Review: Murakami’s Kishidanchō-goroshi (Killing Commendatore)

My review of the new Murakami novel Killing Commendatore (騎士団長殺し) is in the Japan Times this week: “‘Killing Commendatore’: Murakami’s latest lacks inspired touch of earlier works

In short, it was not very good. I’ll be very curious to see how it turns out in translation and what the reviews are like. I haven’t seen any announcement of a translator or translation date so far.

The word count of the review prevented me from going into detail, partially because I couldn’t use many quotes and partially because it took so many words to summarize (about 550 of roughly 1000 words). I realize this could be my failing as a writer (although I’m pretty happy with my summary, notably with the absence of spoilers), but the book itself also eludes summary: once you start summarizing, you realize that you’re starting to give away the secrets of the book. Because so very little happens, summarizing any of the reveals gives away bit by bit some of the only development/pleasure of reading the book.

And there are so many secrets being kept in this book. Secrets between the narrator and Menshiki. Secrets between the narrator and Marie. As in 1Q84 (and other books?!), there are several points where the characters actively conspire to avoid involving the police—“They’d never believe us! And it could get troublesome for us.” At one point, the narrator allows an old man to go through what appears to be a tremendous amount of pain without calling for help at an old folks home while he has a conversation about how to proceed with solving the disappearance.

The pacing of the book also feels off. The first half is the narrator finding the painting, digging up the hole, and getting to know Menshiki and his mysteries, padded with some background story about himself and his family, which I was not able to address in the review. The second half, rather than beginning to unwind some of the build-up, goes on to introduce new characters and build up more mysteries before a disappearance in Chapter 45 (of 64) and the start of the true “adventure” in Chapter 53. I think the first half of the novel could have been much shorter than it was.

It’s difficult to express exactly how artlessly Murakami incorporates the historical information in this book. He uses his favorite device of having a character go research something at the freaking library, which he’s been doing since Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World at least, although perhaps even as far back as A Wild Sheep Chase? I can’t remember.

On several other occasions, a character says something like “oh, by the way, I found out X” and then proceeds to drop fat blocks of dialogue that have no relation to the rest of their conversation or other plot development.

And Murakami takes the strange step of including a lengthy quote from Samuel Willenberg, survivor of the Treblinka extermination camp, as the entirety of Chapter 32, the final chapter in Book 1. (Which I guess suggests that the narrator chose the quote and decided to include it in his telling of the story?)

The goal seems to be to make a statement about art—the quote, which I believe is from a documentary but have not been able to track down/confirm, suggests that art can change/influence people, which doesn’t exactly jive with the novel. I’m not sure what it is that Murakami wants the reader to understand about art from reading this book.

The retrospective point of narration is equally lazy. This plays a part most noticeably in the first few chapters when the narrator feels very under control of how information is being presented. But it fades away quickly, leaving only vestigial, chapter-ending, retrospective paragraphs that help build some suspense going into the subsequent chapter, but even these fall away as the book progresses! The whole point of telling a story retrospectively is so you don’t have to do a blow by blow other than for the most dramatic incidents, but stream of conscious narration seems to be what Murakami is best at writing or considers most meaningful. He’s obsessed with his characters’ process of living/working, and he details those processes in nearly every book he writes.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. Jay Rubin has written in his book on language about how easy it is for students of Japanese to mistake the pleasure of being able to read/understand Japanese for the literature itself actually being good. I don’t think I’m making that mistake here, as it was not fun to devote 23 days of my life to doing nothing but reading this book, but I do think that it can be difficult to grasp the whole of a work I’ve read in Japanese.

This is why I took loads of notes in the margins. This is why I wrote 28,668 words of chapter summaries. (NOTE: Write the summary immediately after you finish reading the chapter so that it’s a true summary and not just a write-up of your notes. I find it much easier to conceive of the chapter as a whole if I do it that way.) So I’m fairly confident in my evaluation. 1Q84 helped me notice many weaknesses about Murakami’s work, but this one has thrown them into stark contrast. The play-by-play narration works if the narrator is interesting and funny, as in his early works, but here there are just so many unnecessary details that feel given purely for the sake of describing something or because that’s what would have happened.

In my writing workshops, one workshop leader always had participants imagine the work under consideration in its best form at the end of the workshop. I think Killing Commendatore in its best form is a book that makes some kind of statement about art, what it does to viewers, how one makes it, why one makes it, what it means to devote your life to art, and how that can affect artists.

This seems to be what Murakami tries to do with his opening prologue, which is actually very good. The narrator awakes from a nap, and a man without a face is sitting across from him. He’s been here before, and he’s back because the narrator has been unable to draw his portrait. The narrator struggles and again fails. The man disappears with a puff of smoke, promising to return. It feels like this is a good metaphor for a tortured artist trying forever and ever to achieve some intangible, unobtainable goal with their art.

If only that had anything to do with the rest of the book! There are bits and pieces here and there that readers might be able to use to come to some sort of conclusion along those lines, but Murakami is asking readers to do a lot of the work for him.

At any rate, it feels good to have it under my belt, and I’m glad to have had another 1,048 pages of language practice. I read an average of 45.6 pages/day, which is 10 below my pace for 1Q84. This is a little surprising. I wonder if I’ve lost focus, have more going on these days, or if the book was just bad.

やれやれ. (Only one instance of this word in the entire book!) I hope that you all enjoyed following along here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Until next time! (Which I guess will be in 2024 or 2025 if we’re going by long books or 2021 if we’re going by short books.)

