Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

220px-Killing_Commendatore_by_Haruki_Murakami_-_CoverI started to read this book in February and was really enjoying it but had to put it on hold after reading more than half of the 681 pages when I realized I actually still don’t have any idea what’s it about or what’s it all for (or am I missing something?). A week ago (thanks to the long holiday!), I realized this is Murakami. It may (or it may not) be the entire point of the story. Where is it heading? It doesn’t matter.

Killing Commendatore follows the life and experiences of the unnamed narrator, a portrait painter from Tokyo. He and his wife separated and he ended up living in a house on top of a mountain which belongs to Tomohiko Amada, a famous artist. It was after discovering the painting, Killing Commendatore, in the attic that a series of mysterious circumstances started happening.

This again proved what a great narrator Murakami is but I’m slightly unsatisfied with the ending, though. I wished he could have given us a little bit more in order to connect the mysteries somehow. And a little bit more of Menshiki perhaps? But then again, it’s Haruki Murakami. He always leaves the reader wondering about unanswered questions or an idea or this time a metaphor. All in all, it’s a good read but not one I’d recommend as an introduction to Murakami.

Quotable Quotes:

“That sometimes in life we can’t grasp the boundary between reality and unreality. That boundary always seems to be shifting. As if the border between countries shifts from one day to the next depending on their mood. We need to pay close attention to that movement otherwise we won’t know which side we’re on.”

“Our lives really do seem strange and mysterious when you look back on them. Filled with unbelievably bizarre coincidences and unpredictable, zigzagging developments. While they are unfolding, it’s hard to see anything weird about them, no matter how closely you pay attention to your surroundings. In the midst of the everyday, these things may strike you as simply ordinary things, a matter of course. They might not be logical, but time has to pass before you can see if something is logical.”

“I had taken a nap, but my head was muddled. It felt like a ball of yarn had been crammed into the back of a narrow desk drawer, and now the drawer wouldn’t close properly.”

“A face is like reading a palm. More than the features you’re born with, a face is gradually formed over the passage of time, through all the experiences a person goes through, and no two faces are alike.”

“From far off, that slice of ocean was nothing more than a dull lump of lead. Why people insisted on having an ocean view was beyond me. I much preferred gazing at the surrounding mountains. The mountains on the opposite side of the valley were in constant flux, transforming with the seasons and the weather, and I never grew tired of these changes.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

downloadSouth of the Border, West of the Sun is a book I’ve known years ago but didn’t have the chance to read because I can’t find a copy and I only want to read Murakami works on paperback. It’s unfortunate that I still didn’t find a copy but I need a Murakami fix to get me back to my reading so hello Kindle!  The first thing that came to mind though when I read the title page was hope and suicide.

The book is about a man’s mid-life crisis, narrated by the 37-year old Hajime, born as an only child in Japan who met Shimamoto, an only child as well at the time when being a single child was rare in Japan. They formed a bond from there and had a strong connection, an innocent relationship but young love didn’t quite blossom and they started drifting apart when they started attending different high schools.

In high school, Hajime had a relationship with Izumi. He later met Izumi’s cousin then soon found himself having sexual affairs with her. Izumi was devastated and the relationship ended. He went on living his 20s without any serious relationships until he married Yukiko at 30. He loves her and their two daughters. Soon enough, he opened up a jazz bar and became prosperous.

Then Shimamoto reenters the picture as she shows up in the bar one night after reading a magazine article about a successful jazz bar and its owner. Hajime came to realize he’s still in love with Shimamoto when he saw her. She shows up every now and then until they eventually end up having a night of sex in Hakone. Hajime was willing to give all up for Shimamoto but she has other things planned.

I think Shimamoto’s character is one of the strengths of this book. Murakami never explained about what happened to her all those years but there were hints (though I’m not so sure of my interpretation of them), and that she’s tired of her life and existence. I only know that her happiest days were the time she was with Hajime as a child with a lame leg listening to music and was trying to relive those memories when he saw Hajime once again. All throughout the book, Shimamoto’s character pushes the plot forward but still, typical of Murakami, the specifics about her weren’t revealed. I’m used to Murakami’s female characters to be mysterious but somehow, I wished for more of Shimamoto.

