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.)

Back Issues

Welcome to the Eighth 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

I dedicated a previous Murakami Fest to excerpts from “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” (see “Year Three” above), the 1980 story that Murakami later rewrote for Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Murakami discusses the story at length in the 自作を語る for Hard-boiled Wonderland. Despite claiming that he viewed his previous stories “as documents that hold meaning as a sort of fixed-point observation,” Murakami declined to include “The Town” in the Complete Works, which he explains here:

書き始めた時点では、小説の構成については非常に漠然としたイメージしかなかった。しばらく前に『文学界』のために書いた『街とその不確かな壁』という中編小説(あるいは長い短編小説)を膨らませてリライトしようということだけは決まっていたのだが、それをどういう方向に書き直していくかということになると、全く方針が立たなかった。僕はこの『街とその不確かな壁』という小説を『1973年のピンボール』のあとで書いたのだが、このテーマでものを書くのはやはりまだ時期尚早だった。それだけのものを書く能力がまだ僕には備わっていなかったのだ。そのことは書き終えた時点で自分でもわかった。僕は自分がやってしまったことについてはあまり後悔している。発表するべきではなかったんじゃないかと思う。でも考えようによっては、活字にしてしまったなればこそ、なんとかこれを書き直して少しでもまともなものにしたいという思いも強くなったのかもしれない。もし『街とその不確かな壁』をあの時点で活字にしなかったら、『世界の終わりとハードボイルド・ワンダラーンド』は今あるものとは全然違ったかたちのものになっていたかもしれない。今回この全集刊行にあたって『街とその不確かな壁』を全集に収録してほしいという要望が出版社側からなされたのだが、僕としてはそうしたくなかった。たとえそれが志のある失敗作であるにせよ(そうであることを筆者は願っている)、失敗作は失敗作であり、それを改めて衆目に曝したいとは思わない。どうしても読みたいという読者は図書館で『文学界』のバックナンバーをみつけて読んでいただきたいと思う。(V-VI)

I had only a very faint image of the structure of the novel at the point when I started writing. I had only decided to rewrite and expand “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall,” a novella (or maybe a long short story) that I wrote for Bungakukai a little while before, but when it came to the direction I would take in rewriting, I had developed no plan. I wrote the story “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” after Pinball, 1973, but it was too soon for me to write on those themes. I wasn’t yet equipped with the abilities to write so much. This I knew myself immediately after I finished writing it. I was disappointed with what I myself had done. I think I probably shouldn’t have published it. But in a different light, my desire to somehow rewrite it and make it into something more respectable might have gotten stronger precisely because I put it into print. If I hadn’t put “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” into print at that time, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World might have become an entirely different book from what it is now. For the publication of this Complete Works, my publisher requested that I include “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall”, but I did not want to. Even if it was a failed work that had intention (and the writer hoped that it did), a failed work is a failed work, and I did not want it to be exposed to public scrutiny once again. I would ask that readers who must read it please find the back issue of Bungakukai in the library and read it there.

I’ve read the story, and it’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. It feels disjointed, and it doesn’t really wrap up neatly, but there is some magic there at the End of the World. I’m surprised Murakami is so self-conscious about it.

It’s at least worth a trip to the National Diet Library for Murakami treasure hunters, and if you’re internet savvy, you can have them copy it out and send it to you (at a Japanese address)…which is what I did when I accidentally left my heavily annotated copy on a bus on the way back to Tokyo from Fukushima. Rest in piece, my original copy. The fresh copy I had sent from the NDL is nice, but I wish I still had my vocab notes.

This is the final post in Murakami Fest this year! The announcements begin next week, and as usual the Literature date has not yet been set.

Wasteland

Welcome to the Seventh 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: Warmth, Rebirth

limestone

Chapter 20 “The Death of the Beasts” is another short chapter. This is the section of the book where the pace really starts to pick up. Part of that is because there is a lot of action in the “Hard-boiled Wonderland” section of the novel, but the other reason is because the “End of the World” sections are shorter in comparison. Chapter 21, for example, is 38 pages in the Complete Works, and Chapter 19 was 18. Chapter 18 and 20, on the other hand, are only 5 and 6 pages respectively.

In 20, Boku gets up one morning to the Town covered in snow and decides to go for a walk. He comes upon the Gatekeeper who says he should watch from the Watchtower as he blows the horn. When he does, it becomes apparent to Boku that many of the beasts have died in their sleep. He runs back to his room, his eyes in pain from the morning light. There the Colonel takes care of him and talks with him about the beasts.

There is just one small cut by Birnbaum (or his editor) in translation. Boku asks the Colonel why the beasts don’t move away to somewhere where they would survive:

“Why, I cannot tell you,” he says. “But the beasts cannot leave. They belong to the Town; they are captured by it. Just as you and I are. By their own instincts, they know this.” (202)

This is an accurate translation, but it leaves a few of the finals sentences out, as BOHE is known to do. I’ve marked these in red and kept Birnbaum’s version for the first half:

「それは私にもわからん」と老人は言った。「しかし獣たちはここの街を離れることはできないんだ。彼らはこの街に付属し、捕われているんだ。ちょうど私や君と同じようにな。彼らはみんな彼らなりの本能によって、この街から脱け出すことがけいないということをちゃんと知っているんだ。あるいは彼らはこの街にはえている木や草しか食べられんのかもしれん。あるいは南に向かう途中に広がっている石灰岩の荒野を越えることができないのかもしれん。しかしいずれにせよ、獣たちはここを離れることはできないんだ」 (277)

“Why, I cannot tell you,” he says. “But the beasts cannot leave. They belong to the Town; they are captured by it. Just as you and I are. By their own instincts, they know that they cannot escape from the Town. Or perhaps it’s because they only eat the trees and grasses that grow in the Town. Or they cannot cross the limestone wasteland they would encounter to the south. Whichever the case, the beasts cannot leave.

