A NEW HARUKI MURAKAMI BOOK, you guys! The English version will be released in the US on August 12th.
Showing posts tagged with “Japanese”
Title: South of the Border, West of the Sun
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Romance, Drama, Contemporary
I am a discriminating reader. Even if I love an author unreservedly, I don’t go around loving everything that he writes. After all, in a writer’s compendium of works, not everything will be explosively brilliant; some of them will turn out as duds.
To many Murakami-experienced readers, South of the Border, West of the Sundefinitely reads like the spiritual successor to his acclaimed novel Norwegian Wood. Both don’t have a trace of magical realism (or surrealism?) in them that is commonplace in the majority of Murakami’s oeuvre; they deal with the quotidian lives of average people, with subtle twists that can instantly establish a connection with the readers.
Norwegian Wood is an amazing read, and for some time it made me believe that Murakami is indeed a versatile writer—he’s dangerously good when it comes to surreal stuff, but he can surely soar with a story that is not necessarily situated between dreams and reality. However, his sophomore work that falls into the latter category just proves to me that his forte is still with the ‘weird’ (not that I’m sayingNorwegian Wood is a fluke, though).
The gist of South of the Border, West of the Sun is this: two childhood friends are separated by quite run- of-the-mill circumstances, until later in their lives—when the guy is already a successful jazz club proprietor and a family man—their paths converge again, sending everything haywire.
Now, the reason why ordinary love stories are not my cup of tea is that I’ve always been smitten with fantasy/science fiction. Fascinated by magic and out of this world material at an early age, I developed a penchant for fantastical juke-in-the-boxes embedded in the stories, things that can surprise you in a way ordinary stuff can’t, and events that can make your imagination go wild and bring you to different places like Narnia or Oz or Wonderland. It doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t go for the normal stuff. It’s just I don’t dig those with tales reminiscent of neighbor gossip stories. :p Norwegian Wood doesn’t sound like one, and add to that Murakami’s flair for the quirky, poetic words, and you can get a thumb up from me.
Anyway, I have to admit that SOTBWOTS is not one of Murakami’s better works. I’ve read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running so I’ve caught glimpses of his personal life: he opens a jazz bar, loves music, loves literature. When I read that Hajime, the main protagonist, also opens a jazz bar, loves music, and loves literature, I found myself a little disappointed. It’s true that an author sometimes puts bits of himself into his characters, but Hajime is a literary Xerox copy of Murakami. Gary Stu? Perhaps.
There is nothing much to say about the plot, too, as you may have guessed from the gist I provided above. But what I liked about it is of course Murakami’s ever-tasteful choice of words, and the bittersweetness that lies underneath every thought that he puts on page. Almost every idea he shares will make you question what you believed in the past, and it will also make you look back at the things you’ve taken for granted. His humor, which I’ve always loved ever since reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, is also peppered in some of the passages.
All in all it’s still a decent read. There are a few haunting moments that I liked, but nothing that can leave indelible marks in my memories.
Title: Norwegian Wood
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Romance, Coming-of-Age, Contemporary
(Note: this is not a new review)
Being a music junkie and a bookworm made me jump excitedly when I saw this book, Norwegian Wood, for the first time about four years ago. The Beatles and Haruki Murakami occupy two different “I-love-this” ladders in my system, but both of them are settled on the highest rung. For some reason I find the combination rather interesting, so I picked it up, getting myself ready for the usual Murakami treat thrown with a spice of good ol’ music.
But no, this book doesn’t have the typical elements you’ll see in a Murakami book. No surrealism of any kind, no Oedipal prophecies or soul-searching in wells or talking cats or prostitutes of the mind. This is perhaps the only “normal” book that Murakami has ever written, a coming-of-age love story that is readily accessible to most young adults of our day.
