Tag-Archive for ◊ banal ◊

Author:
• Sunday, October 02nd, 2011

Haruki Murakami, one of Japan’s most famous and acclaimed contemporary writers, was born in Kyoto in 1949 but grew up in Kobe. His parents were both teachers of Japanese literature. He majored in theatre arts from Tokyo’s Waseda University in 1975.

Since his childhood, Murakami has always been influenced by Western culture and literature and loved classical and jazz music to the extent that while still at university, he opened his coffee/jazz bar, “Peter Cat”, with Yoko, his university mate, who later became his wife. He ran the bar from 1974 to 1981 and sold it when he started earning his living from writing.

Haruki Murakami became a keen marathon runner in his thirties and in 2008 wrote a non fiction about it called : What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Haruki Murakami is a translator of books from English into Japanese, a novelist, who also writes non fiction, short stories and essays.

In 2006 Murakami received the Franz Kafka prize from the Czech Republic for his novel, Kafka On The Shore and won the Yomiuri Prize for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, published in Japanese in 1995 and in English in 1998.

The title of the novel refers to “a mechanical cry of a bird that sounded as if it were winding a spring”. Kumiko, the wife of the main character, gave it this name. The protagonist-narrator says: “We didn’t know what it was really called or what it looked like, but that didn’t bother the wind-up bird. Every day it would come to the stand of trees in our neighbourhood and wind the spring of our quiet little world. An ominous cry.

Toru Okada, the main character, was also called Mr. Wind-Up Bird by May Kasahara, his eccentric, insubordinate, adolescent, death-obsessed neighbour.

Toru Okada is a young, unemployed married man in his early thirties, without ambitions, who is having problems finding his way in life. His quiet existence topple’s over when his cat, Noboru Wataya, named after the evil brother-in-law he abhors, who later in the story is named Mackerel, disappears and his wife, Kumiko, the bread winner of the couple, leaves him for no apparent reason. Pandora’s box is now wide open. There is a strange succession of happenings; people start coming his way with their bizarre stories and predictions followed by enigmatic occurrences and peculiar persons. Their stories or fates are sometimes interwoven to ease the plot by making it less complicated.

The procession of mysterious characters who start appearing and disappearing in Toru’s banal life are eerie. There is Malta Kano, who is a clairvoyant of sorts, Creta Kano, who was initiated by her elder sister and claims to be a “prostitute of the mind”, then there is Nutmeg Akasaka who is a clothes designer and becomes a medium, and her only child, Cinnamon, who becomes mute at the age of six. There is also Noboru Wataya, the malevolently weird and popular politician with diabolical powers, who happens to be Kumiko’s brother. And not to forget the odd Mr. Honda, an old friend of Kumiko’s family and his strange will and his colleague, lieutenant Mamiya, who is now an old man and was in Manchukuo during the second world war and his gruesome story while in outer Mongolia when he was captured by Mongolian and Russian soldiers and was forced to watch his colleague being skinned alive by the Mongolian soldier.

The second world war atrocities are described in detail in various parts of the novel, as is also the massacre of the animal zoo and the savage and inhuman baseball execution in Manchuria.

A world of Kafkaesque surreal events unfolds in front of Okada’s eyes and he finds himself fluttering between reality and make-believe in a very strange universe with a stifled, bewitching atmosphere. Especially that Okada is of a compliant disposition and lacking identity which makes him easily drawn into each character’s sphere. Like lieutenant Mamiya, Okada is going to experience the isolation of a dry well in a forsaken backyard of a deserted, cursed house near his home in order to try to get to his inner subconscious, search himself and understand things in the hope of saving his wife, Kumiko, and bringing her back.

Things start happening as he goes through the well wall in his “predawn dreamlike illusion in the well” and finds himself in a bedroom hotel. He comes out of this experience with a bluish black mark on his cheek which gives him psychic powers.

In one of his interviews, Haruki Murakami mentions that the subconscious is a subject of great interest to him, especially that it is a “terra incognita” for him. He also mentions that he is attracted to wells, not for going down them, but for looking inside them.

He goes on to say that he likes to write weird stories despite the fact of being a very realistic person himself. Maybe it’s a sort of an escapism from reality, being a “loner” as he typifies himself. Referring to his young readers, he says he hopes that his books “can offer them a sense of freedom – freedom from the real world”.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an entertaining rich story, abundant in intricacies and brimming with an outstanding literary imaginativeness. A modern fantasy tale that takes place in suburban Tokyo, a few years before the end of the twentieth century. Some parts of the novel are intense and others are perturbing historical scenes of the second world war, during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria.

Despite the untied loose ends, the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an easy to read page turner and a captivating novel.

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Author:
• Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Anita Shreve was born in Dedham Massachusetts in 1946 from an airline pilot father and a housewife mother. She graduated from Tufts University. She worked as high school teacher at Amherst College, Massachusetts. She started writing her novels while working. She was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975 for her book “Past The Island, Drifting”.