BOHE has cut the unnecessary verbiage that attempts to grow the world beyond the Town and left the thought on the more ominous ending: They know this. This cut helps the dialogue flow more smoothly as well. Immediately after this, Boku asks “What happens to the bodies?” There’s no chance for him to get distracted about the limestone or the plants. His real concern is the beasts.

Although perhaps it does miss out on the idea that the Town is the safest option for the beasts, that while there are dangers within, outside is more desolate and dangerous.

No matter how you weigh it, this is a minor change. More dramatic changes are coming soon. Next week is the 38-page monstrosity that is Chapter 21, which I may have to divide across two (or three?) weeks because of the length and the number of cuts. See you then.

Rebirth

Welcome to the Seventh 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: Warmth

mediterranean

In Chapter 19 “Hamburgers, Skyline, Deadline,” Watashi and the Girl in Pink have hamburgers, make it to the old man’s office building, and then prep for another spelunking adventure…after ominously discovering that there are 36 hours left until something bad happens.

A couple of interesting things of note in this chapter. There is one callback to the watermelon metaphor that gets cut by Murakami for the Complete Works version. After Watashi tells the Girl in Pink that he doesn’t think he has any special qualities, she insists that his “emotional shell” is what makes him special and gives him the ability to shuffle. It helped protect him from the procedure they performed on him. Here is the paperback version after that:

「ガードというのはつまりメロンの皮のようなものだね?」

「簡単に言えばそうね」

「それで」と私は言った。「その僕の抗体なり殻なりメロンなりというのは、先天的な資質なのかい?あるいは後天的なもの?」(330-331)

“So this guard is basically like the rind of a melon?”

“Put simply, yes.”

“So,” I said. “This antibody or shell or rind or whatever it is, is it an innate faculty? Or is it something I acquired?”

I’ve borrowed some of Birnbaum’s language from his translation, which is very close to the Complete Works version:

私はそれについてしばらく考えてみた。「その僕の抗体なりガードなり殻なりは、先天的な資質なんだろうか?」(265)

Except Birnbaum keeps the “acquired line” in translation:

I thought this over. “This antibody factor or guard or whatever, is it an innate faculty? Or is it something I acquired?” (194)

Not a massive change, but a missed callback to the melon stuff from earlier. Always interesting to see what Murakami is doing.

Birnbaum works some of his translation magic as always. When the pair get to the office, it’s been ransacked just as his apartment was, and all the girl’s clothes are strewn across the floor, which gives Birnbaum the chance to work with this line:

濃いピンクから淡いピンクまでの見事なグラデーションだった。(266)

An orchestration of pink in every gradation from light rose to deep fuchsia. (195)

And there is also a missed translation…because everyone is fallible. The device to repel the INKlinks (yamikuro) is still working, despite it having been knocked around:

“It’s all right, it works fine. They probably thought it was a useless contraption. Lucky for us, because the mechanism’s so simple, one little whack could have broken it.” (195)

But the Japanese suggests that it could not have been broken so easily:

「大丈夫よ。ちゃんと動くわ。きっと意味のない機械だと思ったんでしょう。それにこの機械の原理はとても簡単だからちょっとぶっつけただけではなかなか壊れない」と彼女は言った。(267)

“It’s all right. It works fine. They probably thought it was a useless contraption. And the mechanism’s so simple that a little bump on the head wouldn’t break it,” she said.

An alternate translation for that last line might be: “And the mechanism’s so simple that it would take more than a little bump to break it.”

But all these are just trivia, for the most part. The most interesting cut has to do again with the Girl in Pink, who becomes far more interesting this chapter. She’s always been overly cute and sensual and a bit frisky, but in this chapter she shows us exactly how smart and skillful she is. She’s learned just about everything from the old scientist: how to dodge taxes, trade stocks, run things for him. She’s completely financially independent. In what seems like a foreshadowing of Creta Kano’s invitation to Toru, she invites Watashi to run off to Europe. The Girl in Pink even suggests that once abroad he could be “reborn” as a “first-rate human being” (一流の人間). Watashi’s response from the Complete Works:

「ふうん」と私は言った。(263)

“Hmm,” I said.

Birnbaum’s translation leaves a vestigial tale of the original paperback text:

“Hmm.” Not a bad offer. (192)

In the original, the narrator deliberates a good bit longer and in doing so captures the mindset of many Murakami protagonists:

「ふうん」と私は言った。悪くない話だった。計算士としての私もこの事件のせいで微妙な局面にさしかかっているし、外国でのんびり暮すというのは魅力的だった。しかし自分が本当に一流の人間になれるという確信が私にはどうしても持てなかった。一流の人間というのは普通、自分は一流の人間になれるという強い確信のもとに一流になるものなのだ。自分はたぶん一流にはなれないだろうと思いながら事のなりゆきで一流になってしまった人間なんてそんなにはいない。(327)

“Hmm,” I said. Not a bad offer. This incident had put me in a tight spot as a Calcutec, so a leisurely life abroad did have its charms. However, I wasn’t confident I could ever become a first-rate human being. Usually first-rate human beings become first rate because they have strong conviction that they can become first rate. There aren’t many human beings who became first rate just caught up in the current of things, the whole time thinking they weren’t first rate.

