of them had decided they wanted to discontinue contact with me. I asked whether it was because of the missing "e". He just laughed, as if he had never thought of the possibility. "I can't tell you why," he said. "You'll have to work it out for yourself." He rose from the sofa and left without saying another word. He didn't even shake my hand when I offered it. I returned to Canberra, finished my degree and eventually came home at the end of the academic year. I wrote many letters to my friends that year, but they answered none of them. I cried when I arrived home and my parents greeted me. Even though I had seen them every year, I still remembered them as they had been when I lived at home and went to school. They looked frail and ill. One after the other, they died over the next 18 months. I had no siblings. Nobody objected or cared when I finally changed my name to Ian Graye. I wrote to my friends again on the off chance that they might renew our friendship, but all four of my letters came back, marked "return to sender". I was back home, alone, lonely, friendless. As I remain today. But with an "e".
Yuko Shimizu's illustration on the cover of the New York Times Book Review
Yuko Shimizu explains the process by which she illustrated the review of Haruki Murakami’s novel on the cover of the New York Times Book Review:
"Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) (S.160, S.161, S.163) is a set of three suites for solo piano by Franz Liszt. Much of it derives from his earlier work, Album d'un voyageur, his first major published piano cycle, which was composed between 1835 and 1838 and published in 1842.
Années de pèlerinage is widely considered a masterwork and summation of Liszt's musical style. The third volume is notable as an example of his later style. Composed well after the first two volumes, it displays less showy virtuosity and more harmonic experimentation.
The title Années de pèlerinage refers to Goethe's famous novel of self-realization, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. Liszt clearly places the work in line with the Romantic literature of his time, prefacing most pieces with a literary passage from writers such as Schiller, Byron or Senancour, and, in an introduction to the entire work, writing:
'Having recently travelled to many new countries, through different settings and places consecrated by history and poetry; having felt that the phenomena of nature and their attendant sights did not pass before my eyes as pointless images but stirred deep emotions in my soul, and that between us a vague but immediate relationship had established itself, an undefined but real rapport, an inexplicable but undeniable communication, I have tried to portray in music a few of my strongest sensations and most lively impressions.'"
A Metafictitious Review That Could Have Been Written in the Land of Questions
"As a story, the work is put together in an exceptionally interesting way and it carries the reader along to the very end, but when it comes to the question of what is an air chrysalis, or who are the Little People, we are left in a pool of mysterious question marks.
"This may well be the author's intention, but many readers are likely to take this lack of clarification as a sign of 'authorial laziness'.
"While this may be fine for a debut work, if the author intends to have a long career as a writer, in the near future she may well need to explain her deliberately cryptic posture."
"You could pick it apart completely if you wanted to. But the story itself has real power: it draws you in.
"The overall plot is a fantasy, but the descriptive detail is incredibly real. The balance between the two is excellent.
"I don’t know if words like “originality” or “inevitability” fit here, and I suppose I might agree if someone insisted it’s not at that level, but finally, after you work your way through the thing, with all its faults, it leaves a real impression—it gets to you in some strange, inexplicable way that may be a little disturbing."
"If You Can't Understand It Without An Explanation, You Can't Understand It With An Explanation."
"It was probably Chekhov who said that the novelist is not someone who answers questions but someone who asks them."
Haiku for the Land of Q:
Here is an assortment of haiku inspired (or, if lacking inspiration, stimulated) by "1Q84".
Please add your contributions and improvements in the comments.
And don't forget to read the interview at the foot of the haiku.
Yo La Tengo (HaiQ)
Remember your hand, How it held mine so firmly. Now we are grown up.
Sonic Youth (HaiQ)
Under the two moons. Aomame, Tengo, Q. Fuka-Eri, too.
My father collects NHK subscription fees, So I can teach math.
Come, let us watch the Oracle spectacular Sketch birds, moons and cats.
Laura Nyro (HaiQ)
So surry on down. There'll be lots of time into Which to disappear.
The Strokes (HaiQ)
A massage table. I prick the back of your neck. Your wife will thank me.
Animal Collective (HaiQ)
You should see my house. There's not much fancy in it, Just my girls and spouse.
Lou Reed (HaiQ)
This time of year, You and I should fall in love. Sleep beneath two moons.
LCD Soundsystem (HaiQ)
Let all your friends know: Daft Punk, playing at my house, Little People free.
Twenty-four hours. Can't stop until we achieve Exquisite Rapture.
Tofu, miso soup, Cauliflower, rice pilaf, Green bean, wakame.
The Brisbane Airtrain takes many Japanese tourists from the Gold Coast to the Brisbane International Airport.
This is a transcript of a recent conversation with a middle-aged Japanese man between South Bank Station and the Airport during the Brisbane Writers Festival.
The man was wearing an "1Q84" t-shirt, he looked like Murakami, and spoke like Murakami, but he vehemently denied that he was Murakami at the end of the conversation.
