Before Haruki Murakami became the most famous living Japanese Novelist who achieved the rare feat of capturing the hearts and minds of American readers as well, he was a young married man working numerous jobs in order to make ends meet. At a baseball game, he had an epiphany at the crack of the bat that he could write a novel, and after catching the home run ball there was nothing that made more sense than to start writing. With no formal training, a lover of American crime novels and nineteenth century Russian literature, Murakami struggled to write a contemporary novel that would appeal to Japanese readers.
The new translation by Ted Goossen of Murakami’s first two novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 packaged as Wind/Pinball brings these hard to find early works back into print after almost three decades. His commercial success in America has fueled the demand for this release.
Murakami reveals in the introduction that when he was having trouble writing a readable novel, he experimented with writing in English. His command of the English language was good enough for him to write short sentences, while not skilled enough to flourish the pages with an overabundance of prose. By curbing his free flowing mind by guaranteeing that he could only write in a certain amount of detail, he was able to get the story going, which he then translated into Japanese. When considering his success with English speaking readers, this anecdote foreshadows his current mass appeal across the globe.
Hear the Wind Sing is just over one hundred pages, a novella length piece of work, that took Murakami around six months to write. Told by an unidentified first person narrator, it shapes up to be a coming of age story. There are forty short chapters resembling still frames of a movie at various, scattered points in the reel. Our narrator is a college aged student home for semester break, who meets a character named Rat, and after crashing a car, they become the best of friends, spending most of their days drinking in J’s bar. In what feels like more of a work of ideas, a tune-up for his more expansive work, Murakami shows glimpses of the writer that he would become.
Like all of his novels, Hear the Wind Sing displays the almost excessive attribute of trying to understand human emotions. The characters are very self aware, introspective in their thoughts about the world around them, constantly delving into the complexities of the human condition. The narrator, who has traits similar to Murakami himself, like a lot of debut novels, is a bookish young man, who has a keen interest in the people that he meets, and the ones in his past. He chronicles his first loves with peculiar detachment, and his current relationships with an equal amount of ambivalence. The ending result is a piece of fiction about the constant search for the right people, the ones that fit in our lives, and the way we view and process the world around us.
He ends his earliest novel with a quote from Nietzsche: “How can those who live in the light of day possibly comprehend the depths of night?” Murakami’s characters, even his early ones, demonstrate the constant pursuit of being able to see in the midst of darkness.
Pinball, 1973 was written the following year as a sequel, and while its length was only slightly more novel length, the reach of its ideas widened immensely from his debut. Following the same nameless narrator several years later, and the life of Rat who now lived hundreds of miles away, the narrative depth deepened substantially. Longer sections that switch periods in time and settings in rapid succession fill out the story in a way that resembles Murakami translating his work from English to Japanese, as if he learned how to expand on his prose from the interesting writing exercise.
The title is accurate in that the story does revolve around pinball. He uses the arcade game as an analogy for life, at one point saying “No, pinball leads nowhere. The only result is a glowing replay light. Replay, replay, replay-it makes you think the whole aim of the game is to achieve a form of eternity.” The characters who have advanced past young adulthood are now contemplating the inevitable idea that their lives will end. In what becomes a closer look into the psyche of the human mind, Murakami uses indirect metaphors in rapid succession.
At one point, the narrator attends a funeral for a broken switch panel, and then follows that up by becoming even more attached to a rare pinball machine. The character of Rat, who previously was somewhat of a mystery to readers, is opened up in a series of chapters surrounding his broken love life, lack of direction, and desire to start his life over. The two separated friends come to realizations about their own lives in tandem.
Through the use of pinball, a game machine that requires constant upkeep and repairs, Murakami showcases a story about failed dreams, lingering desires, and the realizations that we make about ourselves. Focused on the idea that everything changes, moments pass and through all of life’s endings, there are new beginnings.
Haruki Murakami develops into a writer that has found his subject matter through these first two narrative explorations. Even though they were released separately, combining the two works into one volume fits perfectly, as they feel like two sides of a tape, and when one side reaches its conclusion, the other is ready to begin. With that, he delivers a reading experience that causes personal reflection, thoughts larger than ourselves, and consequently, the way we handle all of the big, external ideas within our own, internal minds. Wind/Pinball is available on August 4th.