Things that you would find in Murakami’s Novels

There are two kinds of readers in this world – ones who have read Murakami, being transformed into his crazy fans and others who haven’t read Murakami, and don’t know what they have been missing. I have been transferred into the former recently; and it’s a deep love and admiration since then. Having read 11 books written by the maestro of despair, loneliness and magical realism fused into real life, I could see some recurring elements in most of his works. Mind you, I am only at the half way mark in reading through all that Haruki Murakami has written, but, I am sure that these elements would recur in those books as well.

What I present below are the things or elements you would find in Murakami’s books and my interpretation of their utility or what they symbolize (not signify: take this Murakami Fans!). I will edit this list post I read rest of the works as well. I welcome your own analysis or some of the elements that I may have missed.

#1. Cats

Murakami simply loves cats, wonderful creatures, aren’t they? Why is that all the protagonists either possess cats, talk about them or know some one who has them.

Why Cats?

  • Cats are the pin-up models for loneliness, and not exactly social creatures
  • Cats are selfish, so are most of the characters in Murakami’s stories
  • Cats are unpredictable, enigmatic and independent – virtues that are aplenty in Murakami prose

# 2. Metaphor / Allegory

There is a constant effort by the characters to use metaphors and allegories extensively, and sometimes they let you know, the reader, that “hey, in case you didn’t notice, I used a metaphor here”. I simply love the way metaphors / allegories are used in the stories, significantly enhancing the likeability of the prose, and keeps my mind on tenterhooks while reading. Be mindful of the minefield that he has laid, I tell myself.

Why Metaphor / Allegory?

We all have it with in our language arsenal and use them consciously or unconsciously, without branding them as such. We all think of situations, comparison and benchmarks while thinking or talking; most of the emotions that emanates from his prose, are like that.

# 3. Music (Esp. Jazz) and Book References

Doesn’t he love dropping references of American Jazz music of 50s-70s and American books of the same era that he has read? His books compulsorily have that US connection, with he himself having stayed in US at peak of his career. Be it Mozart, Bach, Beach Boys or Beatles, or writers like  Carver, Fitzgerald, pages of his books are replete with many artistes and authors that may have shaped Murakami’s life or influenced his writings.

Why Music and Books?

  • Books: Murakami has read and done translation of a number of American and European books into Japanese. Amongst these are Carver, Salinger, Kafka, Flaubert, Vonnegut, Dickens and so on. He definitely stands out among various Japanese authors for creating a sort of ‘pop culture’ in which his characters are shown reading or talking about these books. I guess it adds to his appeal internationally.
  • Music:  Murakami grew up on Jazz and classical music. He also had a coffeehouse and a jazz bar, called Peter Cat, while he was just getting into writing having written a couple of books. His range and knowledge of music comes out very strongly, with almost all characters in his books, major or minor listening to Jazz mostly, or playing piano / guitar.

#4. Death, Suicides and Disappearances

Most minor and some major characters in Murakami novels, do one or more of the following: they die (of natural causes), commit suicide or simply disappear. These characters are often disturbed, depressed or dejected in life, and somehow connected, engaged and share a special relationship to the central character or protagonist. Some of them who died were as young as 17. Some of them disappear without a trace and there is no further explanations on them.

Why Death, Suicide and Disappearance?

I guess this is a major motif to help symbolize vagaries of human nature, the sadness that envelopes them and showcases in general, futility of continuing life. Most of them who die / disappear are living in Tokyo, a fast paced city, which may not suit everyone’s sensibilities; as the pressure of expectations mounts, they cave in. This is also a constant reminder of city vs. town (or rural) life, the busy beings, each one in a race to achieve more and more.

I guess this is a comparison with the “American Dream” of making it big and living happily ever after. As it happened with American Dream, there may be a lot of people in Tokyo who could not catch up what they were chasing.  Suicide Rates (18.5/100000, 2015, rank #17) and happiness index (rank #46, 2015) also indicate that things may not be hunky-dory in one of the world’s developed nation.

