Monday, February 13, 2006

a bit more on Murakami

The other day I quoted at length from Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase - I hope I didn't give too much away - but I didn't mention that a new story by Murakami, "A Shinagawa Monkey", appeared in this week's The New Yorker magazine. Like A Wild Sheep Chase, it is a story very much concerned with names, those fragile bandages that hold our identities together. In AWSC, almost all of the characters are without names; while in "Monkey", a woman named Mizuki Ando find herself slowly losing her grip on who she is.

Both works are deft psychological balancing acts, spellbindingly executed - without giving away any more magical revelations, I wanted to share a bit from a great profile by Ian Buruma which explores some of the author's own traumatic discoveries:
Once, when Murakami was a child, he heard his father say something deeply shocking about his experience in China. He cannot remember what it was. Perhaps it was something his father had witnessed, or even something he did. But he remembers being terribly distressed. "Perhaps," he said, in his flat voice, which conveys intimate information without sounding intimate, "perhaps that is why I still cannot eat Chinese food." Had he never asked his father about China? "I don't want to," he said. "It must be a trauma for him. So it's a trauma for me as well. We don't get on well. Perhaps that is why I can't have children."

- "Becoming Japanese" by Ian Buruma, The New Yorker Dec. 23-30, 1996, p. 71
That mixture of maddening vagueness, along with an utter clarity of cause and effect, runs through the recent story as well. We're constantly reminded in Murakami how our lives are affected by choices, both our own and those of people in distant times and places. Since I had noted the frequent disappearances of wives and girlfriends in Murakami's works, I was also very interested in this passage about the author's relationship with his wife, Yoko:
During my first interview with him, in his apartment in Tokyo, he left the room to make some tea. Yoko, who had been listening, suddenly observed, "Haruki is very bad at talking, you know. Sometimes I don't even know whether he loves me." I didn't quite know what to say. Yoko has none of the simpering diffidence that some people still expect from a Japanese wife. But this was not the sort of thing you expect to hear from someone you have just met. And - something unusual in Japan - she always used his first name, as though he were an American. Haruki, she said, hated Chinese food. Haruki couldn't even face a bowl of noodles. Yet Haruki was very interested in China. Again, I didn't quite know how to respond to this information, so I simply made a note of it...

Murakami's system is to rise at five o'clock in the morning. Then he writes, runs, swims, writes some more, spends the evening with Yoko, and goes to bed at nine. He likes swimming and marathon running, because they don't involve other people. For comments on his writing, he relies on Yoko. "Editors are company employees," Murakami said. "They change jobs. You never know who you are dealing with. My wife, at least, will stick around."

Yoko looked up and said, "I'm not so sure about that."

A tiny smile creased Murakami's face. "For the time being, anyway."

Yoko deals with the outside world, and Haruki writes. It seems the perfect system, at least for a writer who likes to live in his head. She protects him, and he is faithful to her - except when he's working. To Murakami, writing a novel is like falling in love: "That is why I don't have affairs. My books are my love affairs."

- p. 69
Just these small exchanges and glimpses are fascinating insights into Murakami's characters. It's well worth reading the whole article, if you like Murakami - it hasn't been published in book form as far as I know, but is of course included in The Complete New Yorker archive DVDs. Maybe I'll next read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, which the profile described as Murakami's greatest and most violent novel so far - touching on the horrors and atrocities of WWII, events that could traumatize anyone, even a generation removed.

1 comment:

Lydia Si-Ngaw Lui said...

I did catch that article, and I was sure you would too... I quite enjoyed it, and felt it was a very nice example of Murakami's style. I heartily recommend the Wind-up Bird- I liked that novel the most so far (did I say that before?).