He was contradicted by his companion, a quiet but very assertive black cat.
IG: There’s been some suggestion that the character Aomame is similar to Lisbeth Sanders.
HM: That will always happen, because there aren’t many role models for women capable of violence.
IG: Aomame has a particular knack, so to speak, for kicking men in the balls.
HM: Realistically speaking, it’s impossible for women to protect themselves against men without resorting to a kick in the testicles. Most men are bigger and stronger than women. A swift testicle attack is a woman’s only chance.
IG: So it’s a conscious tactic.
HM: A strategy. Mao Zedong said it best. You find your opponent’s weak point and make the first move with a concentrated attack. It’s the only chance a guerilla force has of defeating a regular army.
IG: So, the message is “go for the balls”.
HM: Either that, or make sure you’ve got a gun.
IG: Which is interesting, because later in the book, you give Aomame a gun. Why did you do that?
HM: I wasn’t going to, but her friend Ayumi, the policewoman, said something that suggested the idea to me. She was talking about the Steve McQueen film, “The Getaway”, and she mentioned “a wad of bills and a shotgun”.
IG: And Ayumi says that Aomame looks like Faye Dunaway holding a machine gun.
HM: Yes, but more importantly, Aomame says, “I don’t need a machine gun”.
IG: So I guess she wasn’t just talking about kicking guys in the balls.
HM: That’s right, I had to give her a gun.
IG: Well, Godard says, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.”
HM: The idea goes back further than that, to Chekhov.
HM: Yes, not so much guns and girls, but guns generally.
IG: I think Tamaru gave her the gun.
HM: Yes, but he also quoted Chekhov, “Once a gun appears in a story, it has to be fired.”
IG: So the gun…
HM: Stop, I’m sorry, that would be a spoiler.
IG: Um, Tamaru is quite an interesting character. He’s the one who suggests that Aomame should read Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”.
HM: She was supposed to be in hiding for three months.
IG: So she had plenty of time on her hands.
HM: Yes, someone once said that, unless you’ve been in jail or had to hide out for a long time, you can’t read the whole of Proust.
IG: Is Proust still relevant to modern readers? How do you relate to his work?
HM: Very relevant, with one qualification. It feels like I’m experiencing someone else’s dream. Like we’re simultaneously sharing feelings. But I can’t really grasp what it means to be simultaneous. Our feelings seem extremely close, but in reality there’s a considerable gap between us.
IG: Many critics say the same about your novels.
HM: They do.
IG: How do you react to these comments?
HM: I send them a box of madeleines.
IG: Good one. This interview wouldn’t be complete without a plug for GoodReads. Do you realize you’re very popular with Good Readers?
HM: I’m very popular with most readers.
IG: Ha ha. But not Paul Bryant.
HM: Him, the one who would be a parodist!
IG: You’ve got to admit he is pretty funny.
HM: He’s no funnier than his raw material, and I am his raw material.
IG: How do you think you should respond to readers like Paul?
HM: I parody them.
HM: Yes, I’ve parodied him in “1Q84”.
IG: His review of “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”?
HM: Yes, tell me what you think of this, I can even recite it by heart:
"Tengo had been all but lost in the work for some time when he looked up to find it was nearly three o’clock. Come to think of it, he hadn’t eaten lunch. He went to the kitchen, put a kettle on to boil, and ground some coffee beans. He ate a few crackers with cheese, followed those with an apple, and when the water boiled, made coffee. Drinking this from a large mug, he distracted himself with thoughts of sex with his older girlfriend. Ordinarily, he would have been doing it with her right about now. He pictured the things that he would be doing, and the things that she would be doing. He closed his eyes, turned his face against the ceiling, and released a deep sigh heavy with suggestion and possibility."“
IG: No. Nobody would think Paul Bryant wrote that.
HM: I would love to argue the point, but I’m afraid this is my stop and I’ve got to get off.
Black Cat: Miaow, too (this is a Meowlingual translation of something that sounded like "Nyaa-Nyaa").
Paul Bryant's Review of "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"
I re-read “South of the Border” immediately after re-reading “Norwegian Wood”, as part of my training regime for Murakami’s “1Q A Companion Intervenes
I re-read “South of the Border” immediately after re-reading “Norwegian Wood”, as part of my training regime for Murakami’s “1Q84”.
Although they were written five years apart and were separated by “Dance Dance Dance”, they are good companion pieces.
They stand out from Murakami’s other novels because they explore love and its consequences almost exclusively.
Although some things and events go unexplained, there is little of the surrealism and absurdity that characterizes most of his other works.
Strangely, whereas “Norwegian Wood” concerns the recollections of a 37 year old protagonist about relationships in his late teens, “South of the Border” concerns the recollections of a 37 year old protagonist about a relationship that originally started and finished before he turned 13, so he was not yet a teenager.
While the protagonist in “Norwegian Wood” seemed to get his girl (or one of them) at the end, there was some doubt in my mind whether the relationship had lasted until the time of narration.
