Thursday, June 27, 2013

Finishing Haruki Murakami is a job

Today I ever so reluctantly finished reading Haruki Murakami's new novel, "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage". Why reluctantly? Not because I didn't enjoy it, but because I enjoyed it so much and I didn't want it to end. I bought it on my birthday two weeks ago and was reading itsy bitsy amount in bed every night, making sure not to read too much at a time. When I come to think of it, I never look forward to reaching the end of Murakami's books. Usually when I read a book, I can't wait to reach the end, so it's a weird feeling, but I always feel this way when reading Murakami. It's not that I don't want the end to come because I don't want the answers or secrets to be reveled and taken away from me. I never have to worry about that with Murakami. I could pretty much imagine how the ending would be. Abstract, obscure, as blurry as possible, questions remain unanswered, problems remain unsolved, and nothing on its surface changes, just like any other endings in Murakami's books. So why do I not want to finish reading Murakami's books? Because I simply enjoy reading what he has to say, sentence by sentence, word by word. Maybe it's kind of Zen, to enjoy the present moment and savor each word at a time. I like his choice of wording, utterly unrealistic and unnatural that you will have zero chance to encounter anybody conversing that way in Japan. This is why some people can't stand Murakami's books. However, his choice of unrealistic and unnatural wording and peculiar writing convention is perhaps what makes Haruki Murakami an irresistible writer. In "Wild Haruki Chase” (2008), a collection of literary reviews of Murakami works, Murakami states, “I have tried to write my novels using prose that I have constructed by first converting Japanese… into a mock foreign language in my head—that is, by clearing away the innate everydayness of language that lies in my self-consciousness” (p.30). So by "clearing away the innate everydayness", Murakami intentionally chooses to sound non-Japanese. A conversation between Tsukuru and Sara like this obviously is derived from "a mock foreign language" in his head:

"Whew, I didn't even know that such a time existed. So, who died?"
"Nobody has died yet, but I really needed to tell you something tonight."

Though it may sound quite possible and rather natural in English, this is definitely not an everyday typical conversation that you would hear in Japan. I have never met anyone to this day who uttered 「やれやれ」"Whew" in Japanese. I think what keeps us Japanese readers float in the air of Murakami land is this dreamlike-non-everydayness that he creates for us to dive in. Once dived in, it is kind of an escape from everyday life, I suppose, or a kind of dream that we never wish to wake up from.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the title, "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage", when the publisher first announced it. I still wasn't sure about the title or the book itself when I took it in my hand at the bookstore. Even after I bought it and brought it back home, I felt unsettled with my purchase. People around me (including my brother who's the biggest bookworm on earth) didn't seem to have bothered to read it and I hadn't heard the buzz about it on the Internet (Twitter, etc), so unlike the last time when 1Q84 was out in the world, I have to admit that my expectation was fairly low this time. "Nonetheless, it's Murakami, baby!" I needed to say to myself to get pumped up. After I studied the book cover, which is equivalently unimpressive as its title, I turned the page to Chapter 1.

It begins like this:
From July of his second year at college to January the following year, Tsukuru Tazaki lived thinking of almost nothing but dying.

It naturally and inevitably made me think of "No Longer Human" by Osamu Dazai, which is one of my favorite books of all time, thus this very first sentence —despite all the efforts and intention to be dark and depressing—gave me a good feeling and the book suddenly began to seem promising. That feeling was right and stayed until the end. The strangely unimpressive title soon made sense too. Though the ending didn't give any clue on what I was most interesting in finding out, and left it up to the readers, it was well anticipated from the beginning, and I wasn't disappointed at all. Overall, well done, and I'd say it was way better than 1Q84. But whew, or やれやれ、letting him go and closing the door behind this dreamland was so difficult. Finishing Haruki Murakami is a job!

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