After Dark by Haruki Murakami

I could talk about the recent US presidential election but books seem a little less surreal now. Even for one by Murakami.

Because the world is a hard and peculiar place. We all wear masks to survive.

3/5 stars.
Read from September 16 to 18, 2016.
Mass Market Paperback, 244 pages.

I think this is probably the shortest Murakami novel I have seen so far. Murakami is notorious for writing thick tomes so this was nice surprise. I picked up this novel at the Hong Kong Book Fair a few months back. That was quite the event. I don’t think I have ever been in a venue that held so many books. It was awesome. While this novel isn’t the best that Murakami has to offer, it was still an intriguing read.

Mari sits in a cafe drinking coffee and reading a book. It is the middle of the night and yet this is an all too familiar occurrence for her. She can’t sleep and she doesn’t want to be at home. So she wanders and finds a place to read. Her sister, the pretty one, Eri, has been asleep. Not in a coma, but asleep. She gets up to eat, shower and sleep and yet somehow no one ever sees her do it. Mari has never been close to her sister. Mari is plain, yet smart and practical, but her sister gets most of the attention from others because she is beautiful. One evening, Mari is joined by Takahashi, an acquaintance of her sister’s. This sets off a peculiar string of events involving a hotel manager who is escaping her past, a beaten Chinese prostitute, and her cold perpetrator. With every character in this book, they are pretending to be something that they are not for the sake of their own survival.

The whole novel unravels over the period of one night. Each chapter is a different hour of the same evening that switches back and forth between Mari’s scenarios and the peculiar setting of her sleeping sister Eri. I don’t fully comprehend everything that was happening to Eri but the chapters were tense and interesting.

Eri, I believe, is asleep because she is tired of being a person that is not truly her, but the expectation that everyone thinks she should be. Eri confides in Takahashi that she wishes she was closer to Mari, a fact that surprises Mari when she hears it. Both of the sisters are going through similar struggles, yet each of their own personal facades keeps them from each other.

This book is a quick surreal read that brinks on the mystery genre. If you’re looking for a book to devour in one sitting that you will find yourself thinking about long after reading, check out this book.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running By Haruki Murakami

3/5 stars.
Read from March 10 to 14, 2016.
ebook, 180 pages.

This was a peculiar book but I suppose it wouldn’t be true to Murakami’s style if it wasn’t a bit odd. What does make this book remarkable is how modest and accomplished Murakami is, and I’m not just saying that because I enjoy his novels.

While this book is the closest thing to memoir on Murakami’s life, it’s more of a reminiscence of his life and the decisions he made in terms of writing and how much of an impact running and fitness has played in his lifestyle and his success. Saying that Murakami is ambitious is a bit of understatement. The man has some solid resolve when it comes to his decisions. He opened up a jazz bar at a very young age an put all of his money and time into making it successful. While running this jazz bar he started writing. He published his first novel while still running the bar but was not satisfied. Murakami knew, like he did with his bar, that if he wanted to be successful at the writing he needed to give it his full attention and commitment.  Despite everyone he knew thinking he was absolutely mad, Murakami closed his jazz bar and set off to write full time. From there Murakami made the most of his flexible schedule and began to start running. He reflects on how running has helped his writing process and success and details the struggles and failures of racing.

While I could never claim to be anywhere near as resilient or ambitious as Murakami, I felt that if I met the man, we would get a long. We have similar introverted qualities and run for the same reasons. He would describe certain situations about writing or people and I found myself thinking, “that’s me, that’s how I feel too”. It was a wonderful feeling to have this connection with Murakami and it perhaps explains why I enjoy his novels so much.

What made this book peculiar, is that it reads as if Murakami is having a casual conversation with you. It’s as if, the two of you sat down for coffee after going for a run, and you just happen ask him how he started running and writing. It’s a very welcoming read in that sense but the first section feels a bit strange as you adjust and immerse yourself in the style.His modesty with his racing accomplishments and dedication to writing contribute to this style.