In “South of the Border”, the intervening period has brought the protagonist, Hajime, a permanent relationship, marriage, parenthood and business and financial success.
However, his apparent contentment and happiness is jeopardized by the intervention of Shimamoto, his girlfriend from the age of 12.
The Bond of Only-ness
The first quarter of the novel is a relatively straightforward narration of Hajime’s first 30 years.
He is born in January, 1951 (which makes him almost exactly two years younger than Murakami himself).
He is an only child, as is Shimamoto.
He detests the term “only child”, because it implies he is “missing” something, as if he is an incomplete human being, yet somehow spoiled, weak and self-centred as well.
Hajime is not just interested in Shimamoto because neither of them has any siblings, he’s fascinated by the fact that her left leg is slightly lame, yet she "never whines or complains".
Nobody else at school finds her as striking or charming as him, even though he recognizes that she has not yet developed an outer “gorgeousness” to match her inner qualities.
So while they develop a deep relationship, she wraps herself in a protective shell that separates her from other students.
Unfortunately, the relationship comes to an end the year after when they go to different junior high schools.
Hajime gets on with life, even getting another girlfriend, Izumi, who he thinks is cute, even if she isn’t conventionally pretty.
She is the oldest of three children, though still sensitive enough at 16 to be able to say, “I’m scared. These days I feel like a snail without a shell.”
Yet as much as she tries her best to give Hajime all she can, she is destined to make him realize his capacity for hurt:
”...I didn’t understand then...that I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair.”
Just after Hajime’s 18th birthday, he is preparing to start four years of college in Tokyo, which effectively spells the end of the relationship.
However, it ends on even worse terms, when Izumi discovers that he has been having a passionate affair with her cousin, while she has been deferring a sexual relationship with him.
At 37, he learns that his betrayal permanently damaged her, so much so that she lives a life of isolation in an apartment block where all of the children are afraid of her.
He has ruined her life.
So ultimately the novel is concerned with the hurt we cause in the pursuit of our own needs and illusions.
A Lame Excuse for Stalking
Despite his capacity for hurt, Hajime has a sympathy for outsiders, non-conformists who don’t quite fit in.
It reveals itself in his attraction to women who are lame, of whom there are several in the novel.
Just before he meets his future wife, Yukiko, when he is 28, he sees an elegant woman limping in the street.
He follows her for some time, wondering whether it is Shimamoto, until she enters a café, from where she phones someone for support.
The man who comes to her aid demands that he leave her alone and gives him an envelope with a large amount of money in it.
Meanwhile, the woman makes her escape in a cab, ramping up the mystery about her identity.
He can’t believe his luck. Why did this happen? Did it really happen at all? What does it all mean?
If not for the envelope, proof that something must have happened, it would have continued to be a riddle, “a delusion from start to finish, a fantasy I’d cooked up in my head, ... a very long, realistic dream that somehow I’d mixed up with reality”.
For Hajime, as long as he has the envelope, it means that this whole event actually occurred, that his quest was real and not an illusion.
Everything Falls Into Place
At 30, Hajime marries Yukiko, after which they have two daughters and he establishes two jazz bars (one of which is called the “Robin’s Nest” and the other we know only as “my other bar”) at the prompting of his father-in-law.
Up to this point, Hajime has been relatively faithful, apart from "a few flings when Yukiko was pregnant", relationships that he seems to excuse in the same manner that his father-in-law justifies his own affairs (they allow him to let off steam and actually reinforce the primacy of marriage).
So much, so normal.
He seems to have developed a knack for stopping just short of being self-destructive.
Until one day his success results in some magazine coverage that reunites him with old school friends who trigger a sense of nostalgia for his past relationships.
And with this nostalgia comes Shimamoto.
Enough of the plot, I want to explore some of the metaphors.
To all intents and purposes, Hajime has been happy in his marriage:
”I could not imagine a happier life.”
However, the emergence of Shimamoto makes him realize that he has been harbouring feelings about his past with her:
”Everything disappears some day. Like this bar...Things that have form will all disappear. But certain feelings stay with us forever.”
To which Shimamoto responds:
”But you know, Hajime, some feelings cause us pain because they remain.”
To this extent, she has a better insight into Hajime than he does himself.
Holding onto the past can create a darkness inside us that is destined to hurt not just ourselves, but those around us.
By the end of the chapter, he is looking into the mirror, confronting the fact that he has become a liar, that there is something dark inside him:
”For the first time in a long while, I looked deep into my own eyes in the mirror. Those eyes told me nothing about who I was.”
It’s an existential crisis of sorts, he is on the boundary of sanity and madness:
”If I never see her again, I will go insane. Once she got out of the car and was gone, my world was suddenly hollow and meaningless.”
To the extent that Shimamoto is a twin of himself who completes the one person, she has gone missing and he is once again incomplete.
Missing Persons, Minding the Gap
So what to do about his hollowness and yearning?
