Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Haruki Murakami’

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami


I’m a fan of Haruki Murakami’s writing, but I was unable to connect to any of the characters or plots in the six short stories in the collection After the Quake. I’m struggling to express why exactly, the closest I can come to is that I think these stories need to be read in their original language (Japanese) by people who experienced the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which the stories are centered around.

In the first story, UFO in Kushiro, a husband and wife separate after soon after the earthquake. The wife tells her husband there is nothing inside of him that he can give her. He is devastated, but eventually gets a glimpse of his future self, which leaves him with some hope.

The second story, Landscape with Flatiron, tells of two suicidal people who live to have bonfires on the beach. If there was a moral or a point to this story, it went over my head.

All God’s Children Can Dance is the story of a man whose mother led him to believe he was like Jesus, in that he was the result of a virgin birth, although eventually the man sought out a person who he believed was his father.

Thailand tells the story of a spiritually-tired business woman who swims her way to peace while on vacation. Her chauffeur offers her guidance and enlightenment, both directly and indirectly.

Super-Frog Saves Tokyo, like many of this author’s stories, has super-natural elements. The hero of this story is able to help save Tokyo from a devastating earthquake with Frog, by dreaming and believing while Frog fought a terrible battle with Worm.

I enjoyed and related to Honey-Pie best of all the stories. Three friends from university, two men and a woman, almost lost their friendship when two of them fell in love. The pair married and had a child, but the other man was the better match for the woman and long-term, theirs would be the relationship that lasted. The child dreamed of ‘The Earthquake Man’ which is something I imagine many Japanese children who lived through the Kobe earthquake did.

After the Quake isn’t my favourite of Haruki Murakami’s works, but his ‘okay’ is still better than most writer’s ‘best’.



What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

whatI enjoyed Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, loads more than his novels, Colourless Tsukura Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage or The Strange Library, as good as they were.

What I liked best about What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was that it was real. It was the author’s own story, mostly about his experiences training for and running in marathons and triathlons, and a little about writing and how he lives his life.

Confession – I used to run. I know the world is divided up into people who run and people who don’t, (just like or people who read and people who don’t, people who like chocolate and people who don’t, or even people who go to bed early and people who don’t), but either way, I like running (and reading, chocolate and going to bed early. Don’t get me wrong, I never ran a marathon. (I’m not stupid). I’m not built for long distance running, but I used to manage between five and eight kilometres three or four times a week and I did this for years. When I was running, I felt good. I fit into everything in my wardrobe and I could eat what I liked. I enjoyed the time on my own while I was running too, but the best thing was the sense of satisfaction I felt after a run. (Haruki Murakami also says that sometimes finishing a run is the best part, so there!).

I stopped running because the amount of free time I had changed and for some reason I never started again. This book makes me think about running again though.

In this memoir, which was written about ten years ago when the author was in his late fifties, and splitting his time between Japan, Hawaii and Cambridge. Haruki Murakami is clearly a busy man, strict in his habits and as a man who likes his company, well suited to the solitary natures of writing and running.

Haruki Murakami’s honesty is brutal. For example, when he talks about feeling jaded with running, he describes the sensation as being, “Just like when you lose the initial crazy feeling you have when you fall in love.” Ouch.

He also points out that most writers burn out. “Some writers take their own lives at this point, while others just give up writing and choose another path.”

Haruki Murakami explains that he runs in part for his physical health and partly to extend his creative life, as he believes that writing novels brings out the writer’s emotional toxins, and that being in the best possible physical health helps authors to cope mentally. He stresses over and over that this view and his way of dealing with the mental demands of writing are his opinion only, but that they help him to do his best, or as he describes it, beyond his best.

He also comments that when he doesn’t feel like going out for a run that he tells himself how lucky he is not having to commute to work or to attend meetings. (He does recognise that some people would rather suffer a commute or meeting than go on a run!) He is honest about the pain of running long distances, about ageing and about the benefits of a routine.

The author’s story of how he came to be a writer is interesting too. He says he was sitting outside watching baseball, when the thought came to him he could write a novel. So he did. He sold his jazz bar and started writing, just like that. If he were to write another memoir about music and his former career, I would read it too.