#5 Beer 

Beer is the most favored alcoholic beverage in Murakami books, beating whiskey, wine and other poisons hands down. Even Sake, the Japanese rice wine, doesn’t seem to suit tastes of American Pop Culture influenced characters, much.  The characters bond over beer, be it set of friends or lovers. There is some minor usage of Coke / Pepsi as well, but the soda or sparkling water beats them hands down. I don’t recall any specific brands being mentioned in case of beer (I recall Chivas Regal though).

Why Beer?

I guess Beer is the quintessential social drink world over, especially with young drinkers. With most of Murakami characters below 30 years of age, they seem to prefer Beer. Most of the characters in Murakami books are from middle class background, with limited means, hence, inexpensive beer becomes the poison of choice. I am sure experience of seeing people drink (and sales) at his venture Peter Cat, would have influenced this choice as well.

That’s The Way It Goes…

I don’t know if its just me or does everyone gets hassled by a small, inconsequential incident, worthy of 100% ignorance, as it plays havoc on the mind?

It just happened with me.

Just a couple of days back, I met this girl who was a colleague in an organization I worked sometime back. Not that we were thick friends or something, but meeting her has made a big impression in my mind and left me with questions that perhaps, I will not get answers to. I guess I don’t wish to try getting answers either.

This girl was (is?) academically intelligent and smart, but appeared recluse and socially awkward when we worked at this firm. She sported a couple of tattoos that showed and probably more that didn’t. In short, she was straight out of a Murakami story – unusual, aloof, and with a definite air of mystery surrounding her.  My team had a view that she is either an alcoholic or is high on some substance. I didn’t believe so, as I didn’t know how people are supposed to behave or look like when they are high. How naive, you’d say.

Anyway, I never had a real conversation with her (to form my opinion about her) and interactions were limited to work. She was just there, existing in her space and I was too busy minding my own work. Then I had to move on and join a different organization.

Then we met again, some 7 years later and she was completely transformed! She definitely didn’t look stoned – in fact, she has assumed this aura of intelligence and experience. I had hard time believing that she was indeed who she was. So, I went ahead and said hello, and made some small talk about past, present etc. The social awkwardness,  recluse nature is still there. She has changed jobs, a 180 degree shift I’d say, to a job that requires you to stay among people, behave much more socially than the previous role she was working in. The appearance has become what we assume or term as normal.

Since the meeting, I have two thoughts in my mind –

  1. I wish I could have known her better to register or recognize the personality change that has taken place.
  2. Is this life? Turning into what is acceptable or normal as per the set rules of society? From very far, I like her previous self better than the renewed, more acceptable self. I would have been much happier if she would have continued to remain the same.

But then who remains same? We all change, the moment changes and things that are today, will never be same in future. Why do I strive for normalcy, when I know its simply not possible.

Things will change. That’s the way it goes.

Can Optimism Tide Over Pessimism Forever?

Yes, I am a pessimist at the core.

I embrace what’s grim, seek out for the negative aspects and revel in sadness. But, that’s deep within me. The outer orbit around which my core revolves is all shiny, sunny with a positive view of life. I guess if you have to survive in this long journey called life, you need optimism. It seems so ironical, because life is not exactly a happy, fun-filled journey all the time. In fact, most of the time, it is not happy, if not sad. Let’s call that ordinary. Not happy, not sad. Right in the center.

I have heard people say that life is like a sine wave, with troughs and peaks. I guess, that is again an optimistic view, because from where I stand, the peaks are far and few. Life is ordinary to a great degree, followed by sadness with a sprinkle of happiness. What if the ordinary becomes your happiness, and you don’t really care about the real happiness, the peaks in the sine wave that our life is?

That’s grim, I’d say.

“Why must I live?” – quipped a friend. He didn’t say “why should I live?”. If you look closely, there isn’t much difference in the two. The existential dimension in the ‘must’ is hard to ignore for me. I guess ‘should’ is more selfish reason, more to do with failed relationships, career etc. and a micro view of one’s life. Pessimism at its peak, but then everyone around me is not dying or committing suicide. Why?

All thanks to the strong pull of the “orbit of optimism”. Pull that draws its energy from your mind, people around us (who are equally fucked, but appear happy), and the general guidelines of living in a civilized world, being handed over from generation to generation.