Hajime falls in love with the idea that he and Shimamoto were “star-crossed lovers” who were simply born under a bad sign, whose love originally perished under an unlucky star, but can be revived:
”You could say I’m happy. Yet I’ve known ever since I met you again that something is missing. The important question is what is missing. Something’s lacking. In me and my life. And that part of me is always hungry, always thirsting. Neither my wife nor my children can fill that gap. In the whole world, there’s only one person who can do that. You.”
He wants to overcome his hollowness by filling in the 25 year gap since they last saw each other:
”‘It’s strange,’ she said, ‘You want to fill in that blank space of time, but I want to keep it all blank.’”
As Hajime swings between sanity and insanity, Shimamoto disappears and reappears.
Indeed, the reverse is also true: as Shimamoto disappears and reappears, Hajime swings between sanity and insanity.
She is both the focus of his sanity and the cause of his insanity.
She keeps his hopes alive with the promise that they will “probably” see each other in “a while”.
Gradually, he realizes he has to do something about it, he has to account to his wife, Yukiko.
Only it doesn’t come easily:
”I was struck by a violent desire to confess everything. What a relief that would be! No more hiding, no more need to playact or to lie...But I didn’t say anything. Confession would serve no purpose. It would only make us miserable.”
So the fear of misery justifies the continued deceit.
South of the Border, West of the Sun
The title of the novel is a lyric from a song played by Nat King Cole.
Both Hajime and Shimamoto had romanticized what might lie “south of the border”.
She thinks it is “something beautiful, big and soft”, only to discover when she grows up that all it refers to is Mexico.
So they realize that all of their romanticism is misplaced, it’s a fabrication.
Similarly, “west of the sun” describes a medical condition called “hysteria syberiana”, which affects farmers in Siberia.
After months of exposure to the harsh winter, they sometimes head off in search of some land west of the sun:
“Like someone possessed, you walk on, day after day, not eating or drinking, until you collapse on the ground and die.”
They succumb to their illusions and eventually die, because they fail to take care of reality.
So eventually Hajime realizes that Shimamoto is a distraction, perhaps even an illusion, that he must turn away from:
”I would never see her again, except in memory. She was here and now she’s gone. There is no middle ground. ‘Probably’ is a word you may find south of the border. But never, ever, west of the sun.”
At the same time, he realizes that the envelope has gone:
”I should have thrown that money away when I first got it. Keeping it was a mistake.”
To quote Shimamoto, “some feelings cause us pain because they remain.”
The envelope had to go, just as his feelings for her had to go.
Though there is a lingering doubt as to whether the envelope was ever real.
So ultimately we are forced to question whether the return of Shimamoto actually occurred or whether it was a fabrication of a mind that had gone lame.
Did Hajime’s self-delusion, his existential crisis, develop into a full on nervous breakdown, his own version of hysteria syberiana?
Did he just make it all up?
Was it just "a very long, realistic dream that somehow I’d mixed up with reality”?
Rain in the Desert, Rain on the Sea
Murakami also uses the metaphor of a desert which appears to be lifeless until it rains, when the dormant life revives and blossoms.
Hajime’s obsession with a relationship from the past transforms his marriage into a desert.
The darkness of his self-delusion sucks all of the life out of the reality of his relationship and his parenthood.
Yet Hajime can’t sort it out from within his delusion.
So, in a way, Yukiko wins back their marriage with almost superhuman patience and insight and persistence.
She has to rain on the desert of their relationship.
Yet her effort isn’t so much superhuman as quintessentially human.
She reveals that she too has had needs and gaps that she wanted to fill, that Hajime has ignored her needs and vulnerability, that he has been selfish to think he is the only one to have suffered from a hollowness.
Throughout the novel, the presence of Shimamoto is associated with rain or water, like some noir pulp fiction.
However, just as rain forces us inside to keep dry, it is also a source of water that revives life.
“South of the Border” finishes with Hajime contemplating a sea with rain falling on it.
Murakami is typically ambiguous.
There might be a sense in which rain on the ocean cannot revive dormant life, that the sea remains lifeless or unaffected beneath the surface, that it simply can’t see that it is being replenished.
However, the ocean might also be a sea of possibilities, it is full of life and Hajime simply has to make a choice so that the rain can make a difference.
While Hajime contemplates all this, Yukiko comes and rests a hand lightly on his shoulder.
We get the sense that the two of them have together made a choice, that the “new life beginning tomorrow” that they have promised each other might just happen.
So whether or not the reappearance of Shimamoto was real or an illusion, she was the trigger for Hajime to realize that his marriage was the real thing and that he didn’t need to seek something else “South of the Border, West of the Sun”.
It’s a lesson both to be with the one you love, and to love the one you’re with, because they are usually, and should be, the same person. ...more
Early in "Kafka on the Shore”, the 15 year old narrator, Kafka Tamura, warns us that his story is not a fairy tale. TheIs Your Figure Less Than Greek?
