Haruki Murakami

Getting back to reading

“We like lists because we don’t want to die”, says Umberto Eco.

Not sure if that’s the reason I am writing this post but then the apocalypticaly tagged 2012 is also hanging close, so who knows what the subconscious mind may be cooking.

Anyhow, coming back to the title of the post, I actually didn’t read the whole year, save for the last two or three months. Part reason was the miserable business of life and also i didn’t much look beyond the few good writers I had read some years ago. A small opening, reading one or two previously unread but only heard voices led to a resurgence of sorts and am pretty glad for that. So without much further ado I’ll just list(Yeah, Mr Eco must be grinning now) some of the good titles.

Solo – Rana Dasgupta

Coincidence is what comes to my mind as I think of this book now. Though i read it now, I had in fact brought a copy some two to three years ago, when it was yet to be the winner of prestigious commonwealth prize. Going back home as I stayed over at a dear friend’s place, a book on his shelf caught my attention with its title and I decided to read a few pages. It was The Case of Exploding Mangoes and after having read some I decided to trade the book for Solo, with the intention of taking it back while coming back from home, though it never happened. Incidentally The Case of Exploding Mangoes later that year won the Commonwealth First book prize and Solo won the Commonwealth Best book prize the next year.

Solo is a story narrated by a hundred year old blind Bulgarian, Ulrich, who reminisces over his past and often daydreams. Overtly ambitious in its scope it tries to capture the life of a common man, an everyman, torn through the upheavels of the last century, which forms the 1st part of the novel, named – First Moment : Life. The second part, named- Second Moment : Day Dreams, takes few characters, with certain similarities to the cast of the 1st part, through the much changed landscape in the later part of the century, though the fate of these characters remains overpowered by the sociocultural and political forces of historical magnitude. A brilliant read.

Tokyo Canceled – Rana Dasgupta

It was imminent that after having read Solo one would seek his other novel, which is a collection of short stories, narrated by passengers stranded on an airport after their flight got canceled.  Though the tone and character of these stories remains the same through out, for which the author was pointed out by numerous critics, but nevertheless the inventiveness and imagination behind them sails the book through many a miles. The stories are often surreal imbued with elements of magical realism. A highly recommended read.

The NewYork Trilogy –  Paul Auster

The books contains three stories City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room. All three are one of the initial works of Auster and were published individually, though they have been clubbed now as the Trilogy. Told in the form of detective fiction they are essentially existential tales of certain individual in search of certain identities, which often merge with their own identities blurring the lines of reality. I had some time ago read the Travels in the Scriptorium by the same author but it didn’t enthuse me enough to explore him further. I guess now I’l read few more of his works.

The High Window – Raymond Chandler

This book was another highlight of the year.I had never much liked detective fiction before, but after reading about Murakami’s inherent indulgence in his works, I was tempted to see what was being offered there and that check proved to be a rewarding experience. Its now easy to see from where the stylistic influence in Murakami’s fiction comes from.

The protagonist, Marlowe is the perfect hardboiled detective. He’s a tough, clever, contemplative chap who’s always ready with a wisecrack up his sleeve. Effortless in holding his own in any tough situation. A literary influence on many a crime fiction writers after Chandler. Another of the best thing about Chandler’s writing style is how beautifully things, places, faces or people are described.  A delight to read. Quite a savoury experience.

Lady in the lake by Chandler is what am reading now.

Will you be quite, please? – Raymond Caver

The obsession to check the writing influences of Murakami made me read Raymond Caver too. Will you be quite, please? is a shot story collection. These are stories of common people, of their everyday mundane encounters, bordering on some quirky, eccentric upheaval, though mostly the tension is built but never released. The stories end usually with a tantalizing feel.

One Last Story and that’s it – Keret Etger

After having read Caver and Dasgupta’s short stories, reading some article about contemporary short story writers got me to check out Keret Etger and what a delightful experience it turned out to be. Etgar writes in a playful, mundane manner. The stories are often 2-3 pages long. All starting with everyday people or situations that are ready to take sinister tragic turns. There’s a tragicomic hint to every situation. At times things have their dreadful fated ends, though on others times events unfold to leave a smile on your face.

While Mortal’s Sleep – Kurt Vonnegut

While on that short story reading spree I also tried this. A great Humanist as Kurt was, these stories too mostly serve the purpose of telling a moral or driving home some point, though this implicit push robs the stories of their sheen. These stories are from his early times and were published posthumously this year.

