Author Reviews from Mia every Wednesday
This time, I’m looking at a Japanese author I’ve read in translation.
Haruki Murakami’s work records the bizarre lives of protagonists who suffer. Life disintegrates around them as the main point of existence disappears and leaves them with no reason to go on. To the Western reader, I think there is a certain child-like charm about the apparent simplicity of the works.
His work is definitely not a picture of traditional stereotypical Japan, with its reassuring cherry blossom and tea ceremonies. This is modern writing about a state of mind coupled with a certain mysticism which seems characteristic of the Japanese and, in some respects, at odds with the modern world.
The reading is easy, if you can bear the slowly-unfolding desperation, although that is perhaps too strong a word; sometimes, it is just a sense of dislocation. However, the tension is enormous, precisely because you do not know what to expect and when it comes, it’s just a tiny step, barely a change. There are moments when you wonder if you are going to die – and it’s all self-inflicted.
But Murakami deals with the bigger issues that face humanity: what we are about, the cancer of boredom and the inability to break a cycle of inactivity, those moments when you see something a little more clearly and strive to catch onto it – but just fail.
It makes you wonder what it is like to be Japanese. Perhaps natural disasters like the recent earthquakes and tsunami, which have so frequently been experienced in Japan, give a clear sense of the futility of life. A Japanese woman, interviewed by the BBC in the aftermath of the tsunami, explained the dignity and acceptance of the Japanese in adverse circumstances as being largely due to their religion, Shintoism. Maybe a deeper understanding of this would help illuminate the characters in these novels.
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1997 published in English)