Not exactly critical information, but kind of the arm-chair philosophy/wordplay that has generated fanboys and girls for Murakami. And endearing, for sure…at least to me. It builds up the narrator as more of an underdog.

This passage feels like Murakami digging into his subconscious. He basically jetted off to the Mediterranean shortly after publishing this book, and he worked on Norwegian Wood while he was there (1985-1987 or so). He had a decent readership by the time Hard-boiled Wonderland was published, but I bet he wondered what level of success he’d achieve. He published Norwegian Wood in 1987 while still living abroad, and when he came home, he was a celebrity. Quite a rebirth.

Warmth

Welcome to the Seventh 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 Man, Watermelons

skull

From Bill Gracey‘s photostream.

Welcome back! As with last year, my laziness continues. I will pull the starter cord on the rusty (but trusty) lawnmower that is my close reading of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and read through a few more chapters to examine changes that Murakami made for the Complete Works edition and adjustments made by Birnbaum (or his editor) (BOHE) in translation.

Chapter 18 “Dreamreading” is an appropriately short chapter for me to get back in the swing of things. It’s only five pages in the “Complete Works” edition and just a bit longer in the paperback. No major changes between those additions, and BOHE didn’t make many either.

There are a few minor adjustments in translation of course, as there are with any translation, and many of these would vary with any translator. But they’re still fun to look at.

In this chapter, Boku describes his frustrations with the dreamreading process, reads a few dreams, and discusses his frustrations with the Librarian. Her job is to wipe down the unicorn skulls—the dreams—after he has brought them from the stacks and to serve him coffee when he’s finished. Birnbaum renders this in a wonderfully clean translation:

I select a skull from the long shelves and carry it to the table. She helps me, first, to wipe off the dust with a dampened cloth. With meticulous care, she then polishes it with a dry cloth until the skull becomes like sleet. (183)

Murakami’s Japanese, however, is a bit more decorated:

僕は見わたす限りの書架に並んだ古い夢のうちのひとつを手にとり、そっと抱えるようにしてテーブルに運んだ。それから彼女に手伝ってもらってほんの少し水で湿らせた布でほころと汚れを拭きとり、次に乾いた布で時間をかけてごしごしと磨いた。(249-250)

I take one of the old dreams lined up endlessly along the shelves and, cradling it gently, bring it to the table. Then she helps me to wipe off the dust and dirt with a slightly dampened cloth, and then to carefully polish it with a dry cloth.

BOHE simplifies “lined up endlessly along the shelves” to “from the long shelves.” “(just) slightly dampened cloth” becomes “dampened.” And the “cradling” gets cut completely. But he adds in the description of the skull like “sleet.” The result is much sparser, simplified translation. This results in other great passages such as the following:

At the end of each session, she serves coffee. Occasionally we share biscuits or fruitbread she bakes at home. We do not speak as we eat. (184)

That line hit me when I was reading the translation.

There is one very small cut later in the chapter that I think does more damage to one of Murakami’s main themes in this book (and in many others): warmth (ぬくもり).

When they finish in the Library, Boku and the Librarian walk through the Town again:

As always, we sit on the narrow steps that lead from the Old Bridge down to the sandbar. A pale silver moon trembles on the face of the water. A wooden boat lashed to a post modulates the sound of the current. Sitting with her, I feel her warm against my arm. (185)

Again, a great translation, and I think he ends it on a nice point that shows more than tells. Murakami goes on for a few more sentences:

我々はいつものように旧橋のまん中にある中洲に下りるための階段に腰を下ろして、川を眺めていた。冷えびえとした白い月が小さなかけらとなって川面で小刻みに揺れていた。誰かが中洲の杭につないだ細い木のボートが水音を微妙に変えていた。階段の狭いステップの上に並んで座っているせいで僕は肩口にずっと彼女の体のぬくもりを感じていた。不思議なものだ、と僕は思った。人々は心というものをぬくもりにたとえる。しかし心と体のぬくもりのあいだには何の関係もないのだ。(252)

As always, we sit on the steps that descend from the middle of the Old Bridge to the sandbar and watch the river. The frigid, white moon breaks into small pieces and flutters on the surface of the water. Someone has tied up a flimsy, wooden boat to a post on the sandbar, and it slightly alters the sound of the water. Perhaps because we are sitting next to each other on the narrow steps, I feel her warmth in my shoulder the whole time. It’s strange, I think. People always think of the mind as warmth. But warmth of the mind and warmth of the body are completely unrelated.

I’ve maintained Birnbaum’s translation of kokoro here with “mind,” but this is one spot in particular where “heart” might make more sense. Birnbaum has made other modifications to keep his same spartan translation style (for example, moving the “narrow” to the first sentence in the paragraph from the fourth), but he just cuts the final three sentences completely.

In an MFA workshop, those are the sentences someone would have marked as “Show don’t tell” or “Too on-the-nose,” I guess. (There have been a surprising number of references to MFA workshops in the reviews of Tsukuru Tazaki. Mostly in regards to stilted dialogue or strange wordings.)