Open – Biography of Andre Agassi

Whatever was seen over the years on and off the court was filled by this book with a heart wrenching as well as uplifting story of a great human. If Tennis is music to some, then he’s the Jim Morrison who’s survived through. These stories are once lived and then only told afterwards.

Also read some literary essays from Stranger Shores by J M Coetzee.

Read some in poetry too. Currently half through Rumi’s Selected Poems, Penguin edition. Also got hold of The Great Enigma by Tomas Transtormer and Charles Bukowski’s The pleasure of the Damned.

There were few currently half read, ready to be finished ones also. Orhan Pamuk’s The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist and Coetzee’s Elisabeth Costello top that list. Though there were few other’s too but i don’t see my self completing them except these two.

Currently reading Murakami’s 1Q84,  apart from few mentioned above.

Lets see what 2012 has in store.

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Murakami on Writing

So what do you do when you have a sudden urge to read Murakami, knowing pretty well that the urge is because of the date, of his latest magnum opus 1Q84‘s english release coming closer?

Well, if you are one of a character from his world, ironing clothes will be a good idea. Or may be cooking spaghetti will do the trick. Or may one should consider listening to some Beatles tune or some Mozart’s piece. Or just check the road outside for some cat to follow. Or may be do nothing and just wait for the phone to ring, hoping for some strange women to call.

Anyhow, I decided to read his interviews. There were many out there and he’s quite candid about his ways and reasons of writing. Below are few excerpts from his interviews.

I write weird stories. I don’t know why I like weirdness so much. Myself, I’m a very realistic person. I don’t trust anything New Age — or reincarnation, dreams, Tarot, horoscopes. I don’t trust anything like that at all. I wake up at 6 in the morning and go to bed at 10, jogging every day and swimming, eating healthy food. I’m very realistic. But when I write, I write weird. That’s very strange. When I’m getting more and more serious, I’m getting more and more weird. When I want to write about the reality of society and the world, it gets weird. Many people ask me why, and I can’t answer that. But I recognized when I was interviewing those 63 ordinary people — they were very straightforward, very simple, very ordinary, but their stories were sometimes very weird. That was interesting.

[..]

..subconscious is very important to me as a writer. I don’t read much Jung, but what he writes has some similarity with my writing. To me the subconscious is terra incognita. I don’t want to analyze it, but Jung and those people, psychiatrists, are always analyzing dreams and the significance of everything. I don’t want to do that. I just take it as a whole. Maybe that’s kind of weird, but I’m feeling like I can do the right thing with that weirdness. Sometimes it’s very dangerous to handle that. You remember that scene in the mysterious hotel? I like the story of Orpheus, his descending, and this is based on that. The world of death and you enter there at your own risk. I think that I am a writer, and I can do that. I am taking my own risk. I have confidence that I can do it.

But it takes time. When I started to write this book and I was writing and writing every day, then when that darkness came, I was ready to enter it. It took time before that, to reach that stage. You can’t do that by starting to write today and then tomorrow entering that kind of world. You have to endure and labor every day. You have to have the ability to concentrate. I think that’s the most important ingredient to the writer. For that I was training every day. Physical power is essential. Many authors don’t respect that. [Laughs] They drink too much and smoke too much. I don’t criticize them, but to me, strength is critical. People don’t believe that I’m a writer because I’m jogging and swimming every day. They say, “He’s not a writer.”

– From The Salon, a 1997 interview titled The Outsider.

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

[..]

When I make up the characters in my books, I like to observe the real people in my life. I don’t like to talk much; I like to listen to other people’s stories. I don’t decide what kind of people they are; I just try to think about what they feel, where they are going. I gather some factors from him, some factors from her. I don’t know if this is “realistic” or “unrealistic,” but for me, my characters are more real than real people. In those six or seven months that I’m writing, those people are inside me. It’s a kind of cosmos.

[..]

Please think about it this way: I have a twin brother. And when I was two years old, one of us—the other one—was kidnapped. He was brought to a faraway place and we haven’t seen each other since. I think my protagonist is him. A part of myself, but not me, and we haven’t seen each other for a long time. It’s a kind of alternative form of myself. In terms of DNA, we are the same, but our environment has been different. So our way of thinking would be different. Every time I write a book I put my feet in different shoes. Because sometimes I am tired of being myself. This way I can escape. It’s a fantasy. If you can’t have a fantasy, what’s the point of writing a book?

– From The Paris Review, from a 2004 interview.

Few other intervews – When I Run I Am in a Peaceful Place, Roll Over Basho: Who Japan Is Reading, and Why & this page has a collection of other articles and interviews on Murakami.

