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Announcement!

Hello everyone!

How’ve you guys been? I hope you are all well. Anyhow, I have a special announcement to make.

Starting today, my sideblog, Concurrence, has launched! If you are interested in seeing more of my writing (from all the reviews I’ve posted here and whatnot) please check it out and maybe give it a follow! I’ll be posting my original works, musings, and tidbits from my daily life – anything having to do with writing.

NOTE: Of course, all my artworks, analysis, and reviews (anime, films, etc.) will still be on this blog. Concurrence only covers the more creative aspects of my writing. I plan to run both at the same time – let’s see how it goes.

You can check out Concurrence here: http://writingarchive.home.blog

Thank you very much!~~

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Murakami Mondays: A Wild Sheep Chase (1982)

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A Wild Sheep Chase (lit. An Adventure Surrounding Sheep) is the third novel by author Haruki Murakami, first published in Japan in 1982, and translated into English seven years later in 1989 by frequent Murakami translator Alfred Birnbaum. It is considered an independent sequel (that is to say, a spiritual sequel) to Pinball, 1973 and is the third (and final) book in the ‘Trilogy of the Rat’; it is preceeded by Pinball and Hear the Wind Sing. Interestingly, this trilogy was released in English out-of-order, as Pinball (the second book) was the first to be translated, followed by Hear the Wind Sing (the first) and this novel. Also, while the previous two were re-translated in 2015, this novel has yet to receive one.

Taking place in a post-WWII Japan, the detective noir-style story (which also includes a chain-smoking unnamed narrator) follows our recently divorced protagonist, who, after posting a photo in a magazine ad sent to him by his old friend ‘The Rat’ (who is a recurring element in the trilogy, obviously), is contacted by a mysterious man representing ‘The Boss’, which control Japan’s elite. Having been told that a sheep pictured in the ad is somehow the secret source behind the power of ‘The Boss’, and that his life will be over if the sheep is not found within two months, our protagonist and his unusually perceptive girlfriend must travel to the north of Japan to find the strange sheep, all while encountering new and old friends, victims – and chasing an immovable force.

Despite being rather short and being part of a trilogy (meaning you’d have to read the other two novels if you want to understand anything thats going on here), A Wild Sheep Chase is rather enjoyable. It blends together both Japanese and English literature tropes in front of a Japanese contextual background, so even if you don’t know or aren’t interested in Japanese history regarding the time period of the book, it still ‘feels’ like a typical American detective story. As a Murakami fan, reading this was a unique experience, as the early Murakami novels have a very different style compared to those of today – a lot more youthful, slangy, and allegorical. It’s like a time machine. That being said, if you don’t mind reading the previous two, A Wild Sheep Chase is a fun time.

Murakami Mondays: South of the Border, West of the Sun (1992)

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South of the Border, West of the Sun is the seventh novel by author Haruki Murakami, first published in Japan in 1992 and many years later in English by frequent Murakami translator Philip Gabriel in 1999. It was released four years after Dance Dance Dance, a novel I’ve also covered in this series. Despite being classified as a novel, this book is in a rather strange position compared to Murakami’s other works as it cannot be neatly placed into one category. At 192 pages, it is clearly shorter than your average novel, but at the same it is not short enough to be considered a short story. Therefore, it would be better to call this a ‘short novel’.

Starting with the common theme of a man ‘losing’ a woman, this story follows 36-year-old Hajime, the owner to two successful bars and father of two children, as he reunites with former childhood friend Shimamoto, who mysteriously refuses to relay any information on where she’s been all these years and constantly haunts Hajime with ‘what ifs’. This sets in a motion a chain of events in which he must choose between his loving wife and family and retreating into the wonder of his past.

I’ll admit that the premise alone got me interested. It’s rare that a Murakami novel features a married protagonist, and an emphasis on childhood friendship. Thankfully, this short novel is written well and has enough depth to keep you invested. Moreover, it is one of the few Murakami stories where the protagonist is morally ambiguous – while most of his protagonists are on the side of ‘good’ (even if reluctantly) and generally likable, Hajime makes questionable decisions and even considers cheating on his current wife with Shimamoto, a decision that would certainly turn readers against him. Without spoiling too much, this book is definitely one of Murakami’s better short-form works, and I highly recommend it if you prefer a book you could finish in a day.

Murakami Mondays: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2013)

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the thirteenth novel by author Haruki Murakami, first published in Japanese in 2013 and in English only a year later in 2014. It was released three years after IQ84, Murakami’s longest ever novel yet, with more than 900 pages total. The book was released in English by Philip Gabriel, another one of Murakami’s frequent translators.

Unlike the majority of Murakami’s works (including both long and short-form novels alike), Tsukuru Tazaki dials down on the surrealism and mystique that has often characterized Murakami’s writing, choosing instead to focus on a simpler narrative. The story follows the perspective of the titular Tazaki, a 36-year-old railway engineer who has been constantly plagued wondering why his group of high school friends cut all ties with him sixteen years ago. Now a grown man, he is convinced by his girlfriend Sara to seek the truth, and so he decides to go on a quest to mend his relationships with his former friends and get to the bottom of the mystery.

Although this novel is well-written overall, and I can definitely understand why Murakami would choose to write something this simple (especially given that he’s finished an absolutely massive plot-layered story years earlier), for a novel that took three years to write, it’s rather underwhelming. I was excited to see a Murakami protagonist who actually wasn’t a loner (or at least wasn’t formerly a loner), but compared to his other main characters, Tazaki falls rather flat, though only in comparison. Moreover, despite Murakami being a brilliant writer, I felt that much of the writing in this novel was rather shallow, and it was even more disappointing that he chose to leave most of this story’s mysteries unresolved and ambiguous, which is strange considering the great lengths Tazaki goes through in his attempt to solve them.

In conclusion, Tsukuru Tazaki isn’t a bad novel by any means, and if you’ve never read Murakami before, you may enjoy it, but compared to his best works (and even his other novels in this category) it is noticeably weaker in both style and presentation. Ultimately, whether you choose to read it or not is up to you.

Murakami Mondays: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Nejimakitori Kuronikuru) is the eight novel by author Haruki Murakami, first published in Japanese in between the years 1994-1995, and was later released English by long-time Murakami translator Jay Rubin in 1997. The original Japanese edition was released in three parts, while the English language edition (and the most common one today) is a single volume of over 600 pages, making it one of Murakami’s longest yet.

While a few chapters from the novel were published in The New Yorker and a slightly altered version of the first chapter was featured in the short story collection The Elephant Vanishes (not to mention the novel’s protagonist, Noboru Wataya, appears in another short story in this collection), this novel is the where all these characters and story beats are placed together to create something more coherent.

Because of this novel’s (very) large page count, you’d likely assume that it’s rather dramatic and intense, plot and content wise – and it is, but not in the way you’d expect. Beginning with the protagonist (Noboru Wataya) being tasked by his wife to find their missing cat, the plot is suddenly turned upside-down as Noboru discovers one morning that his wife has mysteriously vanished, and the rest follows him as he uncovers the mysteries and intricacies of her disappearance, all the while encountering eccentric allies and antagonists.  Although, yes, the novel does have its moments of melodrama and theatrics, Murakami takes a more subtle and nuanced approach to the situations faced by Noboru, with several scenes focusing on his loneliness and introspection, in classic Murakami style.

When it comes down to it, despite how intimidating its length and size appear, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is one of Murakami’s best, and will definitely stick with you a long time after you read it.