I also have a feeling that Murakami will address this mind-body divide later in the book, so it might not be totally necessary to introduce it so explicitly right now.

In the end, I attribute this slight change to Birnbaum’s major decision to translate kokoro as mind rather than heart. I think it works perfectly in most of the rest of the novel, but here I think the line “People always think of the mind as warmth” in particular feels a little off. “People always think of the heart as warmth,” on the other hand, feels a little more natural.

Cool Compound – 前世

zensei

Hey folks, sorry I haven’t rapped at ya lately. I’m still working my way through 女のいない男たち, but it’s been slow going and has derailed my work on Hard-boiled Wonderland: I’ve only read two stories and the forward so far, and I skipped over “Drive My Car” (which I read in 文藝春秋 last fall), so I have 2.5 stories left. My attention span feels shot these days, thanks in part to work but also to the NBA playoffs (and now the Finals!). There were games every day for a while and then every other day, and now my Spurs are in the Finals again and the emotional toll is brutal: Controlling my emotional landscape is the game within the game.

Another thing is that the stories have been less than spectacular so far. “Drive My Car” was okay, from what I remember, but I don’t feel any desire to reread it in Japanese just yet, maybe once the translation comes out. “Yesterday” will be in the June 9 fiction issue of the New Yorker and is already online for subscribers. It was okay. “Independent Organs” (it should definitely be “organ” and not “body” as I suggested in my post about the collection) was disappointing and a bit lame. So far “Scheherazade” has the most compelling start, and it partly has to do with the cool kanji compound 前世 (ぜんせい).

Even beginner students should be able to draw out the meaning of this compound based on the basic rules for kanji compounds. This is, I believe, one of the Adjective + Noun varieties. 前 (before) + 世 (world) = the previous world = past life.

The word gets used in this passage:

「私の前世はやつめうなぎだったの」とあるときシェエラザードはベッドの中で言った。「私にははっきりとした記憶があるの。水底で石に吸い付いて、水草にまぎれてゆらゆら揺れていたり、上を通り過ぎていく太った鱒を眺めていたりした記憶が」

“I was a lamprey in a past life,” Scheherazade said in bed one time. “I have distinct memories of it. Of sticking onto rocks at the bottom of the water, of slipping in between seaweed and waving in the current, of looking up at a fat trout as he passed overhead.”

So that’s a nice little passage, very typically Murakami, I’d say.

But I think these stories have bored me a little because there is just so little action. One commonality that ties them all together so far is that, much like the stories in Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round, storytelling itself is a theme. But Murakami was more adept at shifting between narrating the person telling the story and narrating action directly in that 1985 collection. And I believe they were shorter than these stories (eight stories as opposed to six spread out over fewer pages?). I’m curious to know why he’s chosen to work with the current length. My gut instinct is that these are the first short stories he’s written in a long time and he feels the need to have his form take a “step,” which maybe he felt he took with novels by writing 1Q84 (his attempt at a “comprehensive novel”).

At any rate, I have higher hopes for “Scheherazade,” and I’m curious to see what he does with the stories of shorter length toward the end of the collection. I’ll try to check back in before too long.

More Investigations

Back to the real point of this blog – yeah, it’s a Murakami blog these days despite my two recent posts on the Japanese language. If you’re a new reader, here’s the idea: Haruki Murakami’s 1985 novel Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World presents an interesting case study in translation and author revision. Alfred Birnbaum translated creatively (perhaps too creatively at times), and Murakami himself made changes in the text for the version that appears in the 1990 Complete Works box set. Birnbaum’s translation was published in 1991 by Kodansha International.

Chapter 15 “Whiskey, Torture, Turgenev” does not have many changes. Birnbaum makes a few creative leaps here and there, but nothing outside of a translator’s regular poetic license. In this chapter, the goons cut Watashi’s belly, his coworkers from the System come check him out, he gets sewn up at the hospital, he reads some Russian literature, has a nap, and then gets a call from the granddaughter.

There is one paragraph that gets cut between the two Japanese versions. Take a look at the 1985 version:

私は本を閉じて残り少ないジャック・ダニエルズを喉の奥に送り込みながら、壁に囲まれた世界のことをしばらく考えた。私はその壁や門の姿を比較的簡単に思い浮かべることができた。とても高い壁で、とても大きな門だ。そしてしんとしている。そして私自身がその中にいる。しかし私の意識はとてもぼんやりとしていて、まわりの風景を見きわめることはできなかった。街全体の風景は細部まではっきるとわかるのだが、私のまわりだけがひどくぼんやりとかすんでいるのだ。そしてその不透明なヴェールの向うから誰かが私をよんでいた。

それはまるで映画の光景のようだったので、私はこれまでに観た歴史映画の中にそういうシーンがなかったかと思いかえしてみた。しかし『エル・シド』にも『ベン・ハー』にも『十戒』にも『聖衣』にも『スパルタカス』にも、そんなシーンはなかった。とすればそんな光景はおそらく私の気まぐれなでっちあげなのだろう。

おそらくその壁は私の限定された人生を暗示しているのに違いない、と私は思った。しんとしているのは音抜きの後遺症だ。あたりの風景がかすんでいるのは私の想像力が壊滅的危機に直面しているからだ。私をよんでいるのはたぶんあのピンク色の娘だ。(277-278)

And now the 1990 version, which is clearly missing a paragraph:

私は本を閉じて残り少ないジャック・ダニエルズを喉の奥に送り込みながら、壁に囲まれた世界のことをしばらく考えた。私はその壁や門の姿を比較的簡単に思い浮かべることができた。とても高い壁で、とても大きな門だ。そしてしんとしている。そして私自身がその中にいる。しかし私の意識はとてもぼんやりとしていて、まわりの風景を見きわめることはできなかった。街全体の風景は細部まではっきるとわかるのだが、私のまわりだけがひどくぼんやりとかすんでいるのだ。そしてその不透明なヴェールの向うから誰かが私をよんでいた。

私は頭を振ってそんなイメージを追い払った。私はつかれているのだ。おそらくその壁は私の限定された人生を暗示しているのに違いない、と私は思った。しんとしているのは音抜きの後遺症だ。あたりの風景がかすんでいるのは私の想像力が壊滅的危機に直面しているからだ。私をよんでいるのはたぶんあのピンク色の娘だ。(221-222)

Strangely, Birnbaum’s translation includes aspects from each of these versions. I’ve marked the matching segments in red and blue above and below:

I shut the book and bid the last thimbleful of Jack Daniel’s farewell, turning over in my mind the image of a world within walls. I could picture it, with no effort at all. A very high wall, a very large gate. Dead quiet. Me inside. Beyond that, the scene was hazy. Details of the world seemed to be distinct enough, yet at the same time everything around me was dark and blurred. And from some great obscure distance, a voice was calling.

It was like a scene from a movie, a historical blockbuster. But which? Not El Cid, not Ben Hur, not Spartacus. No, the image had to be something my subconscious dreamed up.

I shook my head to drive the image from my mind. I was so tired.

Certainly, the walls represented the limitations hemming in my life. The silence, residue of my encounter with sound-removal. The blurred vision of my surroundings, an indication that my imagination faced imminent crisis. The beckoning voice, the everything-pink girl, probably. (164)

Birnbaum’s translation includes the paragraph about movies from the 1985 version (although Birnbaum cuts The Ten Commandments (十戒) and The Robe (聖衣) to fit the English “rule of three”), but it also includes the line that Murakami uses to replace that daydream: 私は頭を振ってそんなイメージを追い払った。私はつかれているのだ。Birnbaum gives them their own paragraph.

This seems to suggest one of two things: Either Birnbaum was translating based on both the original and revised versions, or Murakami made his revisions based on Birnbaum’s “adapted” translation.

Based on publication date alone, it seems like the former must be true, but I’m not so sure. The translation easily could have been completed in 1988 and then taken three years to finalize. We know from Jay Rubin’s book Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words that Rubin was asked to vet Hard-boiled Wonderland in Japanese for a publisher and that Birnbaum had already been selected to translate the book (and perhaps he already had). That would have given Murakami time to look over his own manuscript, especially if Birnbaum had cleared changes with him and pointed out locations he adapted.

More investigations are required.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how nice a chapter this is. It’s long, but Murakami plays the Murakami game and lets his narrator get drunk and ramble with charm about Turgenev, Stendahl, and Dostoevsky before the thought process comes full circle and links both halves of the book. Magic.

Weak and Uncertain

Mori

Chapter 14 is “Woods” in the End of the World section. Appropriately, autumn ends and winter begins in this chapter. (Spoiler alert: Like the winter of 2013-14, the winter in the book never ends. Snow on the ground in the last chapter, if I remember correctly.) Boku talks with the Colonel, receives a jacket from him along with warnings about the change in weather, and then hustles to finish up the map for his shadow. Doing so involves trips into the woods. He sits to take a nap at one point, awakes cold and feverish, and then stumbles back to the Town in a daze where the Librarian takes care of him.

There is a well in this chapter, one of Murakami’s pet images/symbols. Interestingly, it’s filled in. Other than that there isn’t much to say. No major cuts by Birnbaum or revisions by Murakami in this chapter. It’s short and sweet. I had to dig pretty deep to find anything at all to write about, but I did find a few sentences Birnbaum cut:

しかしどれだけ森の奥を歩くことが心地良くとも、僕はやはり完全に壁を離れることはできなかった。森の奥は深く、一度そこに迷いこめば方向を見定めることさえ不可能だった。道もなく目じるしもない。だから僕は常に目の端に壁を捉えられる程度の距離を維持しながら注意深く森を進んだ。森が僕にとって味方なのか敵なのかを簡単に見きわめることはできなかったし、そのやすらぎと心地良さはあるいは僕をその中に誘いこむための幻想かもしれなかった。いずれにせよ、老人が指摘したように、この街にとって僕は弱く不安定な存在なのだ。どれだけ注意してもしすぎるということはない。

おそらく森の奥に本格的に足を踏み入れなかったせいだとは思うが、僕は森に住む人々の痕跡をひとつとして目にすることはできなかった。足跡もなければ、人が何かに手を触れたような形跡もなかった。僕は森の中で彼らに出会うことをなかば怖れ、なかば期待していたが、何日歩きまわってみても彼らの存在を暗示するような出来事は何ひとつ起こらなかった。彼らはたぶんもっと奥の方に暮らしているのだろうと僕は推測した。それとも僕の姿を巧妙に避けているかだ。(200)

But no matter how nice it is to walk through the woods, I can never completely separate myself from the Wall. The woods are deep, and if I got lost, it would be impossible to reorient myself; there are no roads and no landmarks. So I continue through the woods with extreme care, always staying close enough so I can always keep the Wall in my periphery. I can’t tell whether the woods are friend or foe, nor whether the tranquility and comfort are merely an illusion meant to lure me in. At any rate, as the Colonel said, my existence is, to the Town, weak and uncertain. I can’t be too cautious.