Izumi and Yukiko’s characters were clearly portrayed and I easily identified with their emotions but when it comes to Hajime, I neither liked nor disliked him. He was just a voice narrating his erratic life story.

South of the Border, West of the Sun is almost devoid of surreal elements. Murakami here focused generally on love and heartache. He painted us an honest portrayal of a man dealing with mid-life crisis by allowing Hajime to express his feelings. No author has ever gave me that feeling of melancholy the way Murakami does. It’s not always that I get to read books that convey intense feelings this much. Murakami is very skillful on this and the translation by Philip Gabriel is excellent.

This by far is the most conventional Murakami I’ve read and this somehow reminds me of The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and also Murakami’s Norwegian Wood which I intend to reread sometime soon. The love affair wasn’t as heartbreaking as that of Toru Watanabe’s but probably the book wasn’t meant to let us totally sympathize with Hajime.

Funny how I was reminded of someone the entire time I was reading this. It’s sometimes hard not to wonder about the past most specially when things can’t be changed, but still I wonder what could have been…

This is a short read but definitely one with words and emotions that stay with you long after you’ve finished.

Quotable Quotes:

“Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star. 
It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago.
Maybe the star doesn’t even exist any more. Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything.”

“I hurt myself deeply, though at the time I had no idea how deeply. I should have learned many things from that experience, but when I look back on it, all I gained was one single, undeniable fact. That ultimately I am a person who can do evil. I never consciously tried to hurt anyone, yet good intentions notwithstanding, when necessity demanded, I could become completely self-centered, even cruel. I was the kind of person who could, using some plausible excuse, inflict on a person I cared for a wound that would never heal.”

“The sad truth is that certain types of things can’t go backward. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can’t go back the way they were. If even one little thing goes awry, then that’s how it will stay forever.”

“…some feelings cause us pain because they remain.”

“I think you still love me, but we can’t escape the fact that I’m not enough for you. I knew this was going to happen. So I’m not blaming you for falling in love with another woman. I’m not angry, either. I should be, but I’m not. I just feel pain. A lot of pain. I thought I could imagine how much this would hurt, but I was wrong.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

A Reread: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

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Book #24.

This is one of Haruki Murakami’s novels which I include in the short & “normal” category among his books. I say short & normal because the other categories are long & weird and short stories. But even if I categorize this to “normal” there is still something that goes out of the ordinary.

The story is about the “colorless” bachelor, Tsukuru Tazaki, who was never able to get over the cruelty of his four best friends in high school who abruptly excluded him from the group one day when he went home from Tokyo during their first year in the university. He was told never to contact them ever again and though he tried to challenge them for a reason, he was only told that he already knows why. Tsukuru then started drifting through life. He suffered from depression and since then wasn’t able to make long-term relationships. Until he met Sara…

As most of his books do, this explores themes about loneliness, friendships, melancholy, life, loss and identity. The story flips back and forth between what happened during his young adult days and the present. I’d describe this book as quiet, poignant and thoughtful about a man’s journey on dealing and understanding the past in order for him to move on with the present and a better understanding of himself.

As always, I was again left with the ambiguity of its ending. Many unanswered questions as usual and so it’s totally up to me again to fill in the gaps. In the book, tomorrow is Wednesday, the day Tsukuru will have the answers from Sara. Is she really dating another guy or will she be Tsukuru’s life partner? What’s hidden inside Midorikawa’s bag whenever he plays the piano? What happened to Haida? Who murdered and raped Shiro? Anyhow, Murakami still left me satisfied.

Quotable Quotes :

“But there are countless things in the world for which affection is not enough. Life is long, and sometimes cruel. Sometimes victims are needed. Someone has to take on that role. And human bodies are fragile, easily damaged. Cut them, and they bleed.”

“People whose freedom is taken away always end up hating somebody.”

“You need to live it to the fullest. No matter how shallow and dull things might get, this life is worth living.”

“Words don’t come out when you’re hurt that deeply.”

“Some things in life are too complicated to explain in any language.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Book #23. (2016)

This is the most difficult Murakami read for me and it took me a long time to finish. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good book, it is actually a very good one, it just took me longer than usual to comprehend what Murakami is trying to tell me. 🙂 I’ve read somewhere that the English translation by Jay Rubin cut three chapters from the Japanese version. Maybe the deleted chapters would have helped me understand the book more. Anyhow…

I don’t know how to say this right but for me, the book isn’t a total page-turner compared to his other books. Not because the story isn’t interesting enough. It is actually very interesting, however, it took me time and effort to digest its content. Even halfway through the book, I still didn’t understand where the story is heading.

