Some nights, we feel we need a good movie. A feel-good movie. Some evenings, we want a companion to cuddle with. Some times, we want to be alone with a good book that does not let go of us from page 1 to last sentence, a good book with a story that haunts us wherever we go, that occupies our mind whatever we do, that makes us want to check all related information about it and its author in the Internet, that makes us want to pass it to a friend with note “Must read!”
Haruki Murakami’s work is one of these books.
The first pages of Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle will test the faith of readers in the kind of reality that the story presents:
Toru Okada, a jobless middle-aged Japanese husband to a career woman gets a telephone call from a woman who wants to have his ten minutes (later on, it’s revealed that it’s for random phone sex, and caller tells him he knows her). Then he meets mystical sisters Malta and Creta Kano: one is a psychic, the other a mental prostitute (she sleeps with clients through their dreams). He also meets out-of-school youth May Kasahara who brings him one day to count balding men as a research for a wig company. Then his wife leaves after their cat disappears. Then he’s instructed to do tasks such as meet the Kano sisters separately in a hotel lobby, or he would walk in to his own house with uninvited guests. And of course, who wouldn’t notice that every character seemed to sit with Toru Okada, whether in a restaurant or in his kitchen, to tell him their very long life story.
Strange event after strange event, any reader unprepared for the surreal could be left tizzy as to what’s going on exactly.
Now, for the strangest part, the resemblance of fiction and reality:
Murakami’s masterpiece was a little frightening as its plot unfolds, not because it’s a scary story, but because whatever’s going on in the story strikes an eerie resemblance to what’s going on around me, the reader.
When I started reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and reached the part where Malta Kano was talking about the significance of water and that Mr Honda warns Toru Okada to be careful with water, Japan’s tsunami becomes the headline of news wires.
A curious coindidence I thought.
Then May Kasahara came in the picture to have conversations with Toru Okada about loss of hair and varying degrees of balding among men in Japan. Then Fukushima was mentioned somewhere in the life story of Okada’s wife, Kumiko.
By the time I reached these chapters, the nuke plants in Fukushima got crippled, sending waves of panic and fear in different directions, together with this is the fear of nuclear poison effects; hair fall included. Then came the news of the Fukushima 50 who stayed to fix the plants. Back in the book, May Kasahara talks about death more than ever.
Again, curious coincidence, I thought.
On chapter 10, as May and Toru were conversing about ghosts in an abandoned house in the neighborhood, this was brought up:
“Some fairly well-known army guy lived there till the end of war, Colonel Somebody-or-other, a real super-elite officer. The troops under his command in North China… they did some terrible things there – executing five-hundred POWs, forcing tens of thousands of farmers to work for them until half of them dropped dead…”
Moments after, when I took a break to read online news, I saw an article that reports (some) Chinese indifference to Japan’s threefold catastrophe. It was said that worse than indifference, there were a few comments that celebrate on the misfortune of the Japanese, and it was assumed that this could be because of the Japanese dark invation of China half a century ago.
Absorbed in my reading, I came close to almost half of the novel and stopped at the account of another stranger in the story, Lieutenant Mamiya:
“I came back to Japan, having lost my hand and twelve precious years. By the time I arrived in Hiroshima, my parents and my sister were long since dead. They had put my little sister to work in a factory, which was where she was when the bomb fell.”
By the time I read this, I had watched some news programs mentioning the Hiroshima bombing and the effects of nuclear explosion to mankind. Here I sensed a strange feeling of feeling for Japan when it was bombed by the Americans during the WWII. Manyvictims were civilians, who probably don’t care about the political wars the “world” was staging then. Then I felt strange about reading the book that seems to echo what the news has been reporting. Does literature serve this function, too? To strike a clarion call that reverberates the harrowing faults of the past? To remind us seven times seven what humanity has done before? To project with artistic clarity the experience of mankind which goes on a vicious cycle, so that next time we do something we pause and remember that whatever we do will haunt us or come back to us ad infinitum?
So there goes my first Murakami experience. It had me thinking all the time. About Japan’s history, about earthquakes and tsunamis and nuclear radiation, and deaths, and prostitution, and surreal events, and Japan.
And it made me subscribe to Haruki Murakami’s website. Now, I’m looking for Norwegian Wood.