Perhaps because I never truly entered the deepest part of the woods, I am not able to spot a single trace of the people who live in the woods. Not their footsteps, nor evidence that they had touched anything. With equal parts fear and anticipation, I walk for several days, but there is nothing that would signal their existence. They must live deeper in the woods. Or maybe they are skillfully avoiding me.

As you can see, Birnbaum (or the editor) compresses the first paragraph, getting rid of the last three sentences:

No matter how pleasant this walk deeper into the Woods may be, I dare not relinquish sight of the Wall. For should I stray deep into the Woods, I will have lost all direction. There are no paths, no landmarks to guide me. I moderate my steps.

I do not meet any forest dwellers. I see not a footprint, not an artifact shaped by human hands. I walk, afraid, expectant. Perhaps I have not traveled far enough into the interior. Perhaps they are skillfully avoiding me. (147)

The more I think about it, the more I feel like this change in the translation is the result of an editor and not by Birnbaum. The key phrase—“weak and uncertain”—gets repeated later in the chapter: “My own existence seems weak, uncertain” (149). I can see an editor saying, “Hey, why’s this have to be in here twice?” I can see the red pen scratch out those last three lines and, in the margins, write “tl;dr: I moderate my steps.”

At any rate, not a translation crime worthy of a war trial. Not a cut that I would’ve made, though. I like the illusory nature of the woods, and I like the uncertainty that gets repeated.

On the Rocks

suntory red

(Photo from this cool retro blog, which I found via this excellent blog post waxing nostalgic about Japanese whiskey.)

お待たせしました! and 明けましておめでとうございます!

Apologies for the long delay between posts. Thanksgiving to New Years is a long blur, but I have, in exchange for that delay, a hefty post looking at more hidden Murakami passages in both translation and revision from Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Without further ado…

Chapter 13 is in the Hard-boiled Wonderland section of the novel. Watashi wakes up from shuffling, goes to meet the chubby granddaughter after she calls in a panic, kills time at a supermarket waiting for her, and then—when the girl doesn’t show up—returns home to sleep and to confront the oddly sized thugs looking to break into the information black market. They trash his place, end of chapter.

There are small cuts in this chapter (sadly one of the やれやれs gets axed) and there are enormous cuts. The two most sizable cuts happen for basically the same reason: superfluous characterization. Strangely enough, they are both cut from both the 1990 Murakami revision and the 1991 Birnbaum translation. Hmm…

I’ll give them to you in reverse order, otherwise known as the order of increasing interest and the order of increasing length.

In the 1985 version, we get more details about the background of the dwarfish thug. He advises Watashi to give up his beer habit but then admits to two vices of his own: smoking and sweets:

私は肯いて同意した。

男は煙草をまた一本とりだして、ライターで火をつけた。

「俺はチョコレート工場の横で育ったんだよ。それでたぶん甘いもの好きになっちまったんだろうね。チョコレート工場といってもさ、森永とか明治とか、ああいう大きいのじゃなくてさ、小さな名もない町工場でさ、ほら駄菓子屋とかスーパーマーケットのバーゲンとかで売っているような、ああいうゴツゴツした素気ないやつを造るところなんだ。それでなにしろ、毎日毎日チョコレートの匂いがするんだな。いろんなものにチョコレートの匂いが染みついちまうんだ。カーテンとか枕とか猫とか、そういうあらゆるものにさ。だからチョコレートは今でも好きだよ。チョコレートの匂いをかぐと子供の頃のこと思いだすんだ」

男はローレックスの文字盤にちらりと目をやった。(231-232)

I nodded in agreement.

The man took out another cigarette and lit it with his lighter.

“I grew up next to a chocolate factory. That’s probably why I ended up with a sweet tooth. I say chocolate factory, but I’m not talking Morinaga or Meiji or anything big like that. Just a tiny, no-name neighborhood chocolate factory. A place that makes the gross crap that ends up in the bargain bin at the supermarket. In any case, it smelled like chocolate every day. That chocolate smell got into all sorts of crap. The curtains, pillows, the cat, shit like that. Which is why I still like chocolate to this day. When I smell chocolate, I think of my childhood.”

The man glanced at his Rolex.

This is, perhaps, a typically Murakami-esque detail in that it links the mind and body and seeks to explain the compulsions of human behavior. But it’s also totally unnecessary: these guys are supposed to be caricature, not fleshed out characters. Although perhaps growing up alongside a crappy little chocolate factory is a perfect caricature-like detail.

(On a side note, here’s a clue as to why the guy might be associating cigarettes and chocolate, other than them both being bad habits:

meiji

)

At any rate, Murakami thought better of it the second time around and cut it out of the 1990 version:

私は肯いて同意した。

男はローレックスの文字盤にちらりと目をやった。 (184)

I nodded in agreement.

The man glanced at his rolex.

But he also cuts the cigarette line, which results in a phantom cigarette a few pages later. It’s like those scenes in movies where the costume people forget what someone was wearing and it suddenly changes in the next scene: the thug is suddenly ashing a cigarette he never lit on the floor.