Playlist for Haruki Murakami’s Kishidanchō goroshi (Killing Commendatore)

I’m a little late to this game, but I’ve put together a playlist of all the music Haruki Murakami has had his characters listen to or refer to in his recent novel Kishidanchō goroshi (騎士団長殺し, Killing Commendatore). I’ll keep adding to it as I go. I’m currently 15 chapters and 257 pages deep. Only 750 more to go. :/

Oh, and I forgot to include a link to my Japan Times tease for the book in my previous post. Check it out.

I forecasted the wrong words! I wish I had included 惹く/惹かれる because they’ve been used a million times, as in 1Q84. As has 具わっている. I mention these in my review of the book at Neojaponisme. There’s even a bit of 抽斗. Just had the first やれやれ. I’m still convinced that 胡散臭い may make an appearance. We shall see.

Kishidanchō-goroshi Release/Tease

Kishidanchō-goroshi is out in Japan! A description of the book has appeared on the Amazon website. The description is the same for both volumes. I translated it on my Facebook page earlier today. Here it is again:

その年の五月から翌年の初めにかけて、私は狭い谷間の入り口近くの、山の上に住んでいた。夏には谷の奥の方でひっきりなしに雨が降ったが、谷の外側はだいたい晴れていた……それは孤独で静謐な日々であるはずだった。騎士団長が顕(あらわ)れるまでは。

From May of that year until the beginning of the following year, I lived on top of a mountain near the entrance to a narrow valley. During the summer, rain fell incessantly within the valley, but outside the valley seemed to be clear for the most part…those were supposed to be peaceful, lonely days. That is until the Commendatore appeared.

Very interesting. This makes it seem like it’s set in a fantasy world of some sort. Perhaps even similar to Hard-boiled Wonderland?  A commenter on Facebook noted that Commendatore is a character in Don Giovanni…which normally would suggest a massive culture drop on the part of Murakami, which it could still be, but the Commendatore seems to be an actual character in the book rather than the fictional character.

I’m disappointed that my copy has not yet left Japan! When I ordered the last Harry Potter book, it arrived in Japan on the release date, so I think I actually received it a few hours before many of the launch parties in the U.S. I think the delivery date says Monday. I may have a way to get a portion of the book over the weekend, so stay tuned to my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I’m thinking I may do some kind of live broadcast of me reading the book…this is the natural progression from liveblogging, which has been all but destroyed other than for video game/tech presentations.

Believe

In Hard-boiled Wonderland the the End of the World Chapter 34 “Skulls,” Boku treks through the snow to the Library after speaking briefly with the Colonel. He has coffee with the Librarian and confesses that he’s decided to leave the Town with his shadow, despite the fact that he will miss her. He also admits he considered letting his shadow go but staying in this world, exiled to the Woods. Boku is surprised when the Librarian says she thinks she could put up with such an existence if she had mind, which startles Boku since it suggests she has the ability to believe—a sign of the presence of mind. They retreat to the stacks where Boku will attempt to read skulls and retrace some piece of her mind.

There are very few changes in this short chapter, and until I came to the very last line, I wasn’t quite sure what I would write about. Here is my translation of the final exchange of the chapter:

「あなたは川の中に落ちた雨粒を選りわけようとしているのよ」

「いいかい、心というのは雨粒とは違う。それは空から降ってくるものじゃないし、他のものと見わけがつかないものじゃないんだ。もし君に僕を信じることができるんなら、僕を信じてくれ。僕は必ずそれをみつける。ここには何もかもがあるし、何もかもがない。そして僕は僕の求めているものをきっとみつけだすことができる」

「私の心をみつけて」しばらく後で彼女はそう言った。 (518)

“You realize you’re trying to sort out raindrops that have fallen in a river.”

“Listen, mind is different from raindrops. It doesn’t fall from the sky, and it’s not indistinguishable from other things. If you’re able to believe in me, then believe. I will definitely find it. Everything is here, and nothing is here. And I will definitely be able to find what it is I want.”

“Find my mind,” she says, after a moment.

And here is Birnbaum’s version. Check the final line:

“It is like looking for lost drops of rain in a river.”

“You’re wrong. The mind is not like raindrops. It does not fall from the skies, it does not lose itself among other things. If you believe in me at all, then believe this: I promise you I will find it. Everything depends on this.”

“I believe you,” she whispers after a moment. “Please find my mind.” (352)

The edits in the penultimate paragraph are neither here nor there…I think they probably improve the translation, notably the use of the colon to link the two sentences.

But adding “I believe you” feels like a step too far! I think it improves the translation in that it makes it more dramatic, possibly even cinematic. It also takes the text one step further than Murakami does: It suggests she has the ability to believe, and thus that she has mind.

I wonder what Murakami was getting at with the 何もかもがあるし、何もかもがない。(Everything is here, and nothing is here.) I’m not totally happy with this translation. I think there’s a way to render it more exciting yet not opt for “Everything depends on this.” Is that what Murakami is suggesting?

Six chapters left…

Discoveries

明けましておめでとうございます! Happy New Year! It’s the Year of the Rooster, which apparently is not as lucky for me (a Rooster) as I initially believed…it’s just my responsibility to throw the beans on Setsubun as a 年男. よろしくお願いします!

After an extended break, I’m back on the Murakami with Chapter 33 “Rainy-Day Laundry, Car Rental, Bob Dylan” of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It’s a really nice chapter. Watashi waits at the coin laundry for a dryer to open, throws in the Girl in Pink’s laundry when one opens, kills time walking and shopping around the neighborhood, drops off the laundry, picks up some new clothes, has a couple beers at a beer hall, grabs the unicorn skull from storage at Shinjuku Station, rents a car, and drives off to his date.

