Here's a new paperback release in case you're looking for a break on your wallet from all the hardcovers!
I'm no Murakami expert, but I am definitely an admirer of his works. My fascination with this magical realist/surrealist/neo-noir/pop-culturalist and general genre-rebel writer began when I received 1Q84 as a Christmas present after it was published in 2011. Seeing as Murakami has been on the writing scene since 1979 (in Japan, 1989 in the US,) I was a bit late to the party to say the least, but I caught on quickly and have devoured every book he's published since and most of his backlist.
(As a side note, I don't personally recommend 1Q84 for Murakami first-timers; weighing in at 925 pages, it is a beast of a novel and drowning in the deep-end of Murakami dreamland is not the most fun couple weeks you'll ever spend. You can work up to it, I promise, once you know a bit more of what this crazy dude is all about.)
I should have prefaced that last sentence by saying, I still don't really know what this dude is all about. And, boy, do I love it.
Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 are two novels (more like novellas, really,) and what makes them really special is that they are Murakami's very first published works. They came out in 1979 and 1980 respectively and were translated into English in the mid-80s but mysteriously were never distributed in the United States, so now they've been retranslated and repackaged for all the Murakamites everywhere to sink their fangs into.
For my money, the short introduction from Murakami himself is basically worth the cover price alone. These pages bring us into Murakami's inner circle, showing us just a small piece of how he became a writer and got to where he is today. I'm sure it's a bit romanticized, like when he talks about finding the exact amount of money he and his wife desperately needed to pay an overdue bill just laying on the ground, but at the same time, maybe it isn't—his ideas came from somewhere, right?
What I'd never heard before was how his distinctive style came about. While I'm sure it's much different to read Murakami in the original Japanese, (oh, to be bilingual!) it was enlightening to read that when he was struggling to write, he pulled out an Olivetti typewriter and began to try to tell his story in English. With his limited vocabulary and syntax, he was forced into a certain simplicity that led to a rhythm that he liked. He then "transplanted" (his word) the language back into Japanese, trying to maintain the style he'd achieved in English.
So when you begin to read Hear the Wind Sing you are reading something that actually began in English, and then was "transplanted" into Japanese and then translated back into English. It makes language feel a bit more fluid all of a sudden, doesn't it?
The rest of the world was on one side of the fence trying to be so high-falutin' with all sorts of supposed standards for literary greatness—however unspoken, I think there have always been rules about what constitutes a "literary" book versus the hogwash of the masses—and here was Murakami saying, I'm going to try something new.
And it wasn't even that he was trying to break down boundaries or change the face of literature. He just couldn't get the words to work for him and so found a way to make writing a simpler task. At the same time, that simplicity made him think harder and more creatively to find ways to bring his story to life. Incredible.
If you are new to Murakami, these novellas would be an interesting introduction, but I beg you to consider that this is not his strongest, most polished work. It will hopefully whet your appetite for more, give you a taste of the surrealist aspects and the alienated, internal, brooding characters he loves to craft. I wouldn't consider these novellas masterworks. They are more like glimpses of the machinery: to see all the pieces moving is fascinating, but it can be distracting too. Sometimes knowing that the hand on the clock is moving is enough; you don't need to know the exact cogs and sprockets that connect to make it turn. If you are a Murakami connoisseur who hasn't picked this one up yet, by all means, please do so. You won't be disappointed.
Get your copy: Wind/Pinball
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Find out more about the publisher: Vintage Books (Knopf Doubleday)
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Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.