…the writer’s famous voice is remarkably self-assured, addictive from the first in its searching and gently intimacy. It’s the kind of literature that makes you feel like writing your own novel — now all you need is a kitchen table!
There are several memorable phrases in the work. One of them is “there are times in this world when it’s not enough just not to do the wrong thing.”
Prof. Cecile Sakai said during his presentation that “Japanese is second after English in terms of the number of works translated from those languages into French, but about 90 percent are manga. From manga, young people step into Haruki Murakami.
“Murakami is the key to opening up Japanese culture to the rest of the world.”
“I think of myself as a kind of engineer. I don’t think of myself as an artist…. That would be easier for me to think of it this way.” – Haruki Murakami at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
One of the things reading Haruki Murakami novels taught me and is still teaching me is to see myself as ordinary. Even now, occasionally, I think of myself as special. I am not so special.
Some people have described me as self-deprecating. This is closer to the truth: I sometimes do good work, sometimes bad; I am too often hypocritical, biased, inconsistent and self-centered. I am too often an asshole.
When I started reading Murakami, I was thinking a lot about mental health. I wasn’t depressed but I thought I could be. People are difficult, life can be “difficult” even when you have food on the table and a roof over your head.
I had always been interested in the truth. It’s elusive I know but falsehoods are easier to figure out. And by eliminating falsehoods, one can reach closer to the truth. These are falsehoods – I am unbiased, I am good, I always try my best, I am hardworking, I am clever.
While extraordinary things happen to Murakami’s characters, the protagonists in his novels are ordinary people. They may have obsessions but they live simple and quiet lives and do not have an inflated opinion about themselves.
That is my desire.
At the book festival, Murakami also said that if he sees himself as an artist, “that would be too heavy”.
I desire that lightness – in my slides, my writing, my traveling, my affiliations, my emotions. Sometimes I ask myself if I am aiming too low. I leave the question unresolved. Tension is good if you manage to not let it destroy you. Recognising that I am weak, that I am scared is lightness.
It’s easier for me to think this way.
Haruki Murakami appeared at the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival and talked about The Wind Up Bird Chronicle with the Guardian’s John Mullan on Saturday.
These are my notes from the events. No recording was allowed. I am satisfied I have tried my best in the note-taking.
The director of the book festival said this event was a “highlight of the festival” and he has worked many years to bring Murakami to Edinburgh.
The director said Murakami had requested the audience to respect his privacy and not to take photos.
I sat on the fourth row.
HM had chosen to discuss The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (WUBC) for this event. It’s been nearly twenty years since it was published.
Noriko, the translator at the event (rarely used) worked as a waitress at Peter Cat, the jazz bar owned by HM and his wife.
The moderator, John Mullan opened with a story that happened a day before the event. He was in London and was carrying WUBC at a cafe and ordering coffee. One of the owners said What a coincidence and reveals herself to be a HM fan. John told them he was going to interview HM the next day. The other owner heard this and dropped his cup. “You’re not lying”, he asked. The female owner showed John her copy of Norwegian Wood. John: “Life becomes a Haruki Murakami novel”.
HM wrote his first novel in 1979. First-person narrative. He was uncomfortable writing in the third person. He felt that was like “looking down”. He “want(s) to be at the same level” – “it’s democratic”. For 10 years, he did not give his protagonist names. He felt it was “arrogant” and “presumptuous”. It was WUBC that he first gave his protagonist a name.
HM took 20 years to write in the third person. It was Kafka on the Shore.
John described Toru Okada, the protagonist in WUBC as passive (“things happen to him”) and possessing a negative self-image and quoted a line said by Toru that he possessed no “external distinguishing characteristics”. HM was surprised: “He said that???”
HM has forgotten a lot about his own novels. Once he’s done with them, he never re-reads them. So throughout the session, he always says “Really?” to John when asked to comment on specific incidents or lines from the novel. Really funny. The audience enjoyed it.
HM thinks that Toru is not passive but “strong”, “confident” and “modest”. HM: “In fact, he’s my hero”, “When I was younger, I wanted to be like him. I want to be a quiet person, live a quiet life.” He no longer sees him as a hero. HM: “Life is strange.”
John comments on the extraordinary things that happen to HM’s characters. HM: “When I write fiction, I need interventions… Intervention takes him (the protagonist) to another world.”
HM says that things that happen in his novel are things that happen to him (“That’s what happens to me in my life.) HM: “in those days, my cat is missing.”; “I like ironing (the audience really enjoyed this)… my wife brings her blouse and shirt, I iron.”
HM takes 2 years to write a novel. He writes everyday. Interventions help “open a window and get fresh air”. Interventions help him entertain himself and prevent him from being tired of writing.