He spends a lot of time thinking as he performs these activities, and as you might expect, a lot of these thoughts get cut. There are so many that it’s difficult to pick out just one. For the most part I don’t think the cuts detract, and in some cases they actually improve the translation.

One example I’ve already looked at, actually, when I wrote for Neojaponisme about Murakami’s “advertorial” short stories in Men’s Club. There’s an extra bit cut immediately after the passage I looked at. Here is Birnbaum’s version:

I took the subway to Ginza and bought a new set of clothes at Paul Stuart, paying the bill with American Express. I looked at myself in the mirror. Not bad. The combination of the navy blazer with burnt orange shirt did smack of yuppie ad exec, but better that than troglodyte.

It was still raining, but I was tired of looking at clothes, so I passed on the coat and instead went to a beer hall. (342)

And here is the extended original and my translation:

私はまず電車で銀座に出て〈ポール・スチュアート〉でシャツとネクタイとブレザーコートを買い、アメリカン・エキスプレスで勘定を払った。それだけを全部身につけて鏡の前に立ってみると、なかなか印象は悪くなかった。オリーヴ・グリーンのチノ・パンツの折りめが消えかけているのが多少気になるが、まあ何から何まで完全というわけにはいかない。ネイビー・ブルーのフラノのブレザーコートにくすんだオレンジ色のシャツというとりあわせはどことなく広告会社の若手有望社員という雰囲気を私に与えていた。少なくともついさっきまで地底を這いまわっていて、あと二十一時間ほどでこの世界から消えていこうとする人間には見えない。

きちんとした姿勢をとってみると、ブレザーコートの左の袖が右より一センチ半ばかり短いことがわかった。正確には服の袖が短いのではなく、私の左腕が長すぎるのだ。どうしてそうなったのかはよくわからない。私は右ききだし、特に左腕を酷使した覚えもないのだ。店員は二日あれば袖を調節できるからそうすればどうかと忠告してくれたが、私はもちろん断った。

「野球のようなものをやっておられるのですか?」と店員がクレジット・カードの控えを渡しながら私に訊いた。

野球なんかやっていない、と私は言った。

「大抵のスポーツは体をいびつにしちゃうんです」と店員が教えてくれた。「洋服にとっていちばん良いのは過度な運動と過度な飲食を避けることです」

私は礼を言って店を出た。世界は様々な法則に満ちているようだった。文字どおり一歩歩くごとに新しい発見がある。

雨はまだ降りつづいていたが、服を買うのにも飽きたのでレインコートを探すのはやめ、ビヤホールに入って生ビールを飲み、生ガキを食べた。 (500-501)

First, I took the train to Ginza and bought a shirt, a tie, and a blazer at Paul Stuart, paying for it with my American Express. I put it all on and looked at myself in the mirror. Not bad. I was a little worried that the center creases in my olive chinos had started to fade, but I guess not everything had to be perfect. And the combination of the navy blue flannel blazer and burnt orange shirt did make me look a little like a young employee at an advertising firm. But at least I didn’t look like someone who’d just been crawling around in the sewer and only had 21 hours left before he disappeared from the world.

When I stood up straight, I realized that the left sleeve of the blazer was about half an inch shorter than the one on the right. To be more accurate, the sleeve wasn’t shorter, it was my left arm that was longer. How’d I’d gotten that way, I had no idea. I’m right handed, and I had no memory of ever overusing my left arm somehow. The store salesman advised me that they could have the sleeve adjusted in two days and how would that be, but I of course didn’t take him up on the offer.

“Did you ever play baseball or anything?” the salesman asked as he was giving me my credit card receipt.

I told him I’d never played baseball.

“Most sports will deform your body,” the salesman told me. “For Western-style clothes, it’s best to avoid overexercising or overeating.”

I said thanks and left the store. The world is full of different rules. You discover something new literally every step you take.

It was still raining, but I was tired of buying clothes, so I didn’t look for a raincoat and went to a beer hall to drink beer and eat oysters.

I don’t think the translation loses all that much with the cut, but it’s a good example of the heightened awareness Watashi has on his last day. Birnbaum has cut other “discoveries” in the chapter, which start as an extended meditation on potted plants and a snail at the coin laundry. Murakami also uses the word いびつ (ibitsu, warped/deformed), one of his pet vocab words, twice in quick succession. Here in the cut passage and again in the beer hall when he looks in the mirror after using the bathroom.

The most effective cut in translation comes at the end of the chapter, where we know Birnbaum (or his editor) has been especially adept at making changes for more dramatic endings. Here is the Japanese and my translation:

事故現場を抜けるまでにずいぶん長い時間がかかったが、待ちあわせの時刻までにはまだ間があったので私はのんびりと煙草を吸い、ボブ・ディランのテープを聴きつづけた。そして革命運動家と結婚するのがどういうことなのかと想像をめぐらしてみた。革命運動家というのはひとつの職業として捉えることが可能なのだろうか?もちろん革命は正確には職業ではない。しかし政治が職業となり得るなら、革命もその一種の変形であるはずだった。しかし私にはそのあたりのことはうまく判断できなかった。

仕事から帰ってきた夫は食卓でビールを飲みながら革命の進歩状況について話をするのだろうか?

