Posted by: biblioglobal | June 6, 2012

A Japanese dilemma

I went to the library this week with the purpose of checking out Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I haven’t read any Murakami and thought that my project to read a book from every country would be a good opportunity to do so. However, I hadn’t anticipated that it would be 600 pages long. I don’t mind long books,  but at the same time it seemed like a big commitment given that I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy Murakami’s surrealist style. So I decided to read the first couple of pages. The book begins:

 “When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.

How could I not want to read a book that starts out with boiling a pot of spaghetti?

Then I kept browsing down the library shelves and came across another Japanese author, Kenzaburō Ōe. I’d never heard of him, but it seems he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The book I picked up, A Quiet Life, looked interesting, so I checked that one out too. It turns out that there is a link between Ōe and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Oe was highly critical of Murakami’s early works. Ōe must have changed his mind though because he awarded Murakami the Yomiuri prize for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Now I’ve started reading and enjoying both books. The question is, which of these books should I write about for Japan? Or do I want to write about both of them? That somehow seems unfair to the rest of the world! At the moment, I’m leaning toward A Quiet Life because it seems more tractable to write about, because I’ve read a number of comments that Murakami isn’t very representative of Japan, and because Ōe is less well known in the U.S.


  1. Both of them! You can just call it an alternate choice. I mean if you offer more than one book for some countries it’ll allow people to see more authors they’re less aware of 😀

    And I agree about the spaghetti – but for me it was the Spaghetti and the classical music combined. Maybe I’ll do that this weekend.

    • I did actually track down the music and listen to it. I’m not convinced that it’s the *perfect* music for boiling pasta, but it was pretty good and the length works out just right for spaghetti. I didn’t go so far as to actually play it while making spaghetti, perhaps I should have.

  2. I’m reading Murakami’s short story collection “Elephant Vanishes” and the spaghetti boiling bit is actually one of the stories in the book. I believe he expanded on the short story and turned it into the Wind-Up Bird novel, but I’m not sure. Did the narrator get a call from a mysterious woman asking for some of his time to talk?

    • Yes, he did! I just checked the copyright page of the book and it says that the translator of “Elephant Vanishes” coined the term “wind-up bird” when translating “The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women”. So I’m guessing that’s the story. Maybe I’ll have to read it at some point for comparison.

  3. I have an Irish on my shelf too. I also love Ishiguro. Haven’t tried Murakami yet. This is why I try to do a (limited) world tour annually. That way I can return to places/authors I love!

    • I would tend to think of Ishiguro as a British author. At least the books I’ve read are very British. I definitely enjoyed Remains of the Day. (I have to admit not being familiar with Irish)

      As you can see, I’m torn between the pull of revisiting the same place and the desire to explore new territory. I like your idea of an an annual world tour!

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