Hear the Wind Sing

Title: Hear the Wind Sing
Japanese Title: 風の歌を聴け (Kaze no uta o kike)
Author: Murakami Haruki (村上 春樹)
Translator: Alfred Birnbaum
Publication Year: 1979 (in Japanese); 1987 (in translation)
Publisher: Kodansha English Library (講談社英語文庫)
Pages: 130 (plus 15 pages of translation notes)

I love A Wild Sheep Chase. The narrator’s daily life in Tokyo, the narrator’s sojourn in Hokkaido, the mystery of the sheep, and the philosophical musings on genius and individuality all come together into an interesting and compelling story. There’s this one weird bit, though, after the narrator leaves Tokyo but before he reaches Sapporo. This is the chapter describing the narrator’s visit to a place called J’s Bar. He doesn’t visit J’s Bar in real time; rather, he remembers having visited it in the past. J’s Bar, we learn, is where he and a character called “the Rat” used to drink when they were younger. I always felt that there was something about the narrator’s relationship to the Rat and J’s Bar that Murakami wasn’t telling us. As a result, this short, atemporal section connecting Tokyo and Hokkaido felt disjointed and out of place. Perhaps the reason it felt this way to me is because I had never read Murakami’s earlier novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. A Wild Sheep Chase is part of a tetralogy (which is concluded by Dance Dance Dance), so it only makes sense that I would be missing something by having started in the middle.

Hear the Wind Sing is a short I-novel in the style of Shiga Naoya, by which I mean that it involves a young man who wanders around aimlessly while thinking about how pointless his life is. I don’t mean to imply that the novel isn’t worth reading, because it certainly is. There just isn’t much of a plot. The narrator, who is a college student majoring in biology, has returned from Tokyo to his hometown by the sea for the summer. He spends his days chilling out and his nights drinking in a small, run-down pub called J’s Bar. J is a middle-aged Chinese man who has befriended the narrator and his drinking buddy, a young college dropout nicknamed the Rat (“Nezumi”). One night, the narrator goes to the bathroom in J’s Bar and finds a young woman passed out on the floor. He gets her address from her purse, takes her home, puts her to bed, and then falls asleep in her apartment. The novel meanders between the sporadic interactions between the narrator and this woman, about whom neither the narrator nor the reader ever learns much before she disappears forever. Between these interactions, the narrator briefly reflects on his past romantic relationships and thinks about writing and literature, which he discusses with the Rat. The story is bookended at its beginning and end by sustained discussions of Derek Heartfield, a (fictitious) early twentieth-century writer of speculative fiction whose life and work, the narrator concludes, showed promise but ultimately went nowhere.

Hear the Wind Sing is a short novel, and it feels even shorter because of its frequent chapter breaks (about once every four or five pages) and frequent page breaks within chapters. There’s no real pattern to the narration, which includes conversations, reminiscences, literary speculation, song lyrics, and a bit of linear storytelling. Despite this lack of cohesion, everything flows together nicely, and the way that the main themes of the novel (such as the inability of any one person to really know any other person) are elliptically approached is fairly effective. The narrative voice contains far more humor than self-pity and keeps the reader moving easily through the novel. This narrative voice is broken a few times by the insertion of the voice of a radio rock station DJ, who has some of the best passages in the whole book. Such a fragmented narrative style effectively captures the experience of being a college student at home for the summer, moving through the days without a clear sense of purpose and half-heartedly wondering what the future will bring. There’s no grand mystery of the sort that forms the core of A Wild Sheep Chase, but the narrator is same amiable personality who sees the world through a perceptive yet detached perspective. If you can get your hands on this book (which is fairly easy to do at major Japanese bookstores or through Amazon.co.jp), it’s a quick and enjoyable read, especially for fans of Murakami’s writing style. Birnbaum’s translation notes at the end of the book are also a nice treat for people who are interested in that sort of thing.

Dance Dance Dance

dance-dance-dance

Title: Dance Dance Dance
Japanese Title: ダンス・ダンス・ダンス
Author: Murakami Haruki (村上春樹)
Translator: Alfred Birnbaum
Publication Year: 1994 (America); 1988 (Japan)
Publisher: Vintage International
Pages: 393

One of my favorite passages in Dance Dance Dance is the ending of one of the last chapters in the novel:

When I was little, I had this science book. There was a section on “What would happen to the world if there was no friction?” Answer: “Everything on earth would fly into space from the centrifugal force of revolution.” That was my mood.

Indeed, that is the mood of this entire novel, which is perhaps the strangest, most nihilistic, and most off-center Murakami novel I’ve read.

Dance Dance Dance is the sequel to Murakami’s popular 1982 novel A Wild Sheep Chase (羊をめぐる冒険). It concerns the unnamed narrator’s quest to return to the Dolphin Hotel and rescue his former girlfriend Kiki, who had disappeared at the end of A Wild Sheep Chase. Upon returning to Sapporo, the narrator finds that the old, run-down, mystery-haunted Dolphin Hotel of his memory has disappeared, and the Sheep Professor is nowhere to be found. A large, modern, high-class resort hotel, also called “The Dolphin Hotel,” has gone up in the same neighborhood, but the managers and staff claim to know nothing of the former hotel. One receptionist, however, responds the inquiries of narrator by telling him about a cold, pitch-black phantom floor at which the hotel’s elevator sometimes stops. In order to recover Kiki, and, in doing so, save the part of himself that had been damaged by the events in A Wild Sheep Chase, Murakami’s protagonist attempts to pursue these mysteries, albeit in a somewhat half-hearted way.

Of course, this being Murakami, there are many side stories that need to be explored along the way. The narrator catches a glimpse of Kiki acting in a bit part in a high-school romance movie alongside an actor named Gotanda, who had been an acquaintance of the narrator in high school. This connection leads our protagonist to a series of misadventures with his former classmate, who has been accused of killing a call girl rented out by a mysterious organization. Also, during his first stay at the new Dolphin Hotel, the narrator encounters and befriends a thirteen-year-old girl named Yuki, who has for all intents and purposes been abandoned by her famous artist mother and her famous novelist father, who have their own ties to shady organizations. Yuki is charmingly cynical, one of her best lines being, “I don’t give a damn what people say. They can be reptile food for all I care,” and she leads the narrator all over Tokyo, Yokohama, Enoshima, and Hawaii.

Do these plot points ever come together? Are the mysteries presented by the novel ever solved? If you’re familiar with Murakami’s fiction, you can probably guess the answer.

Even though this novel is dark and rambling and bears very little thematic resemblance to A Wild Sheep Chase, it should be an interesting and enjoyable read for Murakami fans. Although Dance Dance Dance is only a loose sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, there are many things that don’t make sense without knowledge of the events of the previous novel. That being said, I also don’t think Dance Dance Dance should be read immediately after A Wild Sheep Chase, as it isn’t so much a sequel as an appropriation of characters and places for the purpose of creating an entirely different story. Alfred Birnbaum is, as always, a fantastic translator, and his rendition of Murakami’s prose makes this novel a fun, if somewhat gloomy, read.