Early in "Kafka on the Shore”, the 15 year old narrator, Kafka Tamura, warns us that his story is not a fairy tale. The book's title is also the name of a painting and of a song mentioned in the novel, and it describes the one photo Kafka's father has kept in his drawer. But what Kafka neglects to tell us is that his story is a myth of epic, ancient Greek proportions.
Murakami has concocted a contemporary blend of Oedipus and Orpheus, East and West, Freud and Jung, Hegel and Marx, Tales of Genji and Arabian Nights, Shinto and Buddhism, abstraction and action, alternating narratives and parallel worlds, seriousness and play, not to mention classical, jazz and pop music.
Conceived as a sequel to "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”, it quickly took on a life of its own, and now sits somewhere between that work and "1Q84”.
If you had to identify Murakami’s principal concerns as a writer, I would venture two: the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and the dynamic encounter between consciousness (the ego) and the subconscious (the id).
There are elements of both in "Kafka” . Thus, it stands as quintessential Murakami.
The book I read.
Search for the Other Half
Like Greek theatrical masks that represent tragedy and comedy, life consists of dualities: "Light and dark. Hope and despair. Laughter and sadness. Trust and loneliness.”
As hypothesised by Aristophanes via Plato, each individual is half what it once was (view spoiler)[apart, perhaps, from the character, Oshima (hide spoiler)]. Our shadow is faint or pale. Murakami urges:
"You should start searching for the other half of your shadow.”
Beware of Darkness
Only, it’s easier said than done. We’re all "like some little kid afraid of the silence and the dark.”
We are "seeking and running at the same time.”
As in fairy tales, friends warn Kafka not to venture too far into the woods.
The irony is that the darkness is not so much outside, but inside. It’s in our subconscious. What terrifies us is "the inner darkness of the soul…the correlation between darkness and our subconscious”.
The woods, the forest are just a symbol of darkness, our own darkness.
In Dreams Begin Responsibility
While we’re awake, while we’re conscious, we think we’re rational, we’re in control, we can manage what happens around us.
However, we fear dreams, because we can’t control and manage them. By extension, we’re also skeptical of the imagination, because it is more analogous to dreaming than thinking.
Yet, we need our imagination almost as much as our logic. Murakami quotes Yeats:
"In dreams begin responsibility.”
It’s in this quandary that Kafka finds himself. It’s problematical enough for an adult, let alone a 15 year old who has lost contact with his mother and older sister at the age of four, and has now run away from his father:
"You're afraid of imagination. And even more afraid of dreams. Afraid of the responsibility that begins in dreams. But you have to sleep, and dreams are a part of sleep. When you're awake you can suppress imagination. But you can't suppress dreams.”
For the Time Being
As would befit a Greek tragedy, Kafka’s father, a renowned sculptor, has prophesied:
"Some day you will murder your father and be with your mother…and your sister.”
This is the Oedipus myth, at once a curse and a challenge for Kafka:
"You're standing right up to the real world and confronting it head-on.”
We can only stand by and watch. What is happening? Does it really happen? Does it only happen in the labyrinth of Kafka’s imagination? Is the boy called Crow Kafka’s friend or his soul? (view spoiler)[Murakami mentions that "Kafka" is the Czech word for "crow", although apparently the Czech word "kavka" actually means "jackdaw". (hide spoiler)] Is the old man Nakata a real person or his alter ego?
If Kafka can only prevail, he will become an adult. If nothing bad happens to him, he’ll emerge part of a brand new world.
It’s not enough for Kafka to spend the time being. He must act.
Reason to Act
Of course, there is a cast of surreal cats, crows and characters who contribute to the colour and dynamic of the novel.
One of my favourites is a Hegel-quoting whore (a philosophy student who might both feature in and read the novels of Bill Vollmann!), who counsels:
"What you need to do is move from reason that observes to reason that acts."
Although the protagonists of Murakami's novels are youthful, if not always adolescent, they are rarely in a state of stasis or arrested development. They're always endeavouring to come to terms with the past and embrace the future:
"The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future."
We observe them when their lives are most challenging and dynamic, in short, when they're trying to find and define themselves:
"Every object's in flux. The earth, time, concepts, love, life, faith, justice, evil - they're all fluid and in transition. They don't stay in one form or in one place for ever."
My photo of the artwork on a power box I pass every day on my walk.
If I Run Away, Will My Imagination Run Away With Me, Too?
Murakami’s ideas about imagination, dreams and responsibility are fleshed out in a scene that adverts to the Nazi Adolf Eichmann.
Eichmann was the builder rather than the architect behind the design of the Holocaust. He was an officious conformist who lived and worked routinely without imagination. Hannah Arendt would describe him and his capacity for evil in terms of its banality. Others would call him a “Schreibtischmörder” or “desk murderer”.