And yeah, I forgot to mention, that urge that I talked about in the begining, was fueled further after reading his new short story The Town of Cats in The New Yorker, which apparently is a part of 1Q84.

1Q84

Yeah, the title looks interesting and one can only imagine how interesting a book by the same title is going to be, as it is the latest offering by Haruki Murakami. Yup, the master’s done with his new book and it is due for release in Japan this May. It will take some time for the English translation to come and also for the fact that its going to be his longest book till date so some more translation time I guess, but nevertheless how can one complain, it’s Murakami. Title actually means 1984, n its a homage to Orwell. Orwell wrote it looking into the future, whereas Murakami will plumb the depths of the past.

Few links: Here, here, n here .

Murakami for Nobel?

From

The Nobel Prize for literature has been set for October 9, the prize awarders said Friday.

Perennial favorites, from American novelist Philip Roth to Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, top the list of hopefuls for this year’s prize.

Well, it normally happens that every year somebody gets the Nobel Prize for Literature and then I get started with reading his/her books. But this year I guess if Murakami wins the title I will be in more or less some loss, as I have read almost all his books. But then with one of my fav writer winning the title I can live with that:)

January and me

Blogging can be really boring when you don’t take time out of it.
Isn’t that same for every other thing we just don’t care about or can’t find time to care about. Anyhow, its not that i don’t like blogging or anthing but just that somehow i couldn’t blog this whole of Jan. Even the soliatry two post that i had in Jan were drafts from some time back and i just published them. Jan had been quite busy, and i just wished that there would have been more than 24 hours every day or may be i should have been still in college, safe for this job which just swallows that big chunk of my life.
Anyhow i did read a few book and watched a lot of movies. Just that
blogging or writing anthing would have meant some less time for them.
Lemme just go through those books as i don’t think i would be writing
anything big on them.

1) Snow- Orhan Pamuk : A magnificent book about Islamic world, its differences and its angst. The story is set in Kars, a remote Turkish state. The main protagonist Ka arrives there as a Journalist writing about the suicide epidemic among scarf wearing girls that has engulfed the place, though his actual intent of being there is to find some happiness which has alluded him all his life. So much was his happiness that he ends up writing 19 poems in a span of few day, noting that he couldn’t write one in the past 3-4 years. The reasons for his happiness were his love Ipek and snow. As the story progresses Pamuk introduces few characters and through them he juggles between different views about God, atheism and faith. He then goes on to show the intolerance and fury of both Islamic fundamentalists and the representatives of the secularist Turkish state leading to a thrilling end. A really good book for the way he introduces and manages his characters and the views that he shows through them.

Here‘s a beautiful lecture which Pamuk gave about the desires, fears and sturggles of a writer.

2) Kafka on the Shore- Haruki Murakami : So finally i picked this one after it had bit dust on my table for some 2 months. I just feared that someday i will just end up reading all of Murakami’s books and what will be left would be a long wait, wait for him to write another one. Anyhow, coming to the book, it was just another step up the ladder by Murakami on the tower of bizzare. As Murakami seems hell bent on attacking the normal his imagination just soares high and high. The main theme as it looks was the look at the world as metaphors. As one of the character in the story says: ‘The world is a metaphor, Kafka Tamura’. The book just drowns you with metaphors, myths, concepts, theories, Japanese folk tales, and above all his imagination. Just sample this conversation b/w two characters :
“At any rate you and your story are throwing a stone at a target that’s very far away. Do you understand that?”
I nod.” i know. But metaphors can reduce the distance”
“We’re not metaphors.”
“I know,” I say. “But metaphors help eliminate what separates you and me.”
A faint smile comes to her as she looks up at me. “That’s the oddest pickup line I’ve ever heard.”
“There’re a lot of odd things going on—but I feel like I’m slowly getting closer to the truth.”
“Actually getting closer to a metaphorical truth? Or metaphorically getting closer to an actual truth? Or maybe they supplement each other?”

As with any of Murakami’s work you can’t say that you got it all. Same was here though a bit more than his any other novel but still the satisfaction of reading Murakami was just like the other times. Here’s an interview of Murakami about the novel.

Other two book that i read were Flaubert’s Parrot- Julian Barnes and A Man without a country- Kurt Vonnegut. Both were quite good in heir own ways. Also Halfway through in both The First man- Albert Camus and The Sea, the Sea – Iris murdoch.

Among the movies few notable watches were : Babel, Amores Perros(12 Grams was much better movie than these two), Rebecca, Rope, Eyes Wide Shut, China Town, Before Sunrise and 12 Angry men.