The novel kicks off with the old Toru Watanabe reminiscing the most important days of his youth while listening to Norwegian Wood (The Bird Has Flown), the favorite song of his high school friend Naoko. The readers are then taken to 1960s Japan, where student activism is at its full swing. Toru and his friends are rather apolitical, and the narrator often comments on the hypocrisy of the students. The novel didn’t focus much on it anyway—that only provided the milieu of the complicatedly romantic bildungsroman. Toru is friends with lovers Kizuki and Naoko—that is, until the former committed suicide at the age of 17. The two are left grieving, but they find themselves being romantically attracted to each other. However fate seems to have another plan for them, and Naoko needs to go away for some time. Then enters another girl character, the outspoken, energetic, cheerful, and confident Midori. Toru still likes Naoko, but he thinks he likes Midori too. And as if it’s not complex enough, Reiko, Naoko’s friend, adds another side to make it all a confusing love polygon.
With that premise at its core, the story is still populated with intriguing themes: suicide, sex, identity crisis, and a little bit of politics. And of course, how could I forget? It’s all about growing up.
I know why a lot of young readers love this book. For one, what kind of teenager doesn’t become interested in love stories at least once in their life? Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I’m not an avid fan of ordinary love stories; I just can’t find the thrill in the infamously clichéd boy-meets-girl-loses-girl blah-blahs. But what makes Norwegian Wood exceptional for me is its depth. That’s why I love Murakami; nothing he ever writes is what it seems, be it surreal or otherwise. Every word has a profundity in them, the dialogues are powerfully executed, and how he hands the reader the strings to tie it at the end is spot-on.
Objectively speaking, this book is not perfect (is there any perfect book?). There are dry and slow points at the wrong places in the novel, making me roll me eyes sometimes for the lost momentum. But Murakami will always be able to come up with something that can redeem the whole book, be it a twist or a deeper kind of surrealism or just a melancholic ending that leaves the story’s door ajar for the benefit of the readers.
This may not be my favorite book, but it has a special place in my heart.
adorable (albeit a bit too big) bookmark. Would be perfect for a Haruki Murakami/ Banana Yoshimoto book, yeah? XD
REVIEW: A Wild Sheep Chase (H.Murakami)
As expected, Haruki Murakami’s quasi-detective novel A Wild Sheep Chase contains his trademark off-the-wall characters: a chain-smoking narrator who frequently dreams of a train to nowhere, which is pretty much the metaphor for his whole life; a girl with magically seductive ears; a big-time right-wing politico; a chauffeur who knows God’s phone number; an ovine-obsessed professor; and a manic-depressive in a sheep costume. Throw them all in a mock-mystery surrounding a certain sheep with a star-shaped birthmark (which may or may not be existing), sprinkle some rather zany humor and what you’ve got is a recipe for an entertaining read that will make you want to grab another screwball novel by this magnificent writer after you turn the last page.
I have no idea at first that this is actually the predecessor of Dance, Dance, Dance, which I read months before I purchased this book. I found it out when I skimmed the pages and saw a chapter mentioning the “Dolphin Hotel”, which is an important setting in the said sequel. Dance, Dance, Dance can stand alone—in fact I did not feel as if I’m losing some important fact or anything when I read it. I have to admit, though, that A Wild Sheep Chase still erected a strong foundation leading to the events of Dance, Dance, Dance, particularly the disappearance of the unnamed narrator’s love. As for the tone, I am positive that there is quite a large difference between the two books; I liked A Wild Sheep Chase’s overall atmosphere, but its sequel has a larger tinge of oddball comedy (which sometimes slips into the “morbid” lane) so I liked it more.
The book’s title itself tells what the ending of the story will be, but that will not deter the reader from enjoying the turn of events. Obviously the term ‘wild sheep chase’ comes from the original idiom ‘wild goose chase’, which means a futile search for something or a useless often lengthy pursuit. It is expected in the end that all the adventures our narrator and his girlfriend go through will turn out to be in vain. A score of pages from the last chapter, you know the ending will be inevitably hopeless and/or sad. You know, but when you read it, it’s not the kind of lonely ending you are expecting.
I liked the bits about Japanese history, sheep industry, the first settlement in Hokkaido, as well as the events circulating the Russo-Japanese war. Another good thing you acquire when you read Murakami’s books is that you’re teaching yourself something about Asian history without being attacked by severe ennui, the type you usually get in history classes. :D Of course Murakami would treat these facts with fictitious touch, but more or less the information is useful.
All in all, it’s a very entertaining read. Not as plot-driven as his works that I’ve read before, but still it’s getting a thumb up from me. :)