There is a continuous, never ending battle between pessimism and optimism everyday. With each morning as I wake up, pessimism loses, only to gear up to come back strongly in the evening or night.

I am closely watching the battle.

Around the world in a lifetime of reading…

Long ago, while browsing through books in a library, a thought crossed my mind – why don’t I pick up books from various authors around the world and start reading them one by one, like a lifelong project… Well, like other millions of thoughts, I didn’t act on it and completely forgot about it.

However, in recent past, I have given a boost to reading good literature on a continuous basis. Without realizing, I have read selected works of Albert Camus (Algerian), Franz Kafka (Czech Republic), Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy (both Russian), Herman Melville, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner (All American), Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir (both French), Bertrand Russell, Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell (All English), Jorge Luis Borges (Argentine), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombian), J M Coetzee (South African) and so on.. Off course, I have read works of Indian greats such as Jawaharlal Nehru, R K Narayan, Prem Chand, Saadat Hasan Manto, Khushwant Singh among others…

As I analyze It does seem to me that somewhere in my sub conscious, the particular thought remained registered. I would confess that I started with existentialism literature and alongside I picked up books of different writing styles (Borges, Garcia, Woolf, Coetzee, Kerouac etc. to name a few), all without intention. Not to forget, a great course I completed in summer 2013 on the Coursera platform – “a fiction of relationship” offered by Dr Arnold Weinstein of Brown University, which required reading 5-10 books as a part of curriculum. I am pretty glad that I completed the course and got to read wonderful books as a result.

All in all, I am pleased that I did follow up on what seems like a great idea to understand the myriad worlds that are so different from where I was born and earning and breaking my bread. The reading is the best I can do in lieu of travelling the world and get to experience things in real life. and when I do land up in few of these places mentioned above, I hope I would appreciate the culture a bit better.

I plan to now consciously go for great authors from various parts of the world and read to my content (or rather continent :)). At the same time, I plan to also read multiple works of these authors mentioned above, as some of them have written a number of masterpieces.

To achieve my objective seriously, internet has been of great help – I am trying to follow the 2 lists mentioned below to complete my objective;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_100_Best_Books_of_All_Time

http://web.stanford.edu/~bkunde/best/bl-crank.htm

I regret that I wasn’t a literature student as a part of my formal education – However, I plan to make up for it by being a life long student of good literature, wherever it originates from.

I would close by mentioning few wonderful piece of prose from a  book I read recently, “Love in the time of cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The book has a generous helping of some simple, yet meaningful piece of prose and I did made a note of these clever gems whenever I came across one. Here are some top ones:

“…But when a woman decides to sleep with a man, there is no wall she will not scale, no fortress she will not destroy, no moral consideration she will not ignore at its very root: there is no God worth worrying about…”

“…She knew that he loved her above all else, more than anything in the world, but only for his own sake…”

“…She discovered with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because they are one’s children but because of the friendship formed while raising them…”

“….Always remember that the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability…”

“…With her Florentino Ariza learned what he had already experienced many times without realizing it: that one can be in love with several people at the same time, feel the same sorrow with each, and not betray any of them. Alone in the midst of the crowd on the pier, he said to himself in a flash of anger: ‘My heart has more rooms than a whorehouse…”

“…I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of Him…”

“…She searched the truth with an anguish almost as great as her terrible fear of finding it…”

Some thoughts on why I blog?

I am not a blogger, nor I intend to be. I am just expressing my thoughts and leaving it in space and see if someone catches it. Because if I speak about what I write, I will be talking to myself, which is not exactly pleasant. Plus I get to record my thoughts. Plus it gives you an insight into my mind – Not that you are interested anyway.

I am not and don’t pretend to be an expert in the areas I write about. Whatever I post are simply my thoughts and deepest feelings about random issues and topics, which people in real life are least interested about. That’s the way I am I guess – I care about inconsequential while ignore the essentials.

Urge to express myself is increasing with every day I spend. May be it’s a passing fad. May be I just need to get it out of the system.

Let me pick up a book to read…

Anybody for a nice Conversation?