ボブ・ディランが『ライク・ア・ローリング・ストーン』を唄いはじめたので、私は革命について考えるのをやめ、ディランの唄にあわせてハミングした。我々はみんな年をとる。それは雨ふりと同じようにはっきりとしたことなのだ。(508-509)

It took quite a long time to get past the site of the accident, but I had time before I was meeting the librarian, so I just leisurely smoked cigarettes and listened to Bob Dylan. Then I tried to imagine what it would be like to be married to a revolutionary activist. Can a revolutionary activism be considered an occupation? Accurately speaking, of course, revolutionary activism is not an occupation. However, if politics can be an occupation, then revolution should be a modified version of it. But I could never tell very well with things like that.

Would her husband discuss the progress of the revolution over a beer at the dinner table when he got home from work?

Bob Dylan started singing “Like a Rolling Stone,” so I stopped thinking about the revolution and hummed along with the song. We’re all getting older. And it’s as clear cut as the falling rain.

The details about revolutionary activism, which refer back to a high school friend who married an activist and disappeared, feels like a very Watashi Seinfeld-esque aside (“Whats the deal with revolutionary activism?”), and it stands in stark contrast to Birnbaum’s translation:

It took forever to get by the accident site, but there was still plenty of time before the appointed hour, so I smoked and kept listening to Dylan. Like A Rolling Stone. I began to hum along.

We were all getting old. That much as as plain as the falling rain. (346)

Pretty interesting decisions. Seven chapters left…

Distant Drumming

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace
Year Eight: Pigeon, Edits, Magazines, Awkwardness, Back Issues
Year Nine: Water, Snæfellsnes, Cannonball

spetses

Apologies for skipping last week! I’ll make up for the delay with a massive post this week.

This week I’m looking at one last essay in Murakami’s 2015 collection of travel essays. The essay is titled 「懐かしいふたつの島で 」(On two nostalgic islands), and it was originally written in 2011. I’m about half way through the collection, and this is the best one so far.

This is partially due to the fact that reading this essay makes me nostalgic. Murakami visited the two Greek islands Spetses and Mykonos during his three-year sojourn to Europe from 1986-1989, and in this essay he goes back to see them. He wrote about his initial trip in the book 『遠い太鼓』 (A Distant Drum), which I read half of at some point years ago. There are a few scenes I can still remember from the book—the “Zorba” Greeks from the beach; Murakami and his wife walking through one of the towns, low on cash because he forgot to go to the bank before the weekend; Murakami running the original Marathon course; Murakami running in Sicily and being chased by wild dogs.

It’s a great book, one that I really need to finish, one that deserves a full translation into English. (PICK ME! PICK ME!)

So I’ve picked a few of my favorite sections, starting with the introduction:

今から二十四年ほど前のことになるが、ギリシャの島に住んでいた。スペッツェス島とミコノス島。「住んでいた」といってもせいぜい合わせて三ヶ月くらいのことだけど、僕にとっては初めての「外国で暮らす」体験だったし、それはずいぶん印象深い体験になった。ノートに日々の記録をつけ、あとになって『遠い太鼓』という旅行記の中にそれをまとめた。

その後も何度かギリシャに行くことはあったけれど、それらの島をもう一度訪れたことはなかった。だから今回はそのとき以来の「再訪」ということになる。「ピルグリメイジ(巡礼)」という英語の表現がある。そこまで言うのはいささか大げさかもしれないが、要するにおおよそ四半世紀昔の自分の足跡を辿ることになるわけで、懐かしいといえばたしかに懐かしい。とくにミコノス島は小説『ノルウェイの森』を書き始めた場所だったので、僕の中にはそれなりの思いのようなものがある。

1986年9月にローマに着いて、その初秋の美しい光の中で一ヶ月間ほどを過ごし、それからアテネに行き、ピレエフス港から船でスペッツェス島に渡った。イタリアに本格的に住み始める前に、ギリシャで数ヶ月を送りたかった。10月も半ば、ギリシャの観光シーズンは既に終わって、働き疲れたギリシャ人たちがホテルやレストランや土産屋の店仕舞いを始める頃だ。この時期になると、いくらギリシャとはいえけっこう寒くなってくるし、天候もだんだん悪くなる。曇りの日が多くなり、冷ややかな風が吹き、雨もよく降るようになる。クルーズ船で夏の陽光溢れるエーゲ海の島を訪れたことのある人は、秋が深まったときそこがどれほどひっそりとした場所に(ある時には陰鬱なまでの場所に)なり得るかを知ったら、きっとびっくりするに違いない。

どうしてそんあ魅力的とは言いがたい季節を選んで我々(というのは僕と奥さんのことだが)がギリシャの島に住むようになったのか?まずだいいちに生活費が安かったから。高物価・高家賃のハイシーズンの時期に、ギリシャの島で何ヶ月か暮らせるような経済的余裕は、当時の我々にはなかった。それから天候のよくないオフシーズンの島は、静かに仕事をするのに向いているということもあった。夏場のギリシャはいささか騒がしすぎる。僕は日本で仕事をすることに当時疲れていて(それにはまあ、一口で言えないいろいろな理由があったのだが)、外国に出て面倒な雑事を逃れ、ひっそり仕事に集中したかった。できれば腰を据えて、長い小説も書きたかった。だから日本を離れて、しばらくのあいだヨーロッパに住むことに決めたのだ。 (85-86)

Nearly 24 years ago now, I was living on Greek islands. Spetses and Mykonos. “Was living” was only about three months total combined, but it was my first time “living abroad” and it turned into a very memorable experience. Every day I kept records in my notebook, and afterward I put them all together into the travelogue Tōi Taiko (A Distant Drum).

