Saturday, January 2, 2016

Book Review: ‘Wind/Pinball’ by Haruki Murakami

“One bright April afternoon in 1978, I attended a baseball game at Jingu Stadium, not far from where I lived and worked,” writes Haruki Murakami. “The satisfying crack when the bat met the ball resounded throughout Jingu Stadium. Scattered applause rose around me. In that instant, for no reason and on no grounds whatsoever, the thought suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel.”

Thus began the acclaimed writing career of one of the greatest novelists of our time. In Wind/Pinball, Haruki Murakami gives us a sneak peek into the early life and humble beginnings of the eccentric author. “I can still recall the exact sensation. It felt as if something had come fluttering down from the sky, and I had caught it cleanly in my hands. I had no idea why it had chanced to fall into my grasp. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. Whatever the reason, it had taken place,” Murakami continues in his introduction, The Birth of My Kitchen Table Fiction. “It was like a revelation. Or maybe epiphany is the closest word. All I can say is that my life was drastically and permanently altered in that instant—when Dave Hilton belted that beautiful, ringing double at Jingu Stadium.”

Now that Murakami has gathered a cult following because of the many unique intricacies of the tales he tells, it’s interesting to see how he began his foray into writing in the first place. What’s even more amazing is that Murakami actually had trouble writing a proper story in his native Japanese, which prompted him to experiment with doing so in English (and later translating into Japanese). This resulted in him writing short sentences with more impact rather than to overflow his prose with flowery words that have no purpose. “She vanished without a trace, swept away by the flow of time and its flood of people,” the narrator of Wind says. “When I go back to the town in summer, I walk the same streets we did and sit on the stone steps of the same warehouse and look at the ocean. Sometimes I want to cry, but the tears don’t come. It’s that kind of a thing.” With Murakami’s way of brief but powerful writing, it’s no wonder his novels always read like an earnest diary would, making them even more beautiful.

Wind, or Hear the Wind Sing, was the very first story that the writer penned back in 1979. Short and sweet, the story runs about a hundred pages or so, following the tale of the unnamed narrator as he spends his semester break in the most coming-of-age way possible. The novel took Murakami six months to finish, and, typical of his works that would soon come, it bears the marks of surrealism that fans of his writing have all come to know and love. As a prequel to A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance, Wind is a seemingly dull yet incredibly touching tale of old jazz records, philosophical conversations with The Rat at J’s Bar, and a chance romance with a girl with nine fingers. The novel almost reads like a trial run at times, with various scenes and inner monologues scattered at random times throughout the story. What’s unmistakable about the story is that it is a struggle to understand the complications of the human condition, and as any youth would do, it is a quest to discern the relationships of the people around us as well as discover who we truly are. “All things pass,” the narrator says in classic Murakami melancholy. “None of us can manage to hold on to anything. In that way, we live our lives.”

In 1980, Murakami finished the sequel to Wind titled Pinball, 1973. In Pinball, it seems as if it wasn’t just the unnamed narrator who grew up—Murakami’s writing matured further as well. The depths of the narrative extend to the history of pinball itself, intertwined with the now-separate lives of the narrator and his best friend, The Rat. Now entering adulthood, the pair grapples with lack of direction, lukewarm love lives, and the meaningless of it all. “I felt like someone who realizes in the midst of looking for something that they have forgotten what it was,” says the narrator. And as for his best friend, “The Rat fell into bed and slept—his pain, with no other place to go, stretched out beside him.” They eventually come to terms with how their lives will play out in the end, using pinball as a metaphor for everything. "No, pinball leads nowhere. The only result is a glowing replay light. Replay, replay, replay—it makes you think the whole aim of the game is to achieve a form of eternity."

Of course, while this second novel is now slightly more pieced together than the first one, it never loses its delightfully weird taste. The story is filled with welcome absurdities like funerals for switch panels, twins named 208 and 209, and cold storage chicken slaughterhouses-turned-repository for ancient pinball machines. With Murakami, even a simple phone call in a dormitory can carry with it a heavy host of emotions you never thought you could feel about a telephone ring. “The moment the last ring had sailed down the long corridor and off into the black night, a hush settled over the building. It was an eerie silence. We all lay there in our beds, holding our breath, as we contemplated the dead call.”

In short, Wind/Pinball is a special treat for fans who have always wondered how the lives of the characters in A Wild Sheep Chase began. The Trilogy of the Rat ended well, and it’s only natural to assume that it started well, too. For non-fans, Wind/Pinball also offers a short introduction to Murakami’s one-of-a-kind writing, as it is concise and a lot less convoluted than its successors, which some might argue can be difficult to follow for those who are not familiar with Murakami’s work. The novel can be all gloom-and-doom sometimes with lines like “All we can perceive is this moment we call the present, and even this moment is nothing more than what passes through us.” But rest assured that the story ends with a fresh start, prepped and ready for the sequel that we know would become a smashing success in the years that follow the novel’s first release. “A November Sunday so tranquil,” the narrator ends, “it seemed that everything would soon be crystal clear.”

*This article was first seen on The Philippine Online Chronicles HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Something on your mind?:)