In Murakami’s eyes, responsibility is part morality, but it also reflects an empathy with others, a transcendence of the self. Eichmann was too selfish and too conformist to empathise with the Jews he was trying to exterminate.
A Catastrophe is Averted by Sheer Imagination
After an accident in World War II, Nakata realised that he could talk to cats. Ultimately, he empathised with them enough to kill Johnnie Walker.
In Shinto, cats might be important in their own right. However, Murakami frequently uses cats in his fiction. Perhaps they represent other people in society, people we mightn't normally associate with or talk to, (view spoiler)[In which case cats might symbolise the underdog? (hide spoiler)] but who watch over us and might perhaps be wiser than us, if only we would give them credit?
Murakami also criticised two women bureaucrats who visited the library for their officious presumption and lack of imagination, albeit in a good cause.
For Murakami, the imagination is vital to completing the self, bonding society and oiling the mechanisms by which it works, but it is also an arena within which the psychodrama of everyday life plays out and resolves.
Inside the Storm
So what can I tell you about Kafka’s fate? Only what Murakami tells us on page 3:
"Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm...is you. Something inside of you.
"So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in...There's no sun..., no moon, no direction, no sense of time…[in] that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm…
"And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what this storm's all about.”
Unless you’re a total Murakami sceptic, when you close this book for the last time, you too won’t be the same person who walked in.
Kafka sees a ghost, One he’ll soon love most, Somehow he has learned She has just returned Home from sailing by Seven seas of Rhye. If only Kafka Could one day catch her, Dressed, in the rye or, What he’d like much more, How his heart would soar, Catch her on the shore, Idly walking by, Naked to the eye.
Swept Away [In the Words of Murakami]
I am swept away, Whether I like it or not, To that place and time.
Where There Are Dreams [In the Words of Murakami]
The earth moves slowly. Beyond details of the real, We live our dreams.
Metaphysician, Heal Thyself [In the Words of Murakami]
You can heal yourself. The past is a shattered plate That can't be repaired.
The Burning of Miss Saeki's Manuscript [In the Words of Murakami]
Shape and form have gone. The amount of nothingness Has just been increased.
Look at the Painting, Listen to the Wind [In the Words of Murakami]
You did the right thing. You're part of a brand new world. Nothing bad happened to you.
For people older than me, the most significant birthday was their 21st.
But when the age of legalTwenty Revolutions
My most feared birthday was my 20th.
For people older than me, the most significant birthday was their 21st.
But when the age of legal adulthood was reduced to 18, turning 21 no longer had the same significance it once had.
Before then, you could be conscripted into the armed forces at 18, but you could not drink alcohol until you turned 21.
So, if you were old enough to die for your country, surely you were old enough to have a drink?
Either way, turning 20 for me meant that I had ceased to be a teenager, a group of people linked only by the fact that their age ended in the suffix “-teen”, but still it felt special not belonging to the grown up crowd.
On the other side of 20, you emerge from university (if you’ve been lucky enough to go there) and dive straight into full-time employment, maturity, responsibility, expectations and adulthood.
Suddenly, things are all a lot more serious, more permanent, less experimental, or this is how it seems.
Haruki Murakami writes about the Japanese experience in “Norwegian Wood”.
It’s set in the years 1968 to 1970, so it mightn’t be the same now.
However, it seems that the transition into adulthood is more demanding, more stressful.
It also seems that there are more casualties, more teenagers fail to make the transition and end up committing suicide.
Murakami writes about the transition almost like it’s a game of snakes and ladders.
You can climb into the future, success and normality, or you can slide into darkness, failure and death.
Murakami’s protagonist, Toru Watanabe, pictures the darkness as a well-like abyss early in the novel when he recounts the events of a day he spent with the girl he longs for, Naoko.
“I can describe the well in minute detail. It lay precisely on the border where the meadow ended and the woods began – a dark opening in the earth a yard across, hidden by grass. Nothing marked its perimeter – no fence, no stone curb (at least not one that rose above ground level). It was nothing but a hole, a wide-open mouth…You could lean over the edge and peer down to see nothing. All I knew about the well was its frightening depth. It was deep beyond measuring, and crammed full of darkness, as if all the world’s darknesses had been boiled down to their ultimate density.”
As a teenager, Toru’s life had been fairly innocuous, he had been playing in a meadow compared with the thicket that awaited him in the future.
But first he had to avoid the well in making the transition.
As his friend Reiko says in another context:
“She and I were bound together at the border between life and death.”
There is a sense in which we have to negotiate the boundaries as safely as we can, to cross the border and close the gap.
If we are lucky, we can do it together.
Unfortunately, not everybody is destined to make it into the forest and out the other side.
The overwhelming feel of reading “Norwegian Wood” is one of being in a blank, dream-like, ethereal world.
Although Murakami describes people, surroundings and objects with precision, it all seems other worldly, as if everybody lives and breathes in a world beyond this world.
There is a sense that at any moment, it could all disappear, that it might all just be part of some cosmic vanishing act.
