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Posts Tagged ‘Haruki Murakami’

I have read only two Haruki Murakami books, one nonfiction and one a collection of short stories. I thought it was time to read my first Murakami novel.

South of the Border, West of the Sun‘ is one of the early Murakami novels. It shows, because it is slim at around 190 pages. Murakami-San has moved on since, and these days he writes only chunksters. The story told in the book goes like this. Hajime, who is the narrator, talks about his life, from the time he was a kid. He talks about his beautiful friendship with Shimamoto in elementary school. They both are single children in their homes, which is very rare in the Japan of that time, and they bond very well together. But at some point they move to different schools and lose touch. Hajime describes his life in high school, his first girlfriend, his time in college, how he was stuck in a dead-end job, how he met a kind girl and fell in love with her and they got married and how his life changed significantly for the better after that. And one day, after twenty-five years, his childhood soulmate Shimamoto walks back into his life. The sudden, strange, unexpected changes that brings to his life, and the sudden long dormant feelings that spring up again in his heart and the crazy things he is ready to do and what happens after that and how it all ends – this is told in the rest of the book.

South of the Border, West of the Sun‘ is an interesting book. I thought the first chapter of the book was beautiful, exquisite, perfect. Somewhere after that the book slips and it is no longer perfect anymore. It is still interesting and I liked the story very much, and one of my favourite characters, Yukiko, makes her appearance in one of the subsequent chapters and stays there till the end, but that first chapter was perfect. It was like we were in the Garden of Eden, and then suddenly we were hurled into the real world which was complicated and messy. The story is engaging, we want to turn the pages and find out what happens next, there are beautiful passages throughout the book, the characters are beautifully sculpted, and they are beautiful, flawed and very human. The ending was interesting, even satisfying, with a perfect blend of unresolved mystery and good tying up of loose ends. I loved the cover of the book – it seems to be inspired by M.C.Escher’s famous series of paintings called ‘Circle Limit‘. Some birds in the picture appear to be smaller than the others. But in reality they are not. It is fascinating. Do google on Escher’s paintings to find out why.

I enjoyed reading ‘South of the Border, West of the Sun‘. It is a complex love story. I am the last person to read a Murakami novel, I think, but I am glad I read it.I won’t say that I have become a Murakami fan yet, because I think I love Banana Yoshimoto and Yoko Ogawa and Sayaka Murata more, but I think this is a good start and I hope to read more Murakamis in the future and see where things go.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book. And in case you are wondering, it is from the first chapter.

“Of all her father’s records, the one I liked best was a recording of the Liszt piano concertos : one concerto on each side. I liked it for two reasons. First of all, the record sleeve was beautiful. Second, no one I knew – with the exception of Shimamoto, of course – ever listened to Liszt’s piano concertos. The very idea excited me. I’d found a world that no one around me knew – a secret garden only I was allowed to enter. I felt elevated, lifted to another plane of existence.
And the music itself was wonderful. At first it struck me as exaggerated, artificial, even incomprehensible. Little by little, though, with repeated listenings, a vague image formed in my mind – an image that had meaning. When I closed my eyes and concentrated, the music came to me as a series of whirlpools. One whirlpool would form and out of it another would take shape. And the second whirlpool would connect up with a third. Those whirlpools, I realize now, had a conceptual, abstract quality to them. More than anything, I wanted to tell Shimamoto about them. But they were beyond ordinary language. An entirely different set of words was needed, but I had no idea what they were. What’s more, I didn’t know if what I was feeling was worth putting into words. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the pianist now. All I recall are the colourful, vivid record sleeve and the weight of the record itself. The record was hefty and thick in a mysterious way.”

Have you read ‘South of the Border, West of the Sun‘? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Haruki Murakami book?

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As a reader, I am more a dip-my-toes-in-the-water kind. I read a book or two by a writer and then move on to a new writer. This is how it is even with my favourite writers. A.S.Byatt is one of my favourite writers and I have read just one book by her. Marlen Haushofer is another of my favourite writers and I have read just two books by her. I, of course, dream that one day I will read all the books written by all of my favourite writers, but that hasn’t happened yet. Though my reading is broad and wide because of this, I have some big gaps in my reading experience. The biggest of this is Haruki Murakami. I love Haruki Murakami and have read excerpts from his books in anthologies, but I have never read any of his novels or short stories. The only book of his that I have read is ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’, but that is non-fiction and so I am not counting it here. Friends have been recommending Murakami to me for years and some of them have been kind enough to gift me Murakami books. I have a whole row in my bookshelf filled with Murakami books, waiting to be read on a rainy day. When a few weeks back one of my friends gifted me this Murakami book, I decided that the waiting should be over and I should get started. I read ‘Desire‘ today and finished it in one breath.