Murakami’s Wonderland

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

[Some spoiler here]

I was born by the sea. I’d go to the beach the morning after a typhoon and find all sorts of things that the waves had tossed up. There’d be bottles and the wooden geta and hats and cases of glasses, tables and chairs, things from nowhere near the water. I liked going near the water. I liked combing through the stuff, so i was always waiting for the next typhoon.

The strange thing is, everything washed up from the sea was purified. Useless junk, but absolutely clean. There wasn’t a dirty thing. The sea is special in that way. When i look back over my life so far, i see all that junk on the beach. Its how my life has always been. Gathering up the junk, sorting through it, and then casting it off somewhere else. All for no purpose, leaving it to wash away again.

This is all my life. I merely go from one beach to another. Sure i remember the things that happen in between, but that’s all. I never tie them together. They’re so many things clean but useless.

We live our lives seeing and understanding things as they come. We all seek them out. We make our choices, develop our tastes, believe things as we understand them, define our own paths and stroll on them. In all we build a world of our own inside our mind. And that world inhibits everything we cherish. We always wish to live in such a world. Not only we wish but try also.
While we picked the elements of our dream world we also brushed across a plethora of other things. Things we hated. Things we discarded. Things we were not sure about. Things we were sure about but somehow they never fitted in. Things that appealed initially but waned as we moved on. Things that were imposed on us. All those things were everything that one can consider as lumen possibilities of human existence. Murakami called all these things shadows. And these are the things that marred the existence of our dream world. These shadows[1] are the junk in the quoted passage above.

Inability to encompass the inexhaustible variety of life it all leads to bewilderment and exasperation. Then we strive and struggle for more and more knowledge and understanding to chunk out inconsistencies and to bridge the gaps of our mind. Because that’s where we put the blame, our knowledge and understanding, and try to better it. Though our knowledge keeps on increasing but understanding suffers at times as shadows never leave us. Either consciously or subconsciously they stay and their existence always keeps us pushing and striving for more.
This is the thought on which Murakami draws the book towards the end.

The protagonist of the story is a Calcutec who loves to cook, read and drink(though he’s not as a drunkard) . He is a sharp observer but is quite indifferent to the world around him and is satisfied in his solitude.

The story is a science fiction blended with the philosophy of how we understand our understanding of mind. The novel is divided into two storylines which move parallel to each other in alternating chapters. Though both the stories are entirely different but one instinctively knows that they will merge in the end. As the name suggest one story is about a wonderland and other that proceeds towards the end of the world. While ‘End of the world ’ story is a science fiction embedded with concepts like double consciousness, human data encryption methods with human subconsciousness as an encryption key, sound-suppressing devices, history talking bones etc, it inevitably leads towards the end of world for the narrator which, though not explicitly stated, is the ‘Hard boiled wonderland’.

‘Hard Boiled Wonderland’ on the surface is a very subtly narrated dream like story. One is simply awestruck by the depth and imagination of it. It presents thought on the self inflicted struggle of a thinking man, though it never touches it explicitly and i guess that’s the best part of the story. A strive for knowledge and understanding which becomes a life long drive, never halting to enjoy the secrets one may have unearthed along the way. Though this drive is the lifeline of a man but it does contains a pain, a struggle , a strive in it which is the ‘Shadow’ that Murakami points out.

As he says :

There’s no reason why everyone has to listen to records in hi-fi. Having violin on the left and bass on the right doesn’t make the music more profound. Its just a more complicated way of simulating a bored imagination

No, the story is not just abt the Shadow but is whole lot more than it. Apart from the philosophy of working of the mind, the “Wonderland Story” is also a satire on the world of today and the irony is too much profound because of the calm way of the narration and the setting of the story.
There are characters like the Colonel, a Gatekeeper, Dreamreaders and there’s a Wall, a River, The Woods and the golden haired Beasts. And they all reside idiosyncratically in a town enclosed inside the Wall. The town and the things inside are actually a simple, calm yet crude deep layered caricature of the world we inhibit.

A meandering tangentiality encompasses the whole story giving it a surreal quality. It all looks lull, only that we are not sure if the storm has passed or is on its way.
I completed the book about a week back but am still awed by its conception.
Go read it and don’t forget to thank me for it.

[1] The cover of the book shows a man coiled inside with a shadow below him. The shadow is shown lying on the floor (or we can say The World). And the World (floor) is shown cutting through the man. The inward coiling of the man can be seen as the alienation of his from the world. In the coiled stance of his body his head is also curled inside as if he’s shunning himself from any view of the travesty the world presents.