Even if we make it through, we might turn around and discover that some of our friends haven’t been so lucky.
Talking about My Generation
Most of the action in the novel is dialogue, the characters talking about themselves and their relationships.
They are preoccupied with themselves, introspective and self-centred.
They converse, they play folk songs on the guitar, they write letters that are later burned.
Nobody makes anything that will last, other than perhaps themselves and the relationships that are able to survive into adulthood.
They struggle for permanence, when everything else around them is ephemeral.
Even their memories fade.
In the “frightful silence” of the forest, Naoko asks Toru:
“I want you always to remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you here like this?”
Of course, he responds that he will, although 20 years later, he finds that his memory “has grown increasingly dim.”
“What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud?...the thought fills me with an almost unbearable sorrow.”
To which he adds, “Because Naoko never loved me.”
The Beatles song features throughout the novel.
It’s a favourite of Naoko’s and Reiko plays it frequently on her guitar.
For much of the novel, the lyrics could describe Toru’s relationship with Naoko and his other love interest, Midori:
“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.”
There is a sense of sadness in the sexual subject matter of this novel, almost as if it's been written in a minor key.
Reiko sums up the Beatles pretty accurately, “Those guys sure knew something about the sadness of life,” she says, before adding, “and gentleness”, almost as an afterthought.
She Never Loved Me
I love all of this talk of love and longing and loss and loneliness and labyrinths (all the “L” words).
Not everybody feels the same, though.
You should have heard my wife, F.M. Sushi, when she noticed my tears and stole a look at what I was reading.
“Why don’t these people just stop moaning and get a life. Can’t they just grow up, for chrissake. Everybody’s responsible for their own orgasm.”
Then she flicked the book back at me across the room, adding defiantly (and defeating my prospects that night in one fell swoop), “Especially you.”
I pick up the book, find my place and resume reading where I left off (page 10), equally defiantly, and aloud...“Because Naoko never loved me.”
My wife turns her back on me as I snicker at her lack of understanding of my gentle side.
Growing Up (How Strange the Change from Minor to Major)
Still, a few hundred pages later, I am stunned by her prescience.
Toru grows up in Murakami’s delicate hands.
He has to stop dreaming, he has to live in the present, he has to embrace the now that is in front of him, he has to love the one he’s with.
He has to distance himself from the past, so that it becomes just a lingering memory.
Reiko tells him:
“You’re all grown up now, so you have to take responsibility for your choices. Otherwise, you ruin everything.”
Midori (who he has ummed and ahhed about) tells him:
“...you, well, you’re special to me. When I’m with you I feel something is just right. I believe in you. I like you. I don’t want to let you go.”
In the pouring rain, she reveals to Toru she has broken up with the boyfriend that has prevented her from committing to him.
“Why?” he asks.
“Are you crazy?” she screams. “You know the English subjunctive, you understand trigonometry, you can read Marx, and you don’t know the answer to something as simple as that?
Then in a scene that could come straight out of "Casablanca", she says:
“Drop the damn umbrella and wrap both your arms around me – hard!”
How did F.M. Sushi know this would happen?
That Toru would grow up and get a girl, not just any girl?
That they would fall in love and not into a deep, dark well.
Still I prefer Murakami’s way of telling the story.
It always comes as a surprise the way he tells it, the change from minor to major.
What would my wife know of these things?
What I find mysterious, she finds obvious.
When I find the harbour hard to fathom, she appears to walk on water.
If you put her in a labyrinth, she would always find her way out.
Whereas sometimes I prefer to hang around and enjoy the experience of being down in the rabbit hole.
Mystified. Confused. Excited.
At least for a little wile.
Original Review: October 3, 2011
Audio Recording of My Review
Bird Brian once initiated a Big Audio Project, where Good Readers record and publish their reviews. Unfortunately, BB deleted his page after the amazon acquisition of GR.
My recording of this review was my first contribution. You can find it on SoundCloud here:
"After Dark" is probably the easiest Murakami novel to read. At 201 pages, it's not difficult toOriginal Review: March 8, 2011
A Midwinter Night's Tale
"After Dark" is probably the easiest Murakami novel to read. At 201 pages, it's not difficult to finish in one session.
It's also close to what you would call "high concept" in the film industry. Its execution is not much more than its conception.
All of the action takes place from 11:56pm to 6:52am on a midwinter night, more or less "after dark" when the days are shortest and the nights are longest.
Murakami's writing is stripped back, simple, present tense, in the style of detective fiction, yet there is always a sense of deeper meaning, even if it is or remains hidden.
We see the surface, almost like a camera, but we know there is something behind it, even if he doesn't choose or have to describe it.
Beware of Darkness
"Darkness" is an extended metaphor throughout the entire novel.
At the most superficial level, it describes the night. However, it also represents the darkness of the human soul.
This level of meaning is most likely to resonate with its likely audience – youth in their teens or early twenties who are still trying to piece together some sense of the meaning of life and how they fit into it.
