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.