I had the chance to go to Greece a number of times thereafter, but I never visited those islands again. So this was my first “return” since then. English has the expression “pilgrimage.” Using that term might be a slight exaggeration, but I followed my steps from a quarter century in the past, so it’s safe to say it was nostalgic. Mykonos especially has a kind of affection within me because it is where I started writing Norwegian Wood.

I arrived in Rome in September 1986 and spent a month in the beautiful light of early autumn before going to Athens and then crossing over to Spetses by boat from Piraeus. I wanted to spend a few months in Greece before settling down in Italy. By mid-October, the Greek tourist season was over, and the exhausted Greeks had started to close up their hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Around this time of year it’s cold despite the fact that it’s Greece, and the weather gradually gets worse. Cloudy days grew in number, cold winds blew in, and it started to rain often. Anyone who has taken a cruise ship through the islands of the sunny Aegean Sea of summer would be surprised to know how quiet (and at times even melancholy) a place it can become once autumn sets in.

Why did we (my wife and I) choose such a difficult-to-appreciate season to live on a Greek island? First, the cost of living was cheap. At the time, we didn’t have the economic leeway to live for several months on a Greek island during the high season with its expensive prices and rents. Also, the off season and its bad weather was quiet and suited for getting work done. Greece in summer can be too rowdy. I’d gotten tired of working in Japan (there were a lot of different reasons for this that I can’t explain in a single phrase), and I wanted to go to a foreign country to escape the bothersome everyday and focus quietly on work. If possible, I wanted to settle down and write a long novel. So I left Japan and decided to live in Europe for a little while.

One thing to note: Murakami arrived in September 1986, and Norwegian Wood was published in September 1987. That’s a pretty impressive turnaround. It’s even more impressive because we know he killed the first month in Athens! He didn’t start writing until he arrived in Spetses:

敷地の中を少し見てまわってもかまわないでしょうか?昔しばらくここに住んでいたもので。僕が管理人のおばあさんにそう訊くと、「いいよ、どうぞ好きなだけごらんなさい」という返事が返ってきた。

当時僕らが暮らしていたユニットは、外から見る限りそのままだった。何ひとつ変わってはいない。19番のユニット。白い漆喰の壁と、青く塗られた柱。そこで僕は『ノルウェイの森』の最初の数章を書いた。とても寒かったことを記憶している。12月、クリスマスの少し前のことだった。部屋には小さな電気ストーブひとつしかなかった。分厚いセーターを着て、震えながら原稿を書いた。当時はまだワープロを使っていなかったから、大学ノートにボールぺんでこりこり字を書いていた。窓の外には石ころだらけのうらぶれた野原があり、そこで羊の小さな群れが黙々と草を食べていた。僕の目にはあまりおいしそうな草には見えなかったが、羊たちはそれでいちおう満足しているようだった。

書くのに疲れると手を休め、頭を上げ、そんな羊たちの姿をぼんやり眺めた。ガラス窓の向うに見えるその風景を、今でもよく覚えている。壁に沿って大きなキョウチクトウが生えていた。オリーブの木もあった。窓から眺めた野原は当時のままうらぶれて残っていたが、なぜか羊たちの姿はなかった。

当時は朝から昼間にかけて小説を書き、夕方になると散歩がてら街に出て、バーでワインかビールを軽く飲むことにしていた。詰めて仕事をしたあとでは、何かそういう気分転換が必要だった。だからいろんなバーに行った。「ミコノス・バー」「ソマス・バー」、あといくつか名前の思い出せないバー。そういうバーにはミコノスに住み着いた外人(非ギリシャ人)たちがたむろして、小さな声で会話を交わしていた。そんな季節にミコノスにいる日本人は僕らくらいで、けっこう珍しがられた。「ミコノス・バー」で働いていた女性はとてもチャーミングな皺を寄せて笑う人で、僕はこの人を—というかその皺の具合を—イメージして『ノルウェイの森』のレイコさんという人物を描いた。(91-92)

Would you mind if I looked around inside the place a little? I lived here a little while a long time back. When I asked the old woman who managed the place, she replied, “Sure, look around as much as you like.”

The unit we lived in back then looked the same from the outside. Nothing had changed. Unit 19. White stucco walls and columns painted blue. I wrote the first few chapters of Norwegian Wood here. I remember it being very cold. It was December, just before Christmas. There was only a single electric heater in the room. I wrote while shivering in a thick sweater. I wasn’t yet using a word processor at the time, so I scratched out characters with a ballpoint pen in a college notebook. Outside the window was a ragged field covered with rocks where a small herd of sheep silently munched on the grass. The grass didn’t look all that tasty to me, but it seemed to satisfy the sheep.

When I got tired of writing, I rested my hand, lifted my head and gazed at the sheep. Even now I can still remember the landscape beyond that glass window. A large oleander had been growing along the wall. There had been an olive tree as well. The field outside the window was just as ragged as it had been, but for some reason the sheep were gone.

I would write the novel from the morning through the day, and at night I went out into town for a walk and had a little wine or beer at a bar. After working intently, I needed a change of pace like that. So we went to a bunch of different bars. Mykonos Bar, Somas Bar, and several others whose names I can’t remember. Foreigners (non-Greeks) who had settled on Mykonos hung out at bars like that and had quiet conversations. We were about the only Japanese on Mykonos during that season, and they were quite curious about us. There was a woman working at Mykonos Bar who had very charming wrinkles that gathered when she smiled, and I based the character Reiko on her—or should I say her wrinkles.

