The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

“When you’re supposed to go up, find the highest tower and go to the top. When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom.”

Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another?”

4/5 stars.
Read from October 01 to 18, 2016.
Paperback, 607 pages.

Murakami, this guy, he just gets me. His writing speaks to me and I can’t say that there are any other authors doing that for me right now. Love him or hate him, the man is just as much a philosopher as he is writer. Please also appreciate the fact that Murakami manages to talk about cats, food, and sex in practically all of his novels. No wonder I like this guy! Prophetic, imaginative and insightful, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a classic piece of Murakami philosophical fiction.

Toru Okada lives an unremarkable life.  However, shortly after he quits his job, with no other prospects lined up, things take a sad and strange turn. It begins after Toru is asked to look for his wife’s cat. Shortly thereafter, Toru’s wife goes missing too in which Toru is thrown into a netherworld in order to find her, the truth about himself, his marriage, and the complexities of human connection and identity. Toru encounters a facade of interesting people, including a psychic prostitute who is trying to help him find his wife, his wife’s rancorous brother with a political agenda, a WWII veteran who has stories of torture that will make your skin crawl, as well as a pleasant, yet strangely morbid teenage girl.

The book explores some deep themes on loneliness, loss, hitting rock bottom (in this case, figuratively and literally) as well as trauma. Toru spends extensive amounts of time alone after his wife is gone, especially at the bottom of a well. Every single character in this book battles with loneliness and their interactions with Toru help them come to terms with it. Each character also learns more about themselves and how it is that we connect with others in the process. This is a persistent theme across all the books I have read so far by Murakami.

Murakami is so descriptive. There were scenes in this book that absolutely shattered me. Especially the horrific scenes he laid out about WWII. Let’s just say a man gets his skin peeled off, slowly. It was horrific.  The story comes full circle as Toru investigates the whereabouts of his missing wife.

“When you’re supposed to go up, find the highest tower and go to the top. When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom.”

The first half of this book had me on the edge of my seat and had the book remained that riveting, I would have happily have given this book a 5 star rating. Not that the last half was bad, it just slowed down a little bit. So the first half gets 5 stars and the second half gets 3 stars for an overall rating of 4 stars.

This books is a refreshing read for those that may be having a bit of a hard time, for those that know what it is like to hit rock bottom, or for those that know what it means to be lonely, so pretty much all of us.

 

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.