So I really enjoyed reading Hear the Wind Sing, Haruki Murakami’s debut novel, and went on to read its sequel, Pinball, 1973 straight away. It’s set three years on from the events in the first book and our narrator, still nameless, has set up a successful translation business with a friend, translating everything from manuals to adverts. The work isn’t too hard and there’s plenty of time to chill after he’s done his day’s worth. Still in his twenties, he hasn’t quite found his niche in life. One day he wakes up in bed with two girls, twins, and so starts their strange life together. And out of the blue comes a chance to reconnect with his favourite pinball machine, a legendary make that seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth. Back in his home town, his friend Rat is still going to J’s Bar and is still unhappy with his life, dropping out of university and several relationships until he too must make a decision about the direction of his life.

I have to confess I didn’t enjoy Pinball, 1973 as much as Hear the Wind Sing even though it has more of a cult following (probably because it’s much harder to get hold of outside Japan) mainly because the minutiae regarding the workings and the narrator’s obession with pinball machines somehow went straight over my head. Never played pinball and am not going to start now. And I wasn’t too tickled by the notion of the narrator, again nameless here, having a threesome with twins. There’s nothing really salacious in Murakami’s novel. It’s just….what is it with men and twins? I mean, would twin girls really want to share a boyfriend? Wouldn’t they want one just for themself? It’s just a bit icky. I’m not a twin so I can’t really understand how true fictional portrayals are although I suspect they tend to be rather extreme and fantastical.

Saying that, I did enjoy reading Pinball, 1973 just because of Murakami’s laconic style which always reminds me of a late summer’s afternoon, full of promise and languour. In some way’s, it’s a very geeky book and I suspect Murakami is a geek. The detail he goes into about translation work and pinball machines, the names of English songs and books. I read somewhere that Japanese critics have accused his novels of smelling like butter, meaning they’re too Westernised, but what’s wrong with writing about what you are into? And you can tell Murakami is totally in love with American culture because it shows in his writing. And I say, bully for him. I see echoes of the American style and vision that was prevalent in Japan when I was growing up there just as it is in his books. Japanese people may be falling out of love with America and its culture, but in the 70s and 80s, it was all the rage.

Murakami captures life in your twenties perfectly. It’s nostalgic and slightly romantic, something I yearned for in my twenties when I was busy studying and getting way too drunk. But looking back, it was a magical time.

Like with Hear the Wind Sing, I had no issues with Alfred Birnbaum’s translation of Pinball, 1973 and found it very easy to immerse myself into the book, although I know there have been many criticisms.

And do check out Stu and Tony’s posts on Pinball, 1973 too.

I read this as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge 5 and the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge 2011.

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So, the mega best-selling 1Q84 is being published as I write this and what better way to celebrate all things Murakami than by going back to read his first novel. More a novella at only 128 pages in the small Japanese paperback published by Kodansha International, Hear the Wind Sing is an easy reading book and holds many of the themes which Murakami returns time and again in his more famous novels, in particular Norwegian Wood.

The un-named narrator is on a Summer break from university and has returned to his home town from Tokyo where he hangs out in J’s Bar and befriends another student called Rat. The novel is essentially a slow summer’s tale, something which reminded me of my own summer holidays as a student where time slows down and it’s hot and lazy and Murakami captures this period that is lost once you become a working adult. We find out about what the narrator likes to read, how he is coming to grips with the world he lives in, his past three loves whose memories are slowing evaporating and his friendships with Rat, who is at a cross-roads in his life and waxes lyrical while drinking at J’s Bar, and a four-fingered girl who works at a record shop and who is recovering from some kind of trauma.

Many have said this isn’t Murakami’s best (it is his debut, after all) and that Murakami is reluctant to have it published outside Japan (the Kodansha International edition is primarily for Japanese students learning English), yet I liked this book. There is something about an author’s hype where you feel that you ought to like their writing even though you don’t. I get a fleeting sense of trepidation every time I start a book by Murakami, but I am always overwhelmed by a feeling of familiarity and how much I am enjoying the experience of reading the book as I turn the pages.

It’s a skeletal version of the themes important to Murakami, as though he is putting out feelers, not yet ready to fully discuss what it is to be alive and to belong. The themes of alienation, dissociation, making your own way into the world and leaving your home behind are all there. But it’s not as harsh and stark as in his later books. There aren’t any fantastical elements here, but I’m a fan of his more realistic novels and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Pinball 1973.

Alfred Birnbaum’s translation was easy to read and pretty good and there was nothing that particularly jarred.

I read this as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge 5 and the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge 2011.