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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Beyond Great Writing: Magic

Yesterday, I went to Half-Priced Books and did the common rounds... look at the Auster books, the Didion, the Eco, the Murakami... and found a first print of Murakami's "A Wild Sheep Chase" for $5. This is a top find. It's a Kodansha edition, introducing Murakami to the American public for he first time (1989). The book has both Japanese and American ISBN numbers and the price in dollars and yen. I couldn't believe my eyes; even the dust cover has the author's photograph.

"Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" is now slipping into its last pages. Last night I finished reading "Tony Takitani," "The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes," "The Ice Man," "Crabs" and "Firefly." All of these were great. I loved the "Tony Takitani" story. I was reading it during lunch and didn't want the bell to ring again before class. It is the story of a trombonist during the Pre-World War II days. He enjoys great deal of comfort in Japan but finds himself going to China to play in the fashionable western establishments. In the conflicting ideologies of the post-World War II days, he is imprisoned and almost put to death. Back in Japan, he never marries but has a son whom he names Tony. Tony becomes an artist and from this point, the story take a wild but realistic rush through a myriad of emotions: sadness, joy, reflection, nostalgia, etc. All rolled up in the perfect Murakami form. "The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes" is a different story (no pun intended). This story feels as if Murakami was experimenting with extravagant elements. Certainly, it feels as if he sat down in front of the computer one day and said to himself: "Let's see how absurd I can make things." It is not a very good story. It's rushed and not polished. I don't really know what else to say about it. I had read "The Ice Man" before on "Vintage Murakami." But "Firefly," well... "Firefly" is something altogether apart. This is certainly Murakami's crowning achievement... it is part and parcel of "Norwegian Wood," one of his most famous novels.

Reading "Firefly" was like taking a trip back to 1994 Japan. This was the year I discovered Murakami. I was living in Japan at the time and my then friend-now-brother-in-law gave me a copy of "Norwegian Wood." I could not put down the book. I cried, real tears, moved by the lyrical and poetical style... along with the pains of the "coming of age" story. Here's an example from the selection included in "Firefly:"

.... A long time later, the firefly took off. As if remembering something, it suddenly spread its wings and in the next instant floated up over the railing and into the gathering dark. Trying to win back lost time, perhaps, it quickly traced an arc beside the water tower. It stopped for a moment, just long enough for its trail of light to blur, then flew off toward the east.
Long after the firefly disappeared, the traces of its light remained within me. In the thick dark behind my closed eyes that faint light, like some wandering spirit, continued to roam. Again and again I stretched my hand out toward the darkness. But my fingers felt nothing. That tiny glow was always out of reach.

There are perhaps a hundred or so different passages on this 250+ page novel that I would love to post, passages of long lost love and nostalgia, agony and yearning. It is going to be hard once I finish "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" and begin some other author's book.

Just off the press... I just found this while searching for link on Amazon... Paul Auster's new publication... the film script of "The Inner Life of Martin Frost." I am so excited!

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At 12:05 PM, Blogger Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

It even had the dustcover?? That is excellent!

At 9:05 PM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

Sounds wonderful, JCR.:-)

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Bookgirl said...

What a find! I love how you wrote about your experience on first reading Norwegian Wood. I've only read Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart - both I loved. I must read more Murakami.

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Matt said...

I think it's time for me to explore Murakami, since a few people have mentioned the author on different occasions. What do you recommend for a beginner?

At 12:58 AM, Blogger Jef said...

I'm envious of you. I miss the big Half Price Books back home in Dallas. The flagship store is now in a building that formerly housed a Sports Authority. It's huge and fun to get lost in. Whenever I go home at Christmas, my family and I head over for the end of year sale with everything 20% off. We usually take a break after a few hours in the Black Forest coffee shop, and perhaps one day I'll treat myself to a massage with the instore massage therapist.

Of course, I can't complain: my partner owns a used bookstore and I can always find a good book to read.

At 3:29 AM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

my partner owns a used bookstore and I can always find a good book to read.

Oh Jef...you are lucky! :-)


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