So, here we have two of Murakami’s earliest books placed back in print after thirty years. This reprint helps those outside Japan compare the gnomic author’s beginnings to his current work, without resorting to organ-sale prices for the original Kodansha English Library printing.
I was excited to read these, I must admit, largely because what’s presented are until-now missing parts of the author’s series of Rat novels. The problem is that they seem to offer not much more than a basic introduction to the characters, and a collection of random observations. There’s a lack of focus that’s frustrating (even by Murakami standards) and I assume this is why the books were out of English circulation for so long – apparently the author felt them unworthy of translation after the initial in-Japan run.
It’s taken me a month-and-a-half to read this brief tome. I’m not entirely sure why. Certainly, life managed to get in the way and my concentration has been pretty terrible over the past couple of weeks. (I find it very disconcerting when I am unable to read the way I’d like to.) But Wind/Pinball is also to blame. While there’s kernels of his later work in here – doppelgangers, loneliness, jazz and the uncanny – it doesn’t seem to connect as well. These are more in the realist line, and so they lack the household bizarre streak that features
The real joy of this printing is the newly-written introduction to the works. In it, Murakami discusses the inspiration for the pieces, and explains his working method somewhat. While it’s true the modification of translation is at work in these texts – they have come from Japanese to English via a third party, after all – it’s informative to discover that the author himself would write initially in English and then translate those pieces back into Japanese.
Having discovered the curious effect of composing in a foreign language, thereby acquiring a creative rhythm distinctly my own, I returned my Olivetti to the closet and once more pulled out my sheaf of manuscript paper and my fountain pen. Then I sat down and “translated” the chapter or so that I had written in English into Japanese. Well, “transplanted” might be more accurate, since it wasn’t a direct verbatim translation. In the process, inevitably, a new style of Japanese emerged. The style that would be mine. A style I myself had discovered. Now I get it, I thought. This is how I should be doing it. It was a moment of true clarity, when the scales fell from my eyes.
He writes lovingly about that time in his life, and his jazz bar. It’s endearing, a little personal missive from a guy who – his work on running notwithstanding – sometimes seems a bit of a cipher. I especially liked this passage:
Some of my critics saw this as a threatening affront to our national language. Language is very tough, though, a tenacity that is backed up by a long history. Its autonomy cannot be lost or seriously damaged however it is treated, even if that treatment is rather rough. It is the inherent right of all writers to experiment with the possibilities of language in every way they can imagine—without that adventurous spirit, nothing new can ever be born. My style in Japanese differs from Tanizaki’s, as it does from Kawabata’s. That is only natural. After all, I’m another guy, an independent writer named Haruki Murakami.
The value in these works is seeing just another guy become Haruki Murakami, beloved author. If you’re a fan you’ll enjoy this – particularly the introduction – but if you’re not, find somewhere else to start. While these works are the author’s beginning, they’re far from the best entry.