JM comments on the stories within the stories in HM’s novels. HM said that the stories within the stories allowed him to write in the third person. The first person narrative “need(s) something else.”
Regarding the skinning incident in WUBC, HM: “I was scared when I was writing it… all the translators complain to me… writing the book was scary to me.”
Basball bat – “Yes, it’s scary… I hate that.”
HM: “violence and sexual things. I need that… I don’t like to write (that)… but for the story’s sake.”
JM comments on how he feels the characters in WUBC are cursed by World War II. HM: “Everybody is cursed. The world is haunted. We are living in the dark part.”
HM quotes Woody Allen. The actual quote: “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
HM: “We have a bloody history. History is our collective memory… I inherit those memories from my father.”
HM said he was interested in the Manchurian war. His cousin was there.
John: “Can I ask you about the well? What it’s all about?” (I got really excited here.) HM: “Is my life dream to sit at the bottom of the well. I don’t know why.”
On writing about the well, HM: “my imagination is vivid and strong. I was really happy.”
JM asked about the role coincidences play in his novels. HM: “I love Charles Dickens. His books full of coincidences.” He also refers to Phillip Marlowe whose novels has many dead bodies. Too many dead bodies, “even for LA (Los Angeles)”. That gets a big laugh from the audience.
HM on WUFC origin: “I just heard the bird (an actual one)… in the backyard of my house… just like winding up like a big clock… It’s the first time (hearing it)… I have not heard the call since then.” HM felt this was “predicting something”. He named the bird “Wind up bird”.
HM: “Answer is not so important to me… I have a sense of the unfinished… That is what I want.”
HM doesn’t reread his novels and often forgets things about his novels. “It’s fun to read the translation. I don’t know what will happen next.” Gets a laugh.
HM: “I don’t have any idea when I start writing.”
HM wrote WUBC with only 2 things in his mind – hearing the call of the bird in his backyard and once when he was cooking spaghetti, the telephone rang. That was all.
HM on writing: “I say to myself. What’s going to happen today.”
HM: “My imagination is like a kind of animal.”
Before we went to Q&A with the audience, Murakami interrupted John and said to the audience, “I live in Hawaii, 2 years, my English is not like yours.” He then said “Hang loose” and did the shaka sign, which now i know after checking it out, “is a gesture often associated with Hawaii and surf culture.” Big laughs.
When asked if he will reused some of the characters in his novels, he said no. HM: “I want to be blank in my mind”. He is not fond of going back.
When asked if he has any spiritual beliefs, “I’m not ready yet to die.” Big big laughs (This was what i wrote down and i don’t know if he said “i’m not yet ready to die”)
When asked about advice for writers, he said “No commuting, no meeting, no boss.” Again a lot of laughs.
HM says he writes about his obsessions – elephants, cats, etc.
When asked to comment on how sad his characters are, HM: “Really? I didn’t notice.” John said that Toru was sad about his marriage. HM: “Everybody’s sad (about their marriage). Funny.
HM commented on Gabriel Garcia Marquez and magic realism. He doesn’t think it’s magic realism. “I don’t think that way. These things happen naturally.”
HM: “It’s just simple realism. He wrote them down as they were.”
HM: “I don’t care if it’s natural or supernatural.”
HM: “I need music to write to” referring to harmony, rhythm and improvisation. Rhythm is especially important (“It’s so important to keep readers reading.”)
HM on what certain music pieces are used: “There must have been some reason… but I don’t remember.”
HM closes by describing how he recently got a letter from a Japanese fan who had been reading him for twenty years. The fan did not like his latest novel (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage) but said he will still buy his next novel. HM describes this fan as an “ideal reader of mine”.
He never met anyone he felt like getting to know better, so he spent most of his time in Tokyo alone. On the plus side, he read constantly, more than he ever had before.
You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.
There are certain thoughts that, no matter what, you have to keep inside.
Jealousy—at least as far as he understood it from his dream—was the most hopeless prison in the world. Jealousy was not a place he was forced into by someone else, but a jail in which the inmate entered voluntarily, locked the door, and threw away the key. And not another soul in the world knew he was locked inside
This might sound rude, but I think it’s an amazing achievement to find even one specific thing that you’re interested in.
I don’t have any set, clear goal like you. I just want to think deeply about things. Contemplate ideas in a pure, free sort of way. That’s all.
“The cook hates the waiter, and they both hate the customer,” Haida said. “A line from the Arnold Wesker play The Kitchen. People whose freedom is taken away always end up hating somebody. Right? I know I don’t want to live like that.”
“Everything has boundaries. The same holds true with thought. You shouldn’t fear boundaries, but you also should not be afraid of destroying them. That’s what is most important if you want to be free: respect for and exasperation with boundaries. What’s really important in life is always the things that are secondary. That’s about all I can say.”