This section is mostly just a little trivia, but nice for Murakami maniacs like myself. There’s one more section where his writing comes up, and it’s worth sharing as well:

昔ながらの木造漁船を造る小さな造船所から、とんとんとんという木槌の響きが聞こえてくる。どことなく懐かしい音だ。規則正しい音がふと止み、それから少ししてまた聞こえる。そういうところはちっとも変わっていない。その木槌の音に耳を澄ませていると、二十四年前に心が戻っていく。当時の僕は『世界の終わりとハードボイルド・ワンダーランド』という小説を書き上げ、次の作品『ノルウェイの森』の執筆に取りかかることを考えている三十代半ばの作家だった。「若手作家」という部類にいちおう属していた。実を言えば、自分では今でもまだ「若手作家」みたいな気がしているんだけど、もちろんそんなことはない。時間は経過し、当然のことながら僕はそのぶん年齢をかさねた。なんといっても避けがたい経過だ。でも灯台の草の上に座って、まわりの世界の音に耳を澄ませていると、あの当時から僕自身の気持ちはそれほど変化していないみたいにも感じられる。あるいはうまく成長できなかった、というだけのことなのかもしれないけど。 (106-107)

I could hear the clap, clap, clap of a mallet coming from a small shipyard that built old wooden fishing boats. It was a somewhat nostalgic sound. The even beats stopped and then began again after a moment. This hadn’t changed at all. When I listened carefully to the sound of the mallet, my soul was transported back 24 years in the past. I was a writer in his mid-30’s who had just finished writing Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and was thinking about starting to write Norwegian Wood. I was considered a “young writer.” To tell you the truth, I myself still kind of feel like a “young writer” even now, but of course that isn’t the case. Time passed, and naturally I aged an equivalent amount. It’s an unavoidable progression, as it were. But as I sat there in the grass under the lighthouse and listened carefully to the sounds of the world around me, it didn’t seem like my feelings from that time had changed all that much. Or it might be just that I had not been able to grow very well.

Murakami is generally at his best when writing about himself and things he’s familiar with, stuff he’s experienced. This section is good, and there’s a very nice ending with him leaving on a boat and watching Mykonos fade into the distance.

I don’t think the essay is quite as good as Tōi Taiko, and it’s no A Moveable Feast, but it’s still a nice read. I’d definitely recommend picking up that book before this essay.

And that’s it for Murakami Fest 2016! Thanks for reading. The announcements come next week, as usual. The site says October 3-10, but the Literature date has not yet been set. Keep an eye out. You can stream the announcement live on the website or on YouTube. Maybe this is the year!

Cannonball

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace
Year Eight: Pigeon, Edits, Magazines, Awkwardness, Back Issues
Year Nine: Water, Snæfellsnes

somethinelse

This week I’m looking at the third essay in Murakami’s 2015 collection of travel writing. The piece is 「おいしいものが食べたい」 (“I want to eat something delicious”), originally from 2008, and in it Murakami writes about two famous American Portlands—that of Oregon and that of Maine.

The essay is only okay. Not much of it sticks with me, now that I think back about it—it’s really just a magazine fluff piece, to put it bluntly. He gives a brief historical introduction to both cities and highlights the abundance of restaurants in both, driven by an influx of young people. Then he introduces a few restaurants he visited and describes the food. It sounds like a decent trip to make, one that would give you an interesting look at the U.S.

(On a side note, I’ve resumed making notes in the margin of my text, which I did not do for the first two essays. This is an easy technique to use to improve retention of Japanese texts.)

The passage I’m translating comes from the end of the essay. Enjoy:

僕はボストンに住んでいるときに、車を運転してちょくちょくこのポートランドの街を訪れたが、そのひとつの目的は家具職人のマルゴネッリさんの工房を訪れることであり、もうひとつは市内の某中古レコード屋で、古いジャズのレコードを買い込むことにあった。店主のボブ・ワーツさんはCDなんぞ絶対に扱わないという頑固にして几帳面なLP原理主義者で、そういうところで僕と話があう。この日も話をしながら、ついついたくさんのレコードを買ってしまった。キャノンボール・アダレイの「サムシン・エルス」(ブルーノート)のファースト・エディションのぴかぴかの美品が20ドル。どうです、安いでしょう。よくわからない?LPなんかもう聴かない?そうですか、すみません。 (82)

When I lived in Boston, I drove over to visit Portland pretty often. One reason was to visit the workshop of the furniture craftsman Margonari, and the other was to buy up old jazz records at a certain used record store in the city. The owner is Bob Watts, a die-hard LP extremist who would never carry the likes of a CD. Today, again, I bought record after record while we talked. A pristine first edition of Cannonball Adderley’s “Somethin’ Else” (Blue Note) was twenty dollars. How about that? Pretty cheap. Oh, you’re not sure? You don’t listen to records anymore? Well, excuse me.

I really only chose this passage because of the great jazz recommendation. I checked out the album and listened to it while writing this post, although I listened on Spotify, not an LP.

It’s a solid album. The Wikipedia page for the album is worth a read. The lineup is killer: Adderley, Miles Davis, Hank Jones, Sam Jones, and Art Blakey. *shiver* Adderley would feature again with Miles one year later on Kind of Blue…damn.

Murakami’s tone there at the end is kind of funny. He doesn’t take it any further than that, and this is the only instance of a technique like this, at least in this essay, and so far in this collection. It seems pretty ordinary Murakami and really only stands out because of the plain, guide-like style of these essays.