I found What I Talk About When I Talk About Running to be inspiring. The idea of doing your best comes through loud and clear, regardless of how people feel about running, although I think I’m going to find time to run again myself.*

*Since writing this review a few weeks ago, I went on one very short run, which nearly killed me. I have eaten my way through several blocks of chocolate and found that to be much more enjoyable.


The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami


After reading Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami last year, I snatched up The Strange Library by the same author when I spotted it. And, wow, was I glad I did.

The Strange Library is actually a very short illustrated story, which I read in about ten minutes. When I finished, I went back through and looked at the illustrations properly, as I found I got so caught up in the story the first time through that I didn’t bother looking at the pictures.

The story is told by a young boy, who visits the library to return his books. The boy’s reading tastes are eclectic, the books he returns are How to Build a Submarine and Memoirs of a Shepherd. When he asks to borrow more books, he is sent to Room 107, where he tells the old man works in that room he is interested in learning about tax collection in the Ottaman Empire (!)

At this point, things get even stranger, as the old man finds the narrator three books on the subject.

The book itself is strange, let alone the title or the story. The front cover folds away from the top and the bottom, and the story starts on what is usually the front cover. The type is huge, and the font is typewriter. Almost every second page is an illustration, which relates (if you use your imagination) to the story itself. Some of the illustrations reminded me of the pictures on the boxes of wind up toys which were made in Japan when I was a child. I loved these toys and the illustrations on the boxes. Obviously I also loved the illustrations in the book.

Image result for chip kidd the strange library

Anyway, I won’t be put off going to my own library after reading The Strange Library, as my own library is a lovely, light, open space without any scary librarians, hidden rooms or traps for avid readers. I doubt my library has any reading material on the history of Turkish tax, but I don’t see that as a problem.

Read The Strange Library for the story and the pictures.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami


I’ve been looking forward to reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Marakami all year. I wasn’t disappointed when I actually got to it.

The main character, Tsukuru Tazaki is a 36 year old man living in Tokyo, whose passion is building railway stations. He is a loner, having been terribly hurt as a young man when his four friends, for reasons which he never understood, kicked him out of their group.

The group of friends had met as idealistic teenagers, three boys and two girls, who got to know each other while performing community service. Tsukuri’s description of their friendship is that they were a five sided shape, an equilateral pentagon, each with a contribution to make to the whole.

Tsukuru’s friend’s names all contained colours; red, blue, white and black. Tsukuri felt different from his friends because his name did not contain a colour, which he believed also expressed that his personality was also colourless. As a reader, I did not believe this to be the case at all. Tsukuru’s name has associations with building, and that was the career path he eventually followed.

At first the mystery of the book is why this happened to Tsukuri. The reader gets to know Tsukuri and he is a good person. He was so hurt and bewildered by his friend’s dropping him that he contemplated suicide. At the age of 36, he recognised that he had never formed a really close relationship with anyone since, in an attempt to protect himself from being hurt again. However, Tsukuri meets and becomes close to Sara, who pushes him to get in contact again with his old friends, for closure, so that he can move forward.

The issues are eventually resolved, at least enough so that Tsukuri and the reader feel that they have closure. There are still mysteries and relationships left up in the air, but nothing that annoyed me. This book also reminds readers that there are as many viewpoints as there are people.

The book has been translated into English from Japanese. The words are very precise, in the way translations are and there is a lot of prose about grabbing drinks of orange juice and other trivial events mixed in with the story. The words and images are beautiful and the lessons are gentle. I would love to know if anyone has read this book in Japanese as well as in English and if the story changed at all because of differences in the languages. I have to admit, I was slightly afraid that this book would be a difficult read, but it wasn’t at all.

There is also music running through the book, which prompted me to Google some of the pieces used to tell the story. I wasn’t the only one either, Liszt’s Le Mal du Pays had a great many comments in English, saying that the listener had come to the piece because of the book. I imagine quite a few of the Japanese comments also say that Murakami sent them too.

This is a lovely book, quite different to my usual reading, but very satisfying. I will not be afraid to read another book by Haruki Murakami.

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