Birnbaum takes care of this easily in his translation:

He lit another cigarette, and glanced at the dial of his Rolex. (135)

The second passage is much more substantial and very “improvised.” Whenever I see passages like this, it always reminds me of the comparisons that Murakami always gets to a jazz soloist. And then I remember that I hate John Coltrane (most Coltrane). I think this technique works in more controlled bursts (“The 1963/1982 Girl from Ipanema”), but it can be distracting in novels.

This passage is fun enough, I guess. Take a look:

それで私は反対側の壁にはってある煙草のポスターに目をやった。つるりとした顔の若い男が火のついたフィルターつきの煙草を指にはさんで、ぼんやりとした目つきで斜め前方を見ていた。煙草の広告モデルはどうしていつもこういう〈何も見てない・何も考えていない〉という目つきができるのだろう。

煙草のポスターではフランクフルトのポスターを見ているときほど長く暇がつぶせなかったので、私はうしろを向いて、がらんとしたマーケットの店内を見まわした。スタンドの正面には果物の缶詰が巨大な蟻塚みたいに高く積みあげてあった。桃の山とグレープフルーツの山とオレンジの山が三つ並んでいる。その前には試食用のテーブルが置かれていたが、まだ夜も明けたばかりなので、試食サービスは行われてはいなかった。朝の五時四十五分から果物の缶詰を試食する人はいない。テーブルのわきには〈USA・フルーツ・フェア〉というポスターがはってあった。プールの前に白いガーデン・チェアのセットがあり、そこで女の子がフルーツの盛りあわせを食べていた。金髪でブルー・アイズで脚が長くよく日焼けした美しい娘だった。フルーツの広告写真にはいつも金髪の娘がでてくる。どれだけ長く見つめていても、目を離した次の瞬間にはどんな顔だったかまるで思い出せない——というタイプの美人だ。そういうタイプの美しさが世の中には存在する。グレープフルーツと同じで、見わけがつかない。

酒類の売り場はレンジスターが独立していたが、そこには店員はいなかった。まともな人間は朝食前に酒を買いに来たりはしないからだ。だからそこの一郭には客の姿もなく店員の姿もなく、酒瓶だけが植木されたばかりの小型の針葉樹といった格好で静かに並んでいた。ありがたいことに、このコーナーにはポスターが壁一面にはってあった。数えてみるとブランディーとバーボン・ウィスキーとウォッカが一枚ずつ、スコッチ・ウィスキーと国産のウィスキーが三枚ずつ、日本酒が二枚とビールが四枚あった。どうして酒のポスターだけがこんなに数多くあるのか、私にはよくわからない。あるいはそれは酒というものがあらゆる飲食品の中でもっとも祝祭的な性格を有しているからかもしれない。

しかし暇をつぶすにはもってこいだったので、私は端から順番にそのポスターを眺めていった。それで、その十五枚のポスターを眺めて、私にわかったことは、あらゆる酒の中ではウィスキーのオン・ザ・ロックが視覚的にいちばん美しいということだった。簡単に言えば、写真うつりが良いのだ。底の広い大柄なグラスにかき氷を三つか四つ放り込み、そこに琥珀色のとろりとしたウィスキーを注ぐ。すると氷のとけた白い水がウィスキーの紅白色に混じる前に一瞬すらりと泳ぐのだ。これはなかなか美しいものだった。気をつけてみると、ウィスキーのポスター写真の殆どにはオン・ザ・ロックがうつっていた。水割りでは印象が薄いし、ストレートでは間がもたないのだろう。

もうひとつ気づいたのは、つまみのうつっているポスターがないということだった。ポスターの中でも酒を飲んでいる人間は、誰もつまみを食べていないのだ。みんなただ、酒を飲んでいるのだ。これはたぶん、つまみがうつったりすると酒の純粋性が失われると考えられているかもしれない。あるいはつまみが酒のイメージを固定してしまうからかもしれない。あるいはそのポスターを見る人間の注意がつまみの方にそれてしまうからかもしれない。それはなんとなく分かるような気がした。ものごとにはすべからく理由というものがあるのだ。

ポスターを眺めているうちに六時になった。が、太った娘はまだ現れなかった。 (219-221)

I looked at the cigarette poster on the opposite wall. A shiny-faced young man holding a filter-tip cigarette looked absentmindedly askance into the distance. I wondered how the models for cigarette ads are always able attain that thought-free I’m-not-looking-at-anything look in their eyes.

I couldn’t kill as much time staring at the cigarette poster as I had with the Frankfurt poster, so I turned around and looked over the empty supermarket. At the front of the displays, cans of fruit were stacked into huge piles like enormous anthills. There was a mountain of peaches, a mountain of grapefruits, and a mountain of oranges, three altogether. In front of all that, there was a table for samples, but the day had only just dawned, so they weren’t doing the sample service. No one comes to try fruit at five forty-five in the morning. On the side of the table, there was a “USA Fruit Fair” poster. There was a white garden chair set in front of a pool, and a girl was there eating from a fruit platter. She was a beautiful girl with blond hair, blue eyes, long legs, and a dark suntan. Photos for fruit ads always use blondes. No matter how long you stare at the girls, though, the second you look away, you can’t even remember what they looked like – that’s the kind of beauties they use. That kind of beauty exists all over the world. Just like grapefruits, you can’t tell them apart.

