Top Story 11.November 2005
Romantic Collection of a Popular Author's Short Stories
Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin
Haruki Murakami is a name most have heard. This master of contemporary fiction has got numerous prizes, while the latest one was Franz Kafka prize. His books have unique touch. They are both simple and deep, romantic and surreal. He has such a raw skill of capturing reader's interest. You just want to keep turning the pages until you reach the end. And one common feature is same in all of his books -the last page comes far too quickly. Even if you would be reading the massive Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
Following the epic Kafka on the Shore, the new book Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a collection of his old stories. Some of the stories are already familiar to the readers, such as the Birthday Girl, which was introduced in "Birthday Stories" and "The Firefly" which is part of the "Norwegian Wood".
Some of the stories in Blind Willow, Sleeping woman has strips of some of his other stories. The story of young man and woman who choose to escape to Athens, could be inspired the scene in "Sputnik Sweetheart" where the narrator goes to search for the girl missing. Chance Traveler introduces the same Jazz piece Star Crossed Lovers that he mentioned in "South of the Border, West from the Sun". Could it be that the time when Haruki Murakami managed his Jazz Bar Peter Cat in Tokyo has left him a special memory of this music? Also the lyrical Year of the Spaghetti reminds me of the feelings and atmospheres in the Wind Up Bird Chronicle, where the narrator was preparing spaghetti for himself.
Haruki Murakami has lived through the times of the student movements that must have touched also the Waseda University. The dormitory he so vividly described in Norwegian Wood is the real dormitory belonging to the Waseda University. I get the feeling after reading his novels that this was by no chance a pleasant time for him. Either I can't imagine him throwing a rocks at the police. The picture isn't just right. He must have agonized over the stupidity of all the aggressive atmosphere of the students, just as well he must have suffered the feelings he might have got from the raging war in Vietnam. This is of course only my own imagination, in reality I have no way to know what he have really felt like.
What makes this book different from his other works is that the stories don't have a clear connection, as he noted himself in the introduction chapter. But the novel does feel like an entity, everything from the beautiful sleeping woman in the cover (art by Sakai Hoitsu) to the verbs and adjectives have a harmony that can be accomplished only by an experienced talent.
The other themes in this book are the fleetingness of women, how the women often seem so distant, and beautiful and yet so naturally human. Murakami has intelligent gentleness for his characters. It seems like every character in his book is someone he quietly appreciates. Even the unpleasant ones. Although I know very little of Haruki Murakami (and I still haven't got chance to get my eyes on the wonderful Jay Rubin's book about him), I get the feeling that he knows very much about Zen and he could be a Buddhist. His father was a son of Buddhist priest, so it could be an influence coming from there.
Particularly interesting story among others is the Chance Travelers which appears to be a true story. The story tells about synchronicity, the strange coincidences the main characters experience. Chance Travelers made me to think again the Kafka on the Shore, the scene where the main character is sitting next to the beautiful girl in the bus to Takamatsu.
For me, most memorable of his stories in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman would be "The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day". The story tells a story of a young writer who meets an older woman Kirie, with profession he can't guess. At the end, the woman vanishes and the Junpei is left nothing but a fading image of her. Quietly, he wishes all the best to the woman. Instead of trying to contact her, he accepts the situation, no matter how sad it might feel. This kind of zen-like acceptance moved me in this story.
When you read book like this, the seems to fade away. The special vibrations from the stories work their way up your spine. I think we all should remember to appreciate the invisible - that important something what you can't see in this world - but what you can feel.
First time when making a review of a book, I genuinely feel five stars is not nearly enough.
[Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Harvill Secker, ISBN: 1843433060, Paperback £11.99]