Something must be fundamentally wrong with me, Tsukuru often thought. Something must be blocking the normal flow of emotions, warping my personality. But Tsukuru couldn’t tell whether this blockage came about when he was rejected by his four friends, or whether it was something innate, a structural issue unrelated to the trauma he’d gone through.
The world isn’t that easily turned upside down, Haida replied. It’s people who are turned upside down.
Apart from whether I like it or not, I don’t reject thinking about things that aren’t logical. It’s not like I have some deep faith in logic. I think it’s important to find the point of intersection between what is logical and what is not.
You need to use the thread of logic, as best you can, to skillfully sew onto yourself everything that’s worth living for.
“I understand, but maybe it only appears, from the outside, that the wound is closed.” Sara gazed into his eyes and spoke quietly. “Maybe inside the wound, under the scab, the blood is still silently flowing. Haven’t you ever thought that?”
Haida liked looking things up at the library. Generally this meant I want to be alone for a while.
Basically a quick, impromptu brainwashing course to educate your typical corporate warriors. They use a training manual instead of sacred scriptures, with promotion and a high salary as their equivalent of enlightenment and paradise. A new religion for a pragmatic age. No transcendent elements like in a religion, though, and everything is theorized and digitalized. Very transparent and easy to grasp. And quite a few people get positive encouragement from this. But the fact remains that it’s nothing more than an infusion of the hypnotic into a system of thought that suits their goal, a conglomeration of only those theories and statistics that line up with their ultimate objectives.
And no matter how close we once were, and how much we opened up to each other, maybe neither of us knew anything substantial about the other.
But it would take a while for his mind to catch up to reality. It was nobody’s fault.
“But I work for a company, so I can’t just do what I like. There are all kinds of boring things I have to do.”
One other thing I learned from working in a company was that the majority of people in the world have no problem following orders. They’re actually happy to be told what to do. They might complain, but that’s not how they really feel. They just grumble out of habit. If you told them to think for themselves, and make their own decisions and take responsibility for them, they’d be clueless. So I decided I could turn that into a business.
Take your time. I can wait, Sara had said. But things weren’t that simple. People are in constant motion, never stationary.
Still, being able to feel pain was good, he thought. It’s when you can’t even feel any pain anymore that you’re in real trouble.
Some things in life are too complicated to explain in any language.
And in that moment, he was finally able to accept it all. In the deepest recesses of his soul, Tsukuru Tazaki understood. One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.
I survived the crisis. Swam through the night sea on my own. Each of us did what we had to do, in order to survive. I get the feeling that, even if we had made different decisions then, even if we had chosen to do things differently, we might have still ended up pretty much where we are now.
Everyone alive has a personality. It’s just more obvious with some people than with others.
No matter how honestly you open up to someone, there are still things you cannot reveal.
It’s just that it’s hard to survive in the real world.
We survived. You and I. And those who survive have a duty. Our duty is to do our best to keep on living. Even if our lives are not perfect.
There are some things women don’t want other people to see.
Don’t let the bad elves get you.
That amazing time in our lives is gone, and will never return. All the beautiful possibilities we had then have been swallowed up in the flow of time.
You don’t lack anything. Be confident and be bold. That’s all you need. Never let fear and stupid pride make you lose someone who’s precious to you.
But months passed, and contrary to his expectation, his heart didn’t stop. The heart apparently doesn’t stop that easily.
Sara said she has feelings for me. He had no reason to doubt it. But there are countless things in the world for which affection is not enough. Life is long, and sometimes cruel. Sometimes victims are needed. Someone has to take on that role.
“It’s the first thing I always say at our new employee training seminars. I gaze around the room, pick one person, and have him stand up. And this is what I say: I have some good news for you, and some bad news. The bad news first. We’re going to have to rip off either your fingernails or your toenails with pliers. I’m sorry, but it’s already decided. It can’t be changed. I pull out a huge, scary pair of pliers from my briefcase and show them to everybody. Slowly, making sure everybody gets a good look. And then I say: Here’s the good news. You have the freedom to choose which it’s going to be—your fingernails, or your toenails. So, which will it be? You have ten seconds to make up your mind. If you’re unable to decide, we’ll rip off both your fingernails and your toenails. I start the count. At about eight seconds most people say, ‘The toes.’ Okay, I say, toenails it is. I’ll use these pliers to rip them off. But before I do, I’d like you to tell me something. Why did you choose your toes and not your fingers? The person usually says, ‘I don’t know. I think they probably hurt the same. But since I had to choose one, I went with the toes.’ I turn to him and warmly applaud him. And I say, Welcome to the real world.”
From Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
I wanted to depict my main character as an independent, absolute individual. His status as an urban dweller has something to do with it too. He is a type of man who chooses freedom and solitude over intimacy and personal bonds.