She then stopped writing fiction in the late 1970s and worked as a journalist in Nairobi, Kenya for three years. She wrote for Quest magazine, US magazine, New York Times and New York magazine. She decided to give up journalism and dedicate herself full-time to writing fiction. Her books were translated into many languages and she won The Pen L.L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction. She currently lives between Longmeadow Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Anita Shreve wrote several novels :
Eden Close in 1989.
Strange Fits of Passion in 1991.
Where or When in 1993.
Resistance in 1995.
The Weight of Water in 1997.
The Pilot’s Wife in 1998.
Fortune’s Rocks in 2000.
Sea Glass in 2002.

She wrote non-fiction books :
Dr. Balter’s Child Sense in 1985.
Dr. Balter’s Baby Sense in 1985.
Working Woman in 1986.
Remaking Motherhood in 1987.
Who’s in Control in 1988.
Women Together, Women Alone in 1989.

Kathryn is the pilot’s wife and she is the main character of the novel. The story is about her tragedy, her distress, her love, her deceit and her rage, and how she has to deal with the initial shock when she is woken up in the middle of the night by a knock on the door to be told by Robert Hart, the pilot’s union employee, that her husband died in a plane crash with 103 passengers, 10 miles off the coast of Ireland and that there were no survivors.

The novel is divided in two parts, the first half describes in simple, clear prose Kathryn’s struggle to deal with her shock, loss and grievance, while trying to pull herself together for the sake and protection of her 16-year old daughter Mattie, with the help of the kind Robert Hart.

This part holds some hints to prepare readers for what follows in the second half which is full of unexpected painful revelations, challenging Kathryn’s prowess to deal with the truth of her marriage and what has become of it. What appeared at the beginning to be a sad and quiet story turns out to be a gripping one, a thriller combined with the difficult defiance between loss, love and betrayal but also about some hope for the future.

Anita Shreve manages to make a good, captivating read out of a banal, common theme of betrayal and adultery.

Kathryn finds it very hard to bring together her happy memory of a stable, peaceful and uneventful married life in a beautiful home overlooking the ocean in Ely, New Hampshire, a bright teenage daughter, with a husband she cared for dearly, and thought that she knew, with the harsh deceitful reality of who Jack really was. A mixed feeling of grief and danger which triggers her determination to seek the truth at any cost after hearing all the unbelievable rumours, and after discovering various pieces of paper in Jack’s pocket and in his bath-robe with initials and phone numbers which she knew nothing about. She was ready to go through it all even if its outcome turns out to be devastating for her. In any case Kathryn knew that nothing will ever be the same again.

Anita Shreve portrays Kathryn’s confusion and disbelief in switching the chapters constantly from the present with all it’s unpleasantness and cruel devastation, to flashes of the serene, tranquil and more reassuring past. She has masterfully succeeded in conveying Kathryn’s feelings by contrasting the two lives through juxtaposition.

Anita Shreve’s books are often categorized under “women’s novels” due to her acquired art of describing women’s distressful feelings and sensibilities. The Pilot’s Wife appears to be a puzzle that Kathryn tries throughout the novel to unravel piece by piece. She thought she knew her husband but found out that she was living with a complete stranger she knew nothing about.

The readers are aware of that through what Mattie was telling her mother about the rumour that the pilot committed suicide : “Mattie you knew your father.” “Maybe”. “What does that mean ?” “Maybe I didn’t know him” Mattie said. “Maybe he was unhappy”. “If your father was unhappy, I’d have known.” “But how do you ever know that you know a person ?” she asked. What Kathryn didn’t know is that no matter how well you know a loved one intimately, there is always a little secret garden that each one keeps to oneself.

After meeting Muire Boland, Jack’s second wife and seeing their two children, Kathryn was overwhelmed with the sad and crude reality of her suspicion, which led her to drive all the way to the Irish coast, where the plane crashed. She decided to unburden herself from the weight she was carrying by throwing her wedding ring into the sea to join Jack at the bottom of the ocean. She wanted a new start by getting rid of the past and like that the healing operation can take place.

The Pilot’s Wife is an easy, readable book, the style is clear and simple. The plot was progressing well but then the author decided to end the story abruptly leaving a couple of loose threads untied.
The involvement of Jack with the IRA which led to the plane explosion was not explained sufficiently, and the relationship between Kathryn and Robert Hart was left undeveloped.

Anita Shreve was asked in an interview where did she get the idea for The Pilot’s Wife? She answered : “A novel is a collision of ideas. Three or four threads may be floating around in the writer’s consciousness, and at a single moment in time, these ideas collide and produce a novel… I overheard a conversation between a pilot and a woman at a party. Something he said lodged in my consciousness and wouldn’t go away. The thing he said was : When there’s a crash, the union always gets there first. He meant that when there was a crash of a commercial airliner, a member of the pilot’s union made it a point to get to the pilot’s wife house first. There are a lot of reasons for this, the most important of which is to keep her from talking to the press. And there was a collision of ideas.” which produced The Pilot’s Wife.