The Same People, Just a Different Cave
Before people developed the technology to build houses, they huddled together in caves at night, primarily to escape their predators, but also to share their collective warmth.
Darkness then created a sense of family, if not society as well.
Language as a form of communication probably developed during these hours of darkness, when there was little else to do.
Now that we can build accommodation, we create smaller scale, more individualised caves where we can live alone and lonely.
What was once a source of comfort has become a source of alienation.
The Life of Buildings
This spiritual or anti-spiritual life of buildings in Murakami's fiction has been coming for some time.
The homes, office blocks, cafes, bars and hotels in his novels take on a life of their own.
They are characters with their own mysteries that embrace and surround the human characters. They're almost microcosms with their own cosmic significance.
Inside these buildings, we can be easily lured away from interaction with other humans, even the members of our own family.
Sister Feelings Call Again
Mari and her beautiful sister, Eri, are two sides of the one coin (their names are only one syllable apart) that have lost touch with each other.
Eri is at home sleeping a deep sleep that is "too perfect, too pure" and has lasted for two months.
Late in the book, we learn that they once embraced each other for protection in a lift while it remained trapped in darkness in a blackout.
Spiritually, it was the closest they ever came to each other, a return to the comfort of the cave.
Since then, they have drifted apart for no discernible reason.
Metaphorically, they have lost touch, but it's almost as if it is important that they have literally lost "touch" as well.
Close to You
Although Eri never fully regains consciousness during the span of the novel, their reconciliation and sense of wholeness begin when Mari learns to open up personally over the course of meetings with strangers during the night and decides to sleep in Eri's bed, holding her close under the sheets, just as the sun starts to rise and the darkness starts to dissipate.
Open Up and Let Me In
In Murakami's concluding words, "this hint of things to come takes time to expand in the new morning light, and we attempt to watch it unobtrusively, with deep concentration. The night has begun to open up at last."
Throughout the night, we have watched two flowers start to blossom...or, more likely, two shrubs about to re-blossom.
In a sense, they have emerged from the dark and into the light. They are literally "after dark" or post-darkness.
There is a suggestion of a recurring cycle at work here too. Just as day follows night, night follows day.
Darkness Becomes Light, and Light Becomes Darkness
Murakami's very last words are that the hint of things to come will continue to expand in the light, at least "until the next darkness arrives".
This might just mean that we will retreat to our caves at night, pending a new sunrise.
But it could also mean that, all through our lives, we have to deal with darkness and depression, but we have to remember that there will be a new sunrise, especially if we make it happen ourselves.
Is Once a Night Enough?
Someone has suggested that this novel could be the first in a trilogy based around these characters.
There are a myriad of questions that the detective in the reader wants to find answers for.
On the other hand, the metaphorical significance of the novel and its title is complete in one volume....more
Murakami sings to me of fascination. I still haven't worked out why.
I could analyse the sensatioOriginal Review: February 22, 2011
Songs of Fascination
Murakami sings to me of fascination. I still haven't worked out why.
I could analyse the sensation until it died on the operating table.
Or I could focus on just keeping the sensation alive.
Or, somewhere in between, I could speculate that it's because Murakami sits over the top of modern culture like a thin gossamer web, intersecting with and touching everything ever so lightly, subtly expropriating what he needs, bringing it back to his writer's desk or table, and spinning it into beautiful, haunting tales that fail to stir some, but obsess others like literary heroin.
Sins of Fascination
Pending a more formal review, below is a song that I pieced together by way of dedication to the book and Paul Bryant's parody.
The song careers all over the surface of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" and "Paperback Writer", so I probably owe them and you an apology, but it seemed like an apt way to celebrate Murakami at the time.
As these things often do, it emerged in a thread on a review of this novel.
In the cold hard light of retrospect, I don't know what I was thinking. Nor can I remember what I was drinking when I thought it up.
However, if any one ever creates or releases a soundtrack to Murakami's novels, I'll play it every day of my life.
Or as Paul jokingly suggested, there might even be a musical in there somewhere. (For someone else, maybe even Murakami, to create.)
"Sister Feelings Call" (or "Wind-Up Bird and Black Cat") (A Sonic Chronicle)
"I once had a bird or should I say she once had me. She had a passing resemblance to Halle Berry.
She showed me her room, and said "Isn't it good, this neighbourhood?" She asked me to stay and said she'd written a book. It took her years to write, would I take a look.
I read a few pages of parody and started to laugh. It was then that she told me she was only one half. She had a twin sister called Sally she'd like me to meet. She lived in an alley at the end of the street.
She told me she worked in the morning and went off to bed. I left her room, a brand new idea in my head. When I got there, that alley was dead at both ends, Just me, a black cat and a few of its friends."
Paul Bryant's Review
Paul Bryant has written an excellent parody of Murakami in his review of "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle".
It absolutely nailed Haruki Murakami's writing style in this book: