A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance By Haruki Murakami

By pure chance, I bought both “A Wild Sheep Chase” and “Dance Dance Dance” in HMV during sales on the same day.  Also by pure chance, one of my blogger friend, JoV, once dropped a comment here implying that the stories of these two books are linked.  So before I headed to my holiday, I frantically researched online on which book comes first.  It is “A Wild Sheep Chase” followed by “Dance Dance Dance”.  I read Sheep on the plane and Dance during my holiday.

If you are into the literature of Murakami, reading these two books enabled you to witness an important juncture a writer has encountered in his writing career.  Sheep is the last of the Rat Trilogy, the only one from the series that the author was comfortable in having it translated into English.  Dance was written after he has gained international recognition.  Straddled in between is Norwegian Wood that propelled Murakami to the international fame.  Now you get the picture.

Sheep is unlike some of the Murakami books I have read.  The beginning two-third of the book reads like a detective story.  A page-turner with plenty of dialogs.  The story involves a main character who takes life as it is, seldom plan or have a dream for anything; an ordinary girl with extraordinary ears and she works in three different jobs at the same time; a professor who is obsessed with sheep; a friend who has disappeared a long time ago suddenly contacted the main character via mails.  The story is, for lack of a better word, a wild sheep chase.  According to the narrator, sheep was unseen of in the ancient Japan.  And like – I suppose – dragons and unicorns (my interpretation) – such creatures could be seen as deities.  In the book, there is this notion of sheep-made-man and becomes all powerful or even man-made-sheep that becomes something I am not sure how to put in words.  Because of my Catholic root, such notion appears to have a religious reference, especially when Christ according to our tradition is portrayed as the Lamb of God.  Interestingly, Sheep has no further exploration on the topic of religion.  Only a borrowed image to turn Sheep into a fantasy, and a comedy.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the book even as I might have questioned the literature value within.

The turning point is the last third of the book.  I suspect that is also the turning point of Marakami’s writing style.  There are more internal dialogs within the main character.  The author’s sense of the surrounding has been heightened and sharpened.  The plot becomes dream-like – a signature writing style that exhibits in his later books.  When the story was ended, I wanted more.  As far as the Rat Trilogy is concerned – Rat being the name of the runaway friend – the story has ended.  But there are far more open questions left behind.  That is when “Dance Dance Dance” comes into the picture.

Unlike Sheep, Dance does not begin each chapter with a title that foretells what is to come; unlike Sheep, Dance does not have the plot progression based on a set of clear and defined clues.  In fact, I would describe Dance as a wandering adventure.  For a majority of the plot, I have no idea as in where the story is heading, and I doubt if the main character does.  The main character (now has a name) is in search of someone he loved (also now has a name).  It starts with vivid dreams that lead him back to Dolphin Hotel, a hotel that is featured in Sheep.  I can see there are a fair bit of parallelism between the two books.  The role of his friend Rat in Sheep is now taken over by his old classmate Gotanda.  The hotel, now being rebuilt, is still the center of the story.  The symbol of authority has morphed from mafia gang into police force.  Some characters from the past have made an appearance in Dance.  Dance is still a detective story at the core, but the plot becomes more subtle, more surreal.

The overall mood of Dance is dark.  In terms of character development, I in particularly like the relationship between the thirty-odd-year-old main character and a thirteen-year-old girl.  It could have gone wrong in so many different ways because knowing Murakami, the topic of sex is always on the table.  Fortunately, the author has threaded the moral boundary as close and careful as he can.  Majority of the materials turn out to be a good inspiration read for the teenagers, even for adults.  Here is an excerpt on a troubled teen regretting on the things she said and done to the one who is now dead.  The narrator is the main character of the story.

I pulled the car over to the shoulder of the road and turned off the ignition.

“That’s just stupid, that kind of thinking,” I said, nailing her with my eyes. “Instead of regretting what you did, you could have treated him decently from the beginning.  You could’ve tried to be fair.  But you didn’t.  You don’t even have the right to be sorry.”

Yuki looked at me, shocked and hurt.

“Maybe I’m being too hard on you.  But listen, I don’t care what other people do.  I don’t want to hear that sort of talk from you.  You shouldn’t say things like that lightly, as if saying them is going to solve anything.  They don’t stick […] It’s not a question of manners; it’s a question of fairness.  That’s something you have to learn.”

Yuki couldn’t respond.  She pressed her fingers to her temples and quietly closed her eyes.  She almost seemed to have dozed off, but for the slight flutter of her eyelashes, the trembling of the lips.  Crying inside, without sobs or tears.  Was I expecting too much of a thirteen-year-old girl?  Who was I to be so self-righteous? […]

Yuki didn’t move.  I reached out and touched her arm.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m very narrow-minded.  No, to be fair, you’ve done the best that can be expected.”

A single tear trailed down her cheek and feel on her lap.  That was all.  Beautiful and noble.

“So what can I do now?” she spoke up a minute later.

“Nothing,” I said. “Just think about what comes before words.  You owe that to the dead.  As time goes on, you’ll understand.  What lasts, lasts; what doesn’t, doesn’t.  Time solves most things.  And what time can’t solve, you have to solve yourself.  Is that too much to ask?”

“A little,” she said, trying to smile.

“Well, of course it is,” I said, trying to smile too. “[…] Life is a lot more fragile than we think.  So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets.  Fairly, and if possible, sincerely.  It’s too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies […]”

This is quite a long excerpt.  But I like how the two interacted.  And there is an important message for us too.

Besides the main character’s relationship with Yuki, I also enjoy reading the love story between Yumiyoshi – the hotel receptionist – and him.  I would not go in great detail here.  It is equally beautiful that requires patience to appreciate.

In closing, both books are not to be missed and have to be read one after another.  Sheep first, then Dance.  It is rare to spot an opportunity to witness the turning point of a writer’s career.  This is one.

Norwegian Wood – A Film Adaptation Of Haruki Murakami’s Novel

Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite writers.  I do not think it is possible to bring any of his books into a big screen.  Because much of the content is based on the characters’ observation and their state of emotion, or even the writer’s observation on the world he creates.  His story tends to get more and more surreal towards the end.  But if anyone would want to make a film out of his books, “Norwegian Wood” is a good candidate.  It is a rather straightforward love story.  I am a huge fan of Murakami and I was curious on how “Norwegian Wood” would look like as an adaption.

I can imagine how lost one may feel watching “Norwegian Wood”.  I have read the book and you may wish to read the review I have written.  I feel that the movie is by and large faithful to the literature, down to the dialog level.  As someone who is familiar with the written content, it seems to me that some of the key essences may have been lost in the adaptation.  A 133 minutes film may sound long to you.  When I told Cynthia and TK at the end of the show that the film felt too rush, they were shocked.  The foundation of the storyline lies in a subplot structure of a trio – be it as 2 boys and 1 girl or 2 girls and 1 boy.  These subplots are linked through a common theme – love and death.  That, I do not think the filmmakers have explicitly brought out.  Some of the subplots have so little air time that I think they may have been overlooked.  I do not blame the filmmakers though.  I even think that the way the subplots are segmented in terms of air time is proportionate to how the book is written (the first subplot has ended on page 31 of 386).  A clearly demarcation of the different segments of the film like a text on timeline and location would have helped the audience in digesting the story’s structure.

The leading actor and actress have done a phenomenal work in bringing the characters alive.  It is heart wrenching to see them cry in pain.  On one hand, this movie thrills me down my spine when some of the key scenes stay so faithfully to the book.  On the other hand, the omission of many of the side dialogs and observations has made part of the film looks like a silly chain of sex scenes.  This film summarizes the book essentially, but not perfectly.  If you have taken the effort to watch the movie – a very slow moving one by the way – you ought to read the book.  If you have not read the book, I strongly recommend you to pick up a copy and finish it in the weekend before watching “Norwegian Wood” on screen.  All in all, I am still thrilled that one of Murakami’s book has made it to the theater.  And I would challenge more filmmakers in the future to adapt his other books.

Related Entry: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami – A Structured Love Story So Dark, So Beautiful

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami – That Sense of Loneliness, That Unattainable Love

I have come to the realisation that perhaps there is no such thing as which is my favorite Haruki Murakami novel (my 6th so far).  Even though my familiarity to his style has led me to half-expecting what “Sputnik Sweetheart” would become, there is still this element of freshness that kept me from putting the book down.  And I finished reading it in one day, wanting more.  The opening paragraph would be the best way to introduce the story.

In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life.  An intense love, a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains – flattening everything in its path, tossing things up in the air, ripping them to shreds, crushing them to bits … In short, a love of truly monumental proportions.  The person she fell in love with happened to be 17 years older than Sumire.  And was married.  And, I should add, was a woman.  This is where it all began, and where it all ended.  Almost.

The theme of “Sputnik Sweetheart”, from what I observe, is loneliness, riding onto the framework of unattainable love.  That strong sense of loneliness!  The narrator – a man – falls in love with a lesbian who falls in love with a married woman.  True to Murakami’s style, this book is full of metaphors (“did you see anyone shot by a gun without bleeding?“), dualism that leads to surrealism, and characters that come alive in their very own unique style.

What stands out in “Sputnik Sweetheart” is the way the story is narrated and told.  Timeline is shifted to and fro to suit the narration.  Focus is shifted from one character to another and back to the narrator without the readers noticing the change, encouraging us to want to learn more about the characters’ way of thinking and their way of life.  And then, something strange happens to these characters.  The author spends the second part of the book pasting bits and pieces of information together – some from interview, some from his observation, and some from the journals left behind.  Distinguishing what is real from what is not is often not easy, as it is with all of Marakami’s works.  Even as I devoured the very last paragraph of the book, these thoughts lingered: Could this be real?  What happened next?  And in my dreamy state, inside an English cottage at Fraser’s Hill, the follow paragraph from the book has made the most impact to me.

Lying there, I close my eyes for a while, then open them.  I silently breathe in, then out.  A thought begins to form in my mind, but in the end I think of nothing.  Not that there was much difference between the two, thinking and not thinking.  I find I can no longer distinguish between one thing and another, between things that existed and things that did not.  I look out of the window.  Until the sky turns white, clouds float by, birds chirp, and a new day lumbers up, gathering together the sleepy minds of the people who inhabit this planet.

The rate this is going, Haruki Murakami could well be one of my most read author, after Milan Kundera and Italo Calvino.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami – A Structured Love Story So Dark, So Beautiful

A noval by H. Murakami

“Norwegian Wood” is the second book I have randomly picked up from Kinokuniya prior to my holiday in June.  Substantially thicker than “South of the Border, West of the Sun” – considering how thin that book is – the two stories are strikingly similar.  Read almost like another one of his ‘autobiographical fictions’, which the translator Jay Rubin insisted in his note that it is not.  “Norwegian Wood” is a myriad of love and friendship through the eyes of Watanabe, from his age of 18 to 37.  A story that anchors between this first love Naoko and another girl Midori.  One that ends with a choice of the past and the future Watanabe has to make.

“Norwegian Wood” is one of Murakami’s earlier works.  Hence, less surreal than “South of the Border”, almost read like a straightforward love story.  By no means make “Norwegian Wood” a lesser work but rather, a different kind of work.  The most striking feature that stands out from the rest of his novels is the structure within.  I notice that each sub-plot involves three persons.  Something would happen to one party, change the entire dynamic, and the sub-plot dissolves, replaced by another sub-plot of three persons.  It is read like a continuation of one sub-plot riding onto the next one.  All the way till the end of the novel, the same structure is maintained.  I personally find this way of story writing original.

A lot of details have gone into the texture of the story.  Hence, I wouldn’t be surprised that some readers have identified “Norwegian Wood” as an autobiographical fiction.  Beyond the detail description of the school compound down to how the buildings are laid out, the characters are distinctly alive.  Down to the tone each character uses, and to the change in tone as the same character face different characters of varied personalities.  It is this level of details I appreciate deeply as I read this book during my holiday.

This book was released in 1987.  I believe it was the same book that elevated Murakami to an International status with the readership grown to millions that year.  Hence, in a way, “Norwegian Wood” could well be one of his most accessible work.  Even as a die hard fan who is in love with Murakami’s special surreal treatment to his stories, “Norwegian Wood” having little of that surrealism still ranks high in my book.  For a simple love story though can be dark, can still be beautiful.

After my holiday, I have visited Kinokuniya again and have randomly picked another two of Murakami’s books.  So, stay tuned for more book summaries.

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami – A Simple, Surreal, and Genuine Romance Like No Other

South of the Border, West of the Sun

Everytime when I travel, I bring along books to read and a notepad to write.  For I don’t stop reading or writing, especially not during my holiday.  I had almost finished reading the new book by Paulo Coelho before I boarded the plane so I reckon, I probably needed at least three books to last the two weeks trip.

One thing I really enjoy writing a book summary is the occasion comments I read – both here and in Facebook – from other passionate readers who may or may not see the book the way I do.  And we exchange thoughts.  Prior to my holiday trip, I have read Haruki Murakami’s new non-fiction book.  As always, I shared my thoughts online.  That sparked off an online dialogue with another fan of Murakami which in turn inspired me to pick two random books of his from Kinokuniya.  “South of the Border, West of the Sun” is the fourth Murakami book I have read.  And I enjoy every single page of it – 187 in total.

“South” in essence is a story of romance told from the perspective of a man, from his relationship with his childhood sweetheart, the in-between love affairs, to his marriage.  A typical story that almost all men who have fallen in love can relate.  An ordinary love template.  The details – both physical and emotional – are so vivid that I was brought back in time as a young boy, to the beginning of my fascination to the opposite sex, to the silly things I did driven by my then raging hormone.  However simple the idea is, a story told by Haruki Murakami is never going to be a typical story.  “South” is original; it is genuine; it touches my heart.  I reflect upon my own love relationship, from my mid-teen (I mature late) till today.  It is one book that I would read again.  That’s why I bought the Spanish version during our holiday in Spain.  And I am looking forward to reading both versions side-by-side.

I am probably slightly ahead of time to compare “South” with another earlier work of his “Norwegian Wood” – as that will be my upcoming book summary.  Both novels are of a similar topic, with a center character that strongly resembles the author himself (I make that observation based on his semi-autobiography “Running”).  His later works certainly get more and more surreal and abstract.  A good example is his recent work “After Work”.  On that note, “South” to me, has a subtle surreal after taste.  It makes me ponder upon what is real, and what is not.

Below is a short quote of what I feel as a beautiful way to put forth something so close to reality, something that appears so real to me today.

“No one will weave dreams for me – it is my turn to weave dreams for others.  That’s what I have to do.  Such dreams may have no power, but if my own life is to have any meaning at all, that is what I have to do.” – South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami (translated by Philip Gabriel)