Haruki Murakami’s newest book is actually a set of two novels (or novellas) that were the very first stories he ever wrote. This is the first time in years these two stories have been available in print – much less in English – and they provide a fascinating glimpse of this venerable writer’s beginnings.
Murakami’s writing is unlike any other. I don’t know how much of his signature style is owed to his cultural background and subsequent translation (I haven’t read much Japanese literature, though I’d be interested to hear how it compares to Murakami’s work) and how much is pure Murakami. Whatever the balance, reading his work is like having mini fireworks going off in your brain as he conjures up images and thoughts you’ve never experienced quite like that before.
Much like his newest novella The Strange Library, which came out in 2014, this set of stories exists in an intersection between the reality and fantasy that somehow makes his work feel true and familiar, but with a hint of the mythic.
Though these are two distinct stories, there is some overlap. Both contain a secondary character known as “The Rat” and feature many trips to J’s Bar (“J” being another continuous character in both). I wasn’t clear if both stories have the same unnamed narrator or not (being as he’s unnamed), but it’s definitely possible.
Of the two, I liked the first better (entitled “Hear the Wind Sing”) – I felt there was more of a central thrust to the story that made sense as a cohesive plot and narrative whole. It’s a coming of age story about a young man on summer break from university and his friends – new and old – none of whom have a sense yet of their place in the world. They are all damaged, either by their experiences or actions, and they lean on one another, finding comfort in the fact that at least in this moment, they are not alone.
It’s very much a character-driven story, and the narrator’s introspection focuses on trying to make sense of the events that have occurred in his life so far. I found myself thinking of Hunter S. Thompson’s first book, The Rum Diary, as I was reading. Obviously they aren’t very similar on the surface, with one being set in Japan in the ’70s, the other in Puerto Rico in the ’50s. But there is a similar sense of youth, of both the possibilities and tragedies that come with that period in our lives, and of the point where youthful idealism gives way to experience.
In the second story, “Pinball, 1973,” our narrator is older, more settled in his life and his sense of self, yet still foundering emotionally. Though I liked some elements of this story, I struggled with others. The major issue I had was that the women in this story were ciphers and placeholders. Most didn’t even have names (“The Woman” and a set of twins known by numbers they wear on their sweaters), let alone much in the way of personality or agency. They all appear without much preamble, exist to prop up the male characters, and disappear without complaint when they are no longer required. The other thing that bugged me was how the story shifted abruptly a couple of times, leaving me feeling like I’d missed something. I struggled a bit to figure out what was happening and how I got from the last part of the story to here. It almost felt like there were two stories, one having been inserted into the middle of the other.
It might sound strange, but the part I enjoyed most was the introduction Murakami wrote for this edition, in which he tells us his own story, the story of how he decided to become a writer. It’s written in a straight-forward, direct style that is instantly disarming, and his recollections are coloured by the perspective of the now (very) successful and established author looking back with fondness at his younger self. I wanted more of this voice, and hope to find it when I get a chance to read some of his other, more recent work.
Of the two stories I’d definitely rate the first story higher than the second, but both had powerful elements to them in spite of some weaker ones. If you enjoy coming of age and personal development stories, these will be right up your alley. And if you’re a die-hard Murakami fan, this book will give you a fascinating look at his early work and better sense of the man behind the writing.
The debut short novels–nearly thirty years out of print– by the internationally acclaimed writer, newly retranslated and in one English-language volume for the first time, with a new introduction by the author.
These first major works of fiction by Haruki Murakami center on two young men–an unnamed narrator and his friend and former roommate, the Rat. Powerful, at times surreal, stories of loneliness, obsession, and eroticism, these novellas bear all the hallmarks of Murakami’s later books, giving us a fascinating insight into a great writer’s beginnings, and are remarkable works of fiction in their own right. Here too is an exclusive essay by Murakami in which he explores and explains his decision to become a writer. Prequels to the much-beloved classics A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance, these early works are essential reading for Murakami completists and contemporary fiction lovers alike. – Goodreads
**Thanks to Random House Canada for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!**
Book Title: Wind/Pinball
Author: Haruki Murakami
Published By: Knopf
Released: August 4, 2015
Genre: Fiction, Literary, Translated
Date Read: July 30-August 18, 2015