Japanese Title: 69 (シクスティナイン)
Author: Ryu Murakami (村上龍; Murakami Ryū)
Translator: Ralph F. McCarthy
Publication Year: 1993 (America); 1987 (Japan)
Who wrote Holden Caulfield? The truth is, many aspiring young writers have given it a shot, and the infamous literary bad boy Murakami Ryū is not exempt from their numbers. Murakami’s early novels, such as Almost Transparent Blue (限りなく透明に近いブルー) and Coin Locker Babies (コインロッカー・ベイビーズ) are filled with dissatisfied young men violently striving to bring meaning into their lives, so what makes 69 special?
For one thing, it might have actually happened. The plot concerns nothing more than the vitally important matter of the protagonist’s budding attraction for the lovely “Lady Jane,” a member of his high school’s prestigious English Drama Club. For a high school student living in the boondocks of Japan, the means at his disposal at first seem to be limited. The year is 1969, however, and anything can happen. Considering Murakami’s well-publicized admission of the autobiographical nature of this work, some of it more than likely did happen. The nature of this work as being well-grounded in reality not only gives it an interesting historical flavor but also exacerbates the outrageousness of the lengths to which the protagonist will go to get laid. Simply put, this book is hilarious.
Translator Ralph McCarthy renders the narrator’s young yet jaded voice into perfect English idiom, and the translated slang doesn’t feel dated in the least. My favorite aspect of the translation is the way that McCarthy chose to emphasize some of the novel’s key phrases in huge bold print. For example:
It’s also a fact, however, that in 1969 there was a convenient tendency to describe people who studied for college entrance exams as capitalist lackeys.
“Look, you fucking asshole, we’re here on a sacred mission, and you want to peek in the girls’ changing room? If that’s where your head’s at, man, the whole thing’s a failure before we’ve even started.”
Although 69 seems somewhat juvenile and inane compared to Murakami’s later work, such as In the Miso Soup (インザ・ミソスープ), I feel that it’s almost required reading for anyone interested the background behind the insane and disturbing world of Murakami Ryū.