Toru Okada resigned from a job he finds meaningless, but also refused to get a job because it is what the society expects. And so begins Toru’s dropping out of the society. One day, he was cooking spaghetti. The phone rings. A mysterious caller. The cat disappeared. A few days later, his wife, Kumiko, disappeared as well. Toru drops further and further out while in search them. An ordinary start that lead to a very complex story. So, even if this was given to me without the author’s name on it, I would certainly identify that this is a Murakami work.

The Manchurian thread are the best parts of the book for me though I don’t really quite understand how it would resonate with the rest of the book. Or does it have to? And what exactly is he trying to say about the war? Is it to show the violence in Japan’s past? It’s one of the reasons I’m left unsure after I finished reading. Should the different plots fit together? Are they meant to fit together? Really, I’m not sure. The confusion, lack of closure and the loose ends are all probably a part of the plan.

I would definitely recommend this book to everyone but would also advise you to read it when you have the time to commit. After reading this, you will never look normally at your cat again or the ordinariness of spaghetti. Man, I think I need another vacation… A vacation at the bottom of a well.

Quotable Quotes :

“People don’t always send messages in order to communicate the truth… just as people don’t always meet others in order to reveal their true selves.”

“Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?”

“I realize full well how hard it must be to go on living alone in a place from which someone has left you, but there is nothing so cruel in this world as the desolation of having nothing to hope for.”

“A life without pain: it was the very thing I had dreamed of for years, but now that I had it, I couldn’t find a place for myself within it. A clear gap separated me from it, and this caused me great confusion. I felt as if I were not anchored to this world – this world that I had hated so passionately until then; this world that I had continued to revile for its unfairness and injustice; this world where at least I knew who I was. Now the world ceased to be the world, and I had ceased to be me.”

“Curiosity can bring guts out of hiding at times, maybe even get them going. But curiosity evaporates. Guts have to go for the long haul. Curiosity’s like an amusing friend you can’t really trust. It turns you on and then it leaves you to make it on your own – with whatever guts you can muster.”

Rating : 5/5

A Reread – A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

downloadBook #15.

I’ve decided to reread A Wild Sheep Chase since I’ve just finished the first two books of The Rat Trilogy just recently and it felt like reading it for the first time… twice! I can say I appreciate this book more now. I was able to understand it better as well and it opened my eyes to things I wasn’t able to grasp on my first reading.

In this final book of the trilogy, we still have our unnamed characters from the previous books and we finally have one named character, too! Kippler, the cat. 🙂 It was also while reading this that I realized how much I care for the characters in Murakami’s books. They are mostly intriguing that I really care about what’s going to happen to them. Moreover, Murakami has a way of describing the characters’ feelings like no other.

In a nutshell,  we have our protagonist who’s living a mediocre life, haunted by a whale’s penis, who doesn’t seem to be affected with his wife’s betrayal which led to their divorce, and soon meets a girl with unusually beautiful ears. Then the disappearance (and reappearance) of his friend, the Rat. We also have the sheep professor who locks himself in one of the rooms of Dolphin Hotel owned by his son. An Ainu youth who helped some early Japanese settlers in Hokkaido. A dying wealthy man known as the Boss, who sent his secretary/representative to our narrator to go find a mystical sheep with a star mark on its back. What do all these characters have to do with each other? They’re all a part of a wild sheep chase…

I didn’t really realize it the first time I’ve read this but I noticed that aside from the mystical sheep, war is also something we find in common among three notable characters here — the Boss, the sheep professor and the Ainu youth. They’re all remarkable characters in their own ways which is in contrast to our narrator who seems to be unaffected with his divorce, no ambitions and there doesn’t seem to be anything of significance to him. This I think, once again is an example of how Murakami was again able to explore the meaning of life and the meaning of living through the eyes of a mediocre Japanese guy disappointed in a modern world and in this life. There were several instances when the narrator feels nostalgic about music and the simple life he had when he was younger thus he struggles with the changes and modernization happening around say for example, the Boss’ right-wing. It’s also quite notable that Murakami probably felt that the modernization and corruption that happened to Japan is mostly because of western/foreign influence thus he used the sheep which was a new livestock brought to Japan, nobody knew about it, no historical connection in the lives of the Japanese, but was able to make big changes. The sheep though is something I see as a driving force for people who are weak to try to be as successful or productive as they can be. It somehow represents ambition and will to be powerful. Well it really depends on the reader what the sheep is trying to represent and this is just what I think but it’s the same thing that made our narrator and the Rat uneasy and troubled.