Conversations as I write, face extinction. No, I don’t mean the kind we have everyday, but the one that forces you to think, gets the ‘real’ you talking, that kind. The one that forces you to take a position, a fundamental, philosophical position and not just the one that is somebody else’s view making way through your mouth. The one that has gracious helpings of your attitude, your views and how you perceive life. The one that will blow away your facade and exposes the real you, without you bothering about what your interlocutor would think!

When was the last time you had a real conversation like this, and how you wished it would never end?

Off course, we do ‘talk’ a lot in our daily lives. How much of these ‘talks’ have you really hooked on, is not difficult to guess. But we have to do it anyway. We talk to family, co-workers, shopkeepers, tele-callers and so on. About real mundane issue, that are important for us to carry out our daily chores. Here’s a listing of what constitutes 90% of what I talk about on a nice, sunny weekday of my life:

  1. Food: What to eat, where to eat from (if eating out)
  2. Work: to-do things, meetings, general bitching about boss / co-workers, working conditions, speed of execution etc.
  3. Newspaper headlines: On political issues / crime situation / sports / current affairs / Bizarre happenings around
  4. Weather / Commuting etc.
  5. Listen and respond to things others have to say

The remaining 10% is what I converse with myself, which is not related to above and gets me thinking and shakes up my brain.  This 10% is what I really would like to talk about. Most of it, however, evaporates without conclusion.

Why is it so difficult to have a ‘real conversation’?

Well, to have a conversation, you need someone to keep up and respond to the discussion with same (or more) vigor and enthusiasm. A highly unlikely event unless the topic under discussion lies in the intersection of your / your interlocutor’s interests. Being reserved and introverted doesn’t help either.

Secondly, finite time. With our busy lives, spending time on something which doesn’t have a real value (except intellectual satisfaction), would seem like a bad deal. Being ‘to-the-point’ is the motto. Reach office. work. Head back home.

Finally, the mode. Good, long conversations happens face-to-face with visual and other body cues. The instant messaging / anything over internet is a conversation killer. One does a multiple things while conversing over internet / IM (check mail, read news, listen to music, watch a video etc.)

Now I know why long for the weekends – searching for those elusive conversations.

Mediocrity is the new perfection…

While returning from a recent road trip, my friend and I were discussing about “what do you want to achieve before we hit 40?”. I guess making a to-do list is in fashion. Anyway, a lot of things came up. While my friend focused on consolidating and strengthening his wishlist (the one that is quite constant from past 10 years or so), I was thinking of new things I could add into the list. I wonder how many ‘ticks’ each one of us would have managed in our lists when we indeed hit 40.

The point is not the list, it is what a tick mark on that list item signify? That you have done it, done it well or done it exceedingly well? My friend was clear – Do it exceedingly well. Take up whatever you want to do, excel in that and move on. Simple. Not quite.

I do not / never could follow this line of thought. Whenever I take up something, understand it and by the time I do that and do it reasonably well, something else catches my fancy, and off I go. Its the breadth of experiences that matter to me rather than depth. I want to know so many things in the limited time that we have at disposal. There’s so much to do in life, varied things to try and learn, that I feel if I attempt to be an expert at something, I would just lose too much time and lose the curiosity. and then it will be end of my useful life.

There is more to it. It is the perfection vs. mediocrity debate. I am fine with being mediocre in a number of things rather than becoming an expert in few. No, it is not the same thing as “Jack vs. Master”. its just that I never get obsessed about anything. I have not wanted something really really badly. If I don’t get it, its fine. May be there’s something else waiting for me. and something else. and so on…

I wonder is it because of the life my parents lived? Same city, same profession, same food, same lifestyle. Somewhere I remember saying to myself that “I will not fear change, but embrace it”. I am not sure I have been able to stick to it or not – but in last 6 years, I have lived in 4 different cities and have changed my profession thrice. A thought of settling down and ‘living happily ever after’ never crossed my mind. I kept on forcing a change or change happened to me. Stability scares me.

I know one must rest, settle down, take mortgage, work like hell, move up the ladder, earn ever more, upgrade, and so on…But who wants to go down a beaten path? Take the road less traveled, or make your own path – not to reach anywhere, but just to travel. Because milestones, like experts, bore me.