While I don’t think Murakami intended this book to be inspirational, it most definitely is. Murakami gave 100% in whatever he chose to do, whether writing or running, and it has paid off for him. Many people don’t understand how challenging something like that can be. For example, when I started freelancing, I always felt like a fraud which held back my ability and desire to give myself fully into the profession. I didn’t commit 100%. While I found moderate success, it didn’t end up being something I could maintain full time unfortunately. However, I learned more than I can say about myself and know where my failings are for next time. I am not done with that path.

I would recommend this book to anyone aspiring to take a leap and commit to something they’ve always wanted, as well as any aspiring writers or passionate runners.

 

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

4/5 stars.
ebook, 1050 pages.
Read from November 06 to December 19, 2015.

There are certain books that haunt you long after you’ve read them. Books that have you so interwoven in the plot and story that you feel like you’ve been there. And characters that you feel like you’ve known for a lifetime. That was this book for me. Again, Murakami has managed to impress me. While his writing style isn’t for everyone, this monster of a novel is not as threatening as is looks.

This isn’t your typical fiction novel. It’s an all encompassing book that covers a few genres: dystopia, romance, mystery and fantasy. Set in the 1980’s in Japan, a young woman named Aomame discovers that she has crossed over into a parallel universe. She aptly names it 1Q84, the “Q” meaning question mark. Meanwhile math teacher and aspiring writer, Tengo, is agreeing to a sketchy ghostwriting assignment that introduces him to the strange and remarkable girl named Fukaeri. After some defining experiences  in a religious cult, Fukaeri has pressing need to tell her story. For Tengo, something about writing this young girl’s story and her beliefs start to awaken something in him and he knows that even if he is discovered as the ghost writer of her story, it is essential that he writes it. Tengo’s timid life begins to awaken. The plot lines between Aomame and Tengo begin to merge as you learn that they once knew each other as school children and shared a moment that has marked both of them. They don’t know it, but they have since yearned and thought of each other since that day. Connected to each other, both Aomame and Tengo have a major part to play in the unfolding of Fukaeri’s story and the world of 1Q84.

In looking at other reviews of this book and there are some clear haters of this novel! I suppose I can understand why: it’s long, it’s peculiar and if Murakami’s style and character’s don’t resonate with you, then you will likely also hate this book. Some of the reviews mention the the misogynist and male view in regards to anything sexual in the book and in a way, while I was reading the reviews, it dawned upon me that they’re not completely wrong. However, while I was reading the book itself I didn’t notice these points and it ultimately just didn’t read or feel that way to me. I also don’t believe it was the author’s intention either. Anything sexual in the book felt, to me, essential to the characters and the peculiar plot, especially once you learn about the love that Aomame and Tengo share. The sex that they were having previously and the lives that they were living prior to finding one another was a way to fill an emotional hole that only the two of them could fill. Additionally, if you read enough Murakami you will find that sex always seems to find its way into his novels and usually in a very strange way; try reading Kafka on the Shore if you want something really weird!

Based on the Murakami books I’ve read so far this is a pretty decent breakdown,the only thing it’s missing is sex:
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In this novel, classical music is focused on more than Jazz, specifically the work by Leoš Janáček. There is also a Town of Cats in which Tengo visits his father, ears are definitely mentioned, Tengo has repeated weird dream sequences/flashbacks of his mother, and there a lot of talk about food. Tengo and Aomame both cook a lot. I wonder if Murakami is constantly hungry while he writes? I just finished his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and he is a major runner and triathlete so my guess is that, yes, he is always hungry. I know the pain!

Anyways, I haven’t stopped thinking about this novel. I finished this book before I moved over to Hong Kong actually and while I haven’t been to Japan (yet), where this book was set, there was something about moving over to Hong Kong that felt like I was stepping into 1Q84. There is just something about this story that just hits me; it’s story of self-discovery and romance that is actually romantic  The character’s self-reflection is intriguing and philosophical, yet relatable. While the book was long, I found myself looking forward to reading it and I didn’t have to  trudge through it in the slightest.

In terms of recommendations, if you like Murakami then I would definitely read this book! If you’re considering reading Murakami for the first time, I think I would hold off on this one and try perhaps, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage first. Overall, this book is going on my life of favourites, something I haven’t done in almost 4 years!