With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this year’s series here: More Drawers, Phone Calls, Metaphors, Eight-year-olds, dude.
As promised, this week I want to take a look at Book 3. One of the interesting/strange things that Murakami does with Book 3 is to add an additional narrative perspective – the book suddenly starts with a chapter from the point of view of Ushikawa, a creepy messenger/errand boy for the cult in the novel.
The name Ushikawa might be familiar. I can’t believe I didn’t realize it sooner (as in, when I was writing one of my two reviews of the novel), but Ushikawa was also a character in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. He sneaks into Toru Okada’s house in Chapter 13 of Book 3, he makes another house call in 16, and in 19 they talk on the phone.
And that’s the last we see of him for the entire novel.
He’s nothing more than a device that Murakami uses to advance the plot: he delivers a threatening message from Noboru Wataya – cut ties with “the Hanging House,” the residence where Cinnamon and Nutmeg are set up – which gradually becomes less and less threatening until eventually he just helps Toru get in touch with Kumiko via computer and disappears. We get long blocks of dialog that show what a poor bastard he is, but as best I can tell, he doesn’t really serve any other purpose in the novel.
He’s described similarly in both novels – disheveled, bald, an uncanny ability to track down information, clearly a lackey for someone powerful – but he doesn’t appear to be the exact same character. Just the same trope.
In 1Q84, too, Ushikawa is one sad bastard. In Book 2, he’s again used mostly as a plot device, but because he’s the narrative point of view in Book 3, we get extended information about how sad his life is in Book 3, so much so that I even started to feel bad for him – of all Murakami’s characters, he seems to get a raw deal.
And Murakami seems to revel in making him more and more miserable. I noted one passage in particular on 202. Ushikawa is riding around Tokyo on trains, hunting down information about Tengo and Aomame, and as he does, he’s thinking through the different possible connections in his head (connections that we as readers have known for hundreds of pages). Here’s the part just before a space break:
Ushikawa thought about this the entire time he was on the train from Ichikawa to Tsudanuma. He grimaced and sighed and stared off into space, probably without even realizing it. The primary school student sitting across from him was watching him with a strange look on her face. Out of embarrassment he smiled and rubbed the top of his lopsided bald head with his palm. However, that just seemed to scare the girl. She stood up all of the sudden right before Nishifunabashi Station and quickly ran off somewhere.
I felt like this was a bit overkill. We know he’s ugly. We know he’s a sad bastard. Does he really have to frighten primary school kids? Oh well. I guess that’s Ushikawa for ya.
One little language nugget of note: “lopsided” is いびつ in Japanese, and it appears over and over again in the novel. It’s one of those words that Murakami fixates on and uses a lot like 胡散臭い, 具わっている, and 惹かれる. He uses it a lot to describe the new moon that appears in the 1Q84 alternate reality: the new moon is smaller and more lopsided. I probably would have used a word like warped or irregular, but a teaser from Knopf shows that Rubin went with lopsided, which is a far superior choice. So I borrowed that for this week’s translation.