Alcohol sales had a separate register, but there was no clerk there. Because decent folks don’t do things like go shopping for booze before breakfast. So there were no customers or employees in that whole section, which made the bottles of booze seem lined up quietly like bonsai pines that had just been planted. Thankfully, the wall in this section was covered in posters. I counted them up: there was one each of brandy, bourbon, and vodka, three of both scotch and Japanese whiskey, two for sake, and four for beer. I didn’t know why alcohol was the only thing that had so many posters. Maybe it was because it provides the most festive personality of all the different types of food and drink.

However, they were perfect for killing time, so I started at the side and looked at the posters one by one in order. As I looked at those fifteen posters, I realized that of all the boozes, whiskey on the rocks is the most visually appealing. To put it simply, it’s photogenic. Throw three or four big chunks of ice into a wide-bottomed glass, pour in some viscous, amber whiskey, and there’s this moment just before the ice melts and light-colored water mixes with the amber when the ice swims lithely in the liquor. It’s a sight to see. If you pay attention, you’ll realize that most whiskey posters are photos of whiskey on the rocks. I guess whiskey and water looks too weak, and straight must feel like something is missing.

I also realized that there weren’t any posters with beer snacks. None of the drinkers in any of the posters were eating anything. Everyone was just drinking. Maybe this is because they thought the booze would lose its purity if it shared the spotlight with snacks. Or that the snacks would stereotype the booze. Or that the viewers of the posters would focus on the snacks instead of the beer. Those are things I could understand. There’s always a reason behind things.

As I was looking at the posters, it turned six o’clock. But the fat girl still hadn’t appeared.

I’m not totally confident with the entire translation (especially with the last line in the penultimate paragraph – there must be something better than that), but hopefully it’s good enough to give you a sense of the original and what Murakami is doing…which is going on and on about how he feels the world works. In this case, he’s breaking down poster theory. Not exactly critical to the book. And, again, Murakami notices this in time for the revision:

それで私は反対側の壁にはってある煙草のポスターに目をやった。つるりとした顔の若い男が火のついたフィルターつきの煙草を指にはさんで、ぼんやりとした目つきで斜め前方を見ていた。煙草の広告モデルはどうしていつもこういう〈何も見てない・何も考えていない〉という目つきができるのだろう。

そんな風に店に貼ってあるいろんなポスターをぼんやりと眺めているうちに六時になった。が、太った娘はまだ現れなかった。 (175-176)

I looked at the cigarette poster on the opposite wall. A shiny-faced young man holding a filter-tip cigarette looked absentmindedly askance into the distance. I wondered how the models for cigarette ads are always able attain that thought-free I’m-not-looking-at-anything look in their eyes.

And as I was gazing at all the different posters on the wall of the store, it turned six o’clock. But the fat girl still hadn’t appeared.

Birnbaum, too, takes an axe to this ginormous aside; he cuts even more than Murakami:

I turned my gaze to the poster on the opposite wall. A shiny-faced young man holding a filter-tip was staring obliquely into the distance. Uncanny how models in cigarette ads always have that not-watching anything, not-thinking-anything look in their eyes.

At six o’clock, the chubby girl still hadn’t shown. (130)

But he’s nicer than I am to the girl – “chubby” is a more sympathetic choice than “fat.” Probably the right choice.

It may still be too soon to say (I know that there are more whiskey-related scenes later in this book), but I’m not sure these asides will pay off. It will be interesting to see. The watermelon cut from earlier, for example, I think works because of the way Murakami wove the idea of watermelons into the first chapter as a metaphor for the brain. Here we will have to wait and see.

Tazaki Tsukuru and the Amazing Technicolor DREAM Liveblog!

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I was messaging with a buddy from my JET days yesterday who was proud to have just finished slogging through the English translation of 1Q84. He lives over on the West Coast and teaches Japanese (or at least he did…and I think he still does), so I figured he may have had access to the new Murakami book before me. Grumbling, I asked him if he had a copy: I was prepared to be very jealous. He wrote, “just looked at Amazon.co.jp to see if they had a kindle version out, but surprise surprise :-/”

Kindle! I hadn’t even thought of looking on the Japanese Kindle store when I preordered my copy of 色彩を持たない田崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年 (Shikisai wo motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, kare no junrei no toshi; hereafter referred to as Tasaki Tsukuru or TT) on 22 March. Like a good fanboy, I just loaded in my credit card and said TAKE MY MONEYS FOR YOUR INTERNATIONAL EXPRESS SHIPPINGS. I will be glad to have a paper copy when it arrives later today (hopefully; taking notes is good), but it’s too bad that the Japanese Fear of the Internet prevented me from celebrating instantaneously along with everyone else: Wouldn’t that have been fun?! There are some books on the Japanese Kindle store, but perhaps not surprisingly, no Murakami books other than his translations.

No matter. 2013 is a year of deadlines, a year of unpredictability, a year of friends in Japan with scanners who may or may not have sent me things via email, a year in which the San Antonio Spurs have too many injuries to make a proper playoff run, and a year in which I will (if everything goes smoothly) be conferred with an MFA in fiction from the University of New Orleans for writing stories about pirates; so, like a good pirate, I begin my liveblog of this newest Murakami novel at 4:37am CST because I woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep, checked my email, and saw that I had received a very nice message indeed.

This liveblog will continue helter skelter over the next few days. I teach and have class and a few things I need to take care of, but I’ll hopefully be able to get in a few hours of reading here and there. I predict I’ll get in a good long stretch in the middle of the day today and another Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. Join me! I’ll be celebrating; you should too. Continue reading