(Note: Apparently there’s no copyright on the album cover because it’s so simple…which seems kind of strange to me.)

Snæfellsnes

Another quick note before this week’s post:

Last week I forgot to mention the importance of “projects” in Japanese study. Little projects—like this annual Murakami exercise or even something smaller as resolving to read an entire book or a certain number of pages every day—are very helpful language study devices. I’ve had this Murakami collection since January but haven’t had a chance to read it yet, and now I’ve forced myself to. Accountability is important.

So, yeah, I recommend setting up some kind of project, maybe even an annual project, and then really committing to it. It doesn’t have to be in as public a forum as this, but making it public does make it more difficult to avoid.

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace
Year Eight: Pigeon, Edits, Magazines, Awkwardness, Back Issues
Year Nine: Water

snaefellsnes

This week I’m looking at the second essay in the collection: 「緑の苔と温泉のあるところ」 (“The Place with Green Moss and Hot Springs”). Murakami travels to Iceland for a writer’s conference and travels around a bit. The first part of the essay reads like a Wikipedia article, and Murakami does have a tendency to wonder wide-eyed at things that he deems strange about the country: they use credit cards very frequently, restaurants all decorate with plastic flowers, everyone seems to like to paint. But he does hit some high notes when writing about the scenery and with a side trip he takes to see the care for abandoned puffins.

He also breaks out one of his pet words: 引き出し (drawers). This gives me another opportunity to link to the 1Q84 Liveblog. He uses the more usual kanji here (rather than 抽斗) when discussing the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Enjoy:

スナイフェルスネーズ半島は天候はかなり惨めな代物だが、その風景が我々を失望させることはない。広く知られた観光名所みたいなものもとくになく、したがって訪れる旅行者もそんなに多くはないので、いかにも素朴、観光ずれもしていない。南側には比較的平坦な海岸線が続き、海鳥が多く、バードウォッチングに適している。北部沿岸にはいくつかの息をのむような美しいフィヨルドがある。大昔氷河によって削り取られた断崖、ひっそりとした静かな入り江、赤い屋根の小さな教会、どこまでもひろがる緑色の苔、低く速く流れるくっきりとした雲、不思議なかたちをした物言わぬ山々、風に揺れるソフトな草、句読点を打つように思い思いに散らばった羊たち、焼け落ちた廃屋(なぜか焼け落ちた家が多い)、冬に向けてしっかりと束ねられた干し草。それらの風景は、写真に撮ることさえはばかられた。そこにある美しさは、写真のフレームにはとても収まりきらない種類のものだったからだ。我々の前にある風景はその広がりと、そのほとんど恒久的な静寂と、深い潮の香りと、遮るものもなく地表を吹き抜けていく風と、そこに流れる独特の時間性を「込み」にして成立しているものなのだ。そこにある色は、古代からずっと風と雨に晒されて、その結果できあがったものなのだ。それはまた天候の変化や、潮の干満や、太陽の移動によって、刻々と変化していくものなのだ。いったんカメラのレンズで切り取られてしまえば、あるいは科学的な色彩の調合に翻訳されてしまえば、それは今日の前にあるものとはぜんぜん別のものになってしまうだろう。そこにある心持ちのようなものは、ほとんど消えてしまうことになるだろう。だから我々はそれをできるだけ長い時間をかけて自分の目で眺め、脳裏に刻み込むしかないのだ。そして記憶のはかない引き出しにしまい込んで、自分の力でどこかに持ち運ぶしかないのだ。 (53-54)

The weather on the Snæfellsnes peninsula is a miserable thing, but the scenery did not get us down. There aren’t any tourist spots that are particularly well known, and accordingly there aren’t many visitors, so it’s simple and doesn’t cater to visitors. A relatively flat coastline runs along the southern side, and there are lots of birds, which makes it suited for birdwatching. There are several beautiful fjords on the northern coast that take your breath away. Cliffs carved out by ancient glaciers; quiet, deserted inlets; small churches with red roofs; green moss that was everywhere; distinct clouds, low and fast-moving; strangely shaped, taciturn mountains; soft grass shimmering in the wind; sheep scattered about, wandering in search of a sentence to punctuate; the remains of burned down houses (for whatever reason there were a lot of burned down houses); bales of hay bundled tightly for winter. I hesitated over whether I should even take pictures of this scenery. Its beauty wasn’t the kind that could be fit into the frame of a photograph. The breadth of the scenery before us, its almost permanent stillness, the deep scent of the tides, the ceaseless wind blowing over the ground, and the unique flow of time all came into being as an “inclusiveness.” All of the colors there had been produced as a result of being exposed to wind and rain since time immemorial. And they changed, hour by hour, based on changes in weather, the ebb and flow of the tides, and the movement of the sun. Once you capture them through the camera’s lens, once you translate them into a mixture of scientific colors, what’s before you today has already become something entirely different. The mood within almost completely disappears. So all we could do was look at everything with our eyes for as long a time as we could and etch it into our minds. And then put it into our transitory memory drawers and use our own power to carry it somewhere else.

(Photo attribution here.)

Water

Wow. Nine years. That’s kind of unbelievable. I started studying Japanese 15 years ago this summer, so I’ve been doing this silly exercise (writing this only-slightly-less-silly blog) for a good majority of my Japanese studying experience…which is now sneaking up on half my life.