Desire‘ has five short stories. They are not new stories, but have been taken from other Murakami collections and collected together here because of their common theme.

The first story ‘The Second Bakery Attack‘ is about a newly married couple who get up in the middle of the night feeling very hungry. The husband describes a story from his past in which he and his friend tried robbing a bakery but the bakery owner was ready to give what they wanted if they listened to some classical music with him. What happens after that and what is the connection between that and the present form the rest of the story.

The second story ‘On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning‘ is about what happens when one meets his / her soulmate in the street accidentally.

The third story ‘Birthday Girl‘ is about a waitress who works in the restaurant in her twentieth birthday and then strange things that happen that day.

The fourth story ‘Samsa in Love‘, turns the Gregor Samsa legend from Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ upside down and imagines what happens when someone or something gets up in the morning and discovers that he / she / it has been transformed into Gregor Samsa. It is a fascinating story.

The fifth and last story, ‘A Folklore for My Generation : A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism‘ is about a man who describes what happens to his high school sweetheart. It describes the atmosphere of the times, the 1960s, and Japanese culture and value system very well, and the ending of the story is poignant.

I loved all the stories in the book, but the last one was my favourite.

I am glad I finally read my first Murakami. Whoohoo! I can’t wait to read my next one now!

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“When you listen to somebody’s story and then try to reproduce it in writing, the tone’s the main thing. Get the tone right and you have s true story on your hands. Maybe some of the facts aren’t quite correct, but that doesn’t matter – it actually might elevate the truth factor of the story. Turn this around, and you could say there are stories that are factually accurate yet aren’t true at all. Those are the kind of stories you can count on being boring, and even, in some instances, dangerous. You can smell those ones a mile away.”

“The older you get, the more boring travelling alone becomes. It’s different when you are younger – whether you’re alone or not, travelling can be a gas. But as you age – the fun factor declines. Only the first couple of days are enjoyable. After that, the scenery becomes annoying, and people’s voices start to grate. There’s no escape, for if you close your eyes to block these out, all kinds of unpleasant memories pop up. It gets to be too much trouble to eat in a restaurant, and you find yourself checking your watch over and over as you wait for buses that never seem to arrive. Trying to make yourself understood in a foreign language becomes a total pain.”

Have you read ‘Desire‘ by Haruki Murakami? What do you think about it?

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Whenever I start reading a book, the first thing I do is read the blurb – on the back cover, the inside flap and the praises showered on the book and the writer by different reviewers and writers. I do it out of a force of habit. Most of the time the praise is glowing and exaggerated and not interesting. But once in a while, I stumble upon a comment which is beautiful – because of the language the reviewer has used – or which makes me nostalgic or makes me smile. Most of these praises are sung in honour of the author or the book or in the case of biographies, the personality on whom the book is based on. Whenever I have discovered these delightful gems, I have felt that these short lines offer an education in the art of praise in its most refined form.

I thought I will share the pleasure I get from these delightful gems which showcase the art of praise. So, here are some of the best ones that I saw recently. Hope you enjoy reading them.

“Everything that has been said about Le Guin – that she is a lush prose stylist, that she is a poet in every line, that her books make readers think and thinkers read – is here on display in her newest Hainish novel. It is elegant, elegaic, enormously compressed…and simply pulls the readers along. Not in the hobbledehoy pace of major page-turners but in the graceful elliptical manner of one of the Old Tellers.”

– Jane Yolen, author of Briar Rose
(on Ursula Le Guin’s novel ‘The Telling’ as quoted in the first page of Le Guin’s ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’)

“Critics have variously likened him to Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Arthur C. Clarke, Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Bret Easton Ellis and Thomas Pynchon – a roster so ill assorted as to suggest Murakami is in fact an original.”
– New York Times
(as given in the back cover of Haruki Murakami‘s ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’)

“There were many rumours about Keith, and they were all true…”
– Richie Benaud on Keith Miller
(as given in the back cover of ‘Keith Miller : The Life of a great all-rounder’ by Roland Perry)

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