When the book ended, it made me want for more, though probably, as far as the Rat is concerned, I think the story has ended. And it’s sad. But still, as is what’s expected of every Murakami book, there are far more unanswered questions left behind. I’m not sure if Dance, Dance, Dance has the answers to these questions but I’m certainly looking forward to reading it soon.

Quotable Quotes :

“I was feeling lonely without her, but the fact that I could feel lonely at all was consolation. Loneliness wasn’t such a bad feeling. It was like the stillness of the pin oak after the little birds had flown off.”

“The song is over. But the melody lingers on.”

“Some things are forgotten, some things disappear, some things die.”

“I guess I felt attached to my weakness. My pain and suffering too. Summer light, the smell of a breeze, the sound of cicadas – if I like these things, why should I apologize?”

“Body cells replace themselves every month. Even at this very moment. Most everything you think you know about me is nothing more than memories.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

downloadBook #6.

This basically follows the story of five characters — a 19-year old girl named Mari, Takahashi a jazz musician, Mari’s sister Eri who is in a very deep sleep, a Chinese prostitute assaulted in a “love hotel”, and a salary man, Shirakawa, who works late to avoid his family — one autumn night in Tokyo.

How Murakami-san managed to capture the happenings and feelings of time from midnight to dawn at a brisk but natural pace is amazing. Every beginning of a chapter shows a clock and as the night progresses, the story does, too. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters but I also didn’t hate any of them. But the point is probably not to like or hate them, but to connect to them which I think Murakami-san effectively did.

This is not as bizarre as his other works but neither it is a straight narrative. It stays surreal because Murakami-san doesn’t bother with explanations and in his world, nothing is simple.

After Dark ended far too quickly for me and as usual, I was left with too many unanswered questions. I would recommend you read this in a coffee shop, overnight, with cups of brewed coffee. And maybe some music, too. Well, if you haven’t yet! 😉

Quotable Quotes :

“In this world, there are things you can only do alone, and things you can only do with somebody else. It’s important to combine the two in just the right amount.”

“What seems like a reasonable distance to one person may feel too far to somebody else.”

“A brand-new day is beginning. It could be a day like all the others, or it could be a day remarkable enough in many ways to remain in the memory. In either case, for now, for most people, it is a blank sheet of paper.”

“…people’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel.”

“The silence is so deep it hurts our ears.”

Rating : 4/5 stars

Book #45 – 2015 Reading Challenge – Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

Book #45 for my 2015 Reading Challenge is a collection of short stories from my favorite author, Haruki Murakami…

This book is a collection of short stories set in different venues and features different themes/subjects like cats, monkeys, a firefly, jazz, friendship, chance, death, loss, etc. Out of these stories, some of my favorites or some that leave a deeper impression to me are The Mirror, The Year of Spaghetti, The Ice Man, Chance Traveller, Toni Takitani and Firefly.

Murakami’s short stories (and novels) make you dream differently. He’s able to bring out the magic of everyday life, he makes you see the extraordinary even in the most mundane situation. To cut the story short, there are no ordinary stories when told by Murakami.

Favorite quotes : “There are ways of dying that don’t end in funerals. Types of death you can’t smell.”

“Thinking about spaghetti that boils eternally but is never done is a sad, sad thing.”

“I sometimes think that people’s hearts are like deep wells. Nobody knows what’s at the bottom. All you can do is imagine by what comes floating to the surface every once in a while.”

“I may be the type who manages to grab all the pointless things in life but lets the really important things slip away.”

“What I saw wasn’t a ghost. It was simply — myself. I can never forget how terrified I was that night, and whenever I remember it, this thought always springs to mind: that the most frightening thing in the world is our own self.”

Rating : 4/5 stars