Without further ado…

Welcome to the Ninth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace
Year Eight: Pigeon, Edits, Magazines, Awkwardness, Back Issues

Charles

This year I’ve done very little preparation. Tonight after I finished up some other work, I brainstormed a couple ideas, tossed most of them in the garbage, and decided to translate passages from the latest Murakami book that I purchased on my trip last Christmas.

The book is 『ラオスにいったい何があるというんですか?』(My contextless translation: What Exactly Do They Say is in Laos?), and it’s a collection of travel essays from various points in his career, many from the magazine AGORA.

The first essay titled 「チャールズ河畔の小径」(“The Path on the Charles”) is from 1995, when Murakami had run the Boston Marathon four times. He’s run it twice more since then, and I saw him run it one of those times in 2003.

The piece is an ode to the Boston Marathon and also to the running path on the Charles. Murakami calls the marathon 大げさに言えば精神的なふるさとのような大会 (“to put it in exaggerated terms, a race that is something like my emotional home”).

And here’s a passage I thought was nice, one that made me think of my twice daily bus rides that take me along Lake Michigan:

僕は思うのだけれど、たくさんの水を日常的に目にするというのは、人間にとってあるいは大事な意味を持つ行為なのではないだろうか。まあ「人間にとって」というのはいささかオーヴァーかもしれないが、でも少なくとも僕にとってはかなり大事なことであるような気がする。僕はしばらくのあいだ水を見ないでいると、自分が何かをちょっとずつ失い続けているような気持ちになってくる。それは音楽の大好きな人が、何かの事情で長いあいだ音楽から遠ざけられているときに感じる気持ちと、多少似ているかもしれない。あるいはそれには、僕が海岸のすぐ近くで生まれて育ったということもいくらか関係しているのかもしれない。 (14)

I think that the act of seeing a large amount of water every day may be, for humans, very meaningful. Well, it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say “for humans,” but I feel like it’s an incredibly meaningful thing for me at least. If I go for a while without seeing water, I start to feel as though I’m continuously losing something little by little. It might resemble to a certain extent how someone who loves music feels when, for some reason, they are separated from music. Or it might have something to do with me having been born and raised closed to the coast.

The photo at the top is of the sakura on the Charles, which Murakami mentions blossom in May, much later than the cherries in Tokyo and southern Japan.

I’ll start reading through a few more of these essays and hopefully turn up some more interesting passages for the coming weeks. As always, よろしくプリーズ.

(Photo attribution here.)

Uwazumi

Chapter 32 “Shadow in the Throes of Death” (死にゆく影) is a short End of the World chapter in which Boku visits his shadow who is pretending to be sicker than he actually is to trick the Gatekeeper. The shadow tries to convince Boku to leave, Boku says he wants to stay because he has become attached to the town, but in the end he agrees to meet his shadow in three days and escape.

Very few changes in this one. A couple of very minor cuts, which I’ll show just to complete this blog post. They aren’t of much interest.

In the first, the Gatekeeper leads Boku into the area where his shadow is being kept:

The Gatekeeper takes his key ring off the hook and unlocks the iron gate to the Shadow Grounds. He walks quickly across the enclosure ahead of me, and shows me into the lean-to. It is as cold as an icehouse. (331)

The Japanese and my version:

門番は壁から鍵束をとり、その鍵で影の広場に通じる鉄の扉を開けた。そして僕の先に立って広場を足速やに横切り、影の小屋のドアを開いて僕を中に入れた。小屋の中はがらんとして家具ひとつなく、床は冷えきった煉瓦のままだった。窓のすきまからは寒風が吹きこみ、中の空気は凍りついてしまいそうだった。まるで氷室。(483)

The Gatekeeper takes a ring of keys from the wall and opens the iron door that leads to the Shadow Plaza. He then cuts briskly across the plaza in front of me, opens the door of the Shadow Shed, and lets me in. The shed is empty without a single piece of furniture, only a frozen brick floor. A cold wind comes in through a gap in the window, freezing over the air inside, like an ice house.

Probably just cut because it’s unnecessary. There weren’t many other cuts for space in this chapter – it’s only seven pages long in the Japanese.

The second cut is from the section when the shadow is trying to explain the Town:

“When the Dreamreader’s shadow dies, he ceases to be the Dreamreader and becomes one with the Town. This is how it’s possible for the Town to maintain its perfection. All imperfections are forced upon the imperfect, so the ‘perfect’ can live content and oblivious. Is that the way it should be? Did you ever think to look at things from the viewpoint of the beasts and shadows and Woodsfolk?” (336)

And the original and my version:

「影が死ねば夢読みであることをやめて、街に同化する。街はそんな風にして完全性の環の中を永久にまわりつづけているんだ。不完全な部分を不完全な存在に押しつけ、そしてそのうわずみだけを吸って生きているんだ。それが正しいことだと君は思うのかい?それが本当の世界か?それがものごとのあるべき姿なのかい?いいかい、弱い不完全な方の立場からものを見るんだ。獣や影や森の人々の立場からね」 (490)

“When your shadow dies, you stop being the Dream Reader and become incorporated into the Town. That’s how the Town cycles within an eternal loop of perfection. It forces all imperfections onto the imperfect and lives off the rest. Do you think that’s right? Do you think that’s the real world? Do you think that’s the way things should be? Listen, look at things from the perspective of something weak and imperfect. From the perspective of the beasts, shadows, and the people in the forest.”

The cuts here are a bit more interesting. うわずみ is a difficult word to translate. It means the clear upper portion of a solution once the sediment has dropped out, which makes more sense when you see the kanji: 上澄み. Birnbaum handles it strikingly well with an 意訳.

Only eight chapters left now…