Book Review: "Wind / Pinball," by Haruki Murakami

"Ascribing meaning to life is a piece of cake compared to actually living it"

-- Wind, Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is undoubtedly one of the foremost writers of the new millennium.  Murakami fans span a statistician's nightmare of spectrum in terms of age, location, literary tastes and the like. Embodying a style that is uniquely his, Murakami's works consistently redefine the boundaries between established subgenres of modern fiction. But where did these stories spring from? In superhero-speak, is there an origin-story that speaks to the readers as the later works do? Readers can now answer these questions with the release of Murakami's first two novels "Hear the wind sing" and "Pinball" as a double-novel set, with an in-depth introduction by the author himself.

As with his stories, the origin-story of Murakami the writer, is equal parts surreal and mysterious. Murakami stumbled upon writing, in a completely random moment of vivid clarity, while attending a baseball game. There is probably no explanation of why this could have happened (certainly he does not provide one  -explicitly), and we can chalk this fortunate happenstance to one of those instances when the Universe conspires to do something useful after all. But start with his earliest published work (this book) and then proceed with the rest of the oeuvre, and we can stealthily grasp the answer to this (and many other) questions. With his first attempt at writing proving unsuccessful, Murakami engaged in an exercise as bizarre as some of his protagonists' - he started typing the novel in English, a language he was severely limited in expressing himself. But it is this exercise itself that led the way to him discovering his "style," his expression. The terse, compact narrative, and the economy of expression, that are now his trademark tools have their humble beginnings as the attempts of a writer to explore his expression in an unfamiliar terrain.

The stories themselves are emblematic of any novice writer, especially one without any formal training in creative writing. The narrator is a young man - seemingly anonymous behind a name, without firm roots in the society, alienated due to the transient nature of his life, and trying to make sense of his place in the overall scheme of things. This is undoubtedly, Murakami's voice, and we can see in the narrator, the struggles of the author reflecting back to us - the readers, the audience of this multilayered play. With a supporting cast of characters that represent a fairly whimsical, fantastical universe that is nonetheless rooted in everyday reality, the stories seem like a self-contained ecosystem with its own rules of survival. "Hear the wind sing" (or Wind, shortened in the title to the collection) is a coming-of-age story that is part-tragic, part-romance, part-autobiography, and wholly Murakami in its execution. "Pinball, 1973" is a continuation of the same narrative as in Wind, but maybe with slightly different characters (or the same characters who have evolved since we left them.) The stories feel a bit more adrift that his later works, and we can sense an author trying to find his voice by doing the only thing a writer can do, write! The nascent signs of Kafka, 1Q84, Norwegian Wood beckon us as obscure street signage in an unfamiliar city, if only we take time to look around as we explore it. The collection is more than just a coming-of-age of the narrator, it also signals the beginning of the Age of Murakami!

Very highly recommended.

(Heartfelt thanks to Jason Hanson for loaning his copy to read)