Between absence and presence

A reading of Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

Jean_Siméon_Chardin_-_Draughtsman_-_WGA04754

 

This is Mr Murakami’s latest work, published in Japan in 2017, and translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen (I guess: a tour de force). First of all, I must say that, in my view, this is Mr Murakami’s most accomplished work thus far, a fascinating, troubling and at time challenging novel. To be sure, long haul readers will find there a familiar atmosphere, but also the unknown. I will not spoil anything, but mention some ideas and metaphors.

There is a young artist, a portrait painter, and his beautiful, estranged wife. There is a, now dead, beloved little sister. There is  a lone timber house, high up in the mountains, which belongs to a famous old painter. There is an owl in the attic. Across the valley, there is a big, strange house, with a stranger owner.

The young artist teaches drawing at a local school. He lives on his own, in the timber house, with the owl in the attic, visits the attic, walks in the woods. Behind a little shrine he discovers a pit, the pit in the woods. There is the start of the quest, with a surprising painting, and a bell.

There is Vienna, at the time of the Anschluss, there is the war in China, but this is the past, with deep consequences for the present. The old painter is famous for his classical formal Japanese paintings, but this one painting…

The novel oscillates between dream and an even more unfathomable reality. There is a lovely, pubescent young girl, her beautiful aunt, and two portraits, or is it three?

Once started this, as with all of Mr Murakami’s work, the book becomes desperately addictive: one dreads the prospect of finishing the book.

Yet the quest has to be completed, through sacrifice and ordeal.

I must add a warning: if readers wish to cross the river, between absence and presence, they must pay the ferryman. So, have your penguin ready!

That’s about the size of it.

Image: der Zeichner (the young draughtsman) by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

In a deep well, reflections on reading Haruki Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-up Bird ChronicleIt is a rare writer who can combine the spectra of recent history in its full horror, the dreams of love, and the mysteries of the soul. So is Monsieur Murakami.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was published in Japan in 1995, and once again, I regretted my inability to read the novel in the writer’s language. Yet Jay Rubin’s translation is a wonder on its own right. This was perhaps, for this reader, the most difficult Murakami’s novel so far, considerably harder reading than 1Q84 or, my all-time favourite, Kafka on the Shore. Kafka’s influence, among many others, is there, for the central character, Toru Okada, has to endure a metamorphosis of his own, once the house cat disappears, shortly followed by mysterious and fragile Kumiko, Toru’s wife.

However I won’t spoil this read for my followers, those who haven’t yet read this extraordinary work. The story is rooted in the memories of the atrocious war fought on the periphery of the Asian continent, in the country Imperial Japan named Manchukuo. There the Japanese army faced the might of the Soviet Union, from the late thirties, before the war extended to the whole of Asia and Europe.

Perhaps uniquely in its descriptions, the Wind-up Bird Chronicle is pitiless in plunging the reader in the depth of man’s inhumanity to man, and nature. Toru, surrounded by strange women who may not all be human, just about survives the metamorphosis imposed on him, through the grace of friendship, and the skills of his protector, unforgettable Nutmeg. The truth, factual or not, is to be found at the bottom of the well.

In the strange loops that link the characters, across time and spaces, humble objects such a red vinyl hat, or a baseball hat, there resides the mystery of the human soul. And a small cat’s tail…

 

The Edge ~ a call from Kyoto

Silver dress Message from Charles to Céline Jeurève, dated February 10, 2048, from Kyoto

C: I am glad we could link up this weekend – and sorry again I had to rush out to Japan at such short notice. I did not expect Azymuth to send me here, rather than one their usual custodian hacks for such events. But the Pan-Pacific conference is a moving event, with the recent invitation to the BRICS Federation! I think they want me to do a touch of forecasting on what will come next between them and the Pacific Alliance around key people interviews. The word on the street is that Japan is keen on a “rapprochement”…

Have you heard from Monica? Her last call before I flew out here was a bit desperate, she said to be just fed up with the pressure on her from her present contract with the South-African Fashion Consortium: big money comes with tall expectations she said. Can you give her a call, or a swift mail, and reassure her? Of course she will be welcome week after next if she wants a break and a change from J’burg! She’s still in Milan for a few days.

Kisses & more ;-P

Transcript of video call between Charles and Céline (February 10, 2048, 10pm Tokyo time)

– Charles you’re a charmer… So you went to the Manga museum!…

– Yep a bit of relaxation before the interviews – by the way did you know that the likely commander of the Mars mission is rumoured to be Sandra N’gebî, of the SA Air Force?

– Saw her pic in today’s news, she’s the youngest Air Force general in the federation apparently. Doctorate from Pretoria Technology Institute, studied space navigation in Shanghai and Mumbai, flies her own reconstructed F 15, for fun!

– Have to rush my love – the conference press room is at the Gosho – got my pack yesterday…

– Take care Don Juan, my special – consider yourself well…

– Aw… now… my turn… nice lil’ number you wearing…

– Steady now!

Email from Monica to Céline Jeurève, dated February 10, 2048, from Milan

Taking five secs to write, week was hectic. I love the SA people but they are tough masters, or I should say Mistresses given that both my bosses are female! The SAFC is on the up and up – have great expansion plans through the BRICS and North America. Am missing you and Charles very much, want to have time again with you two. Am off to SA before back in London week later. I hope you loved the pics. I liked the silver dress, thought of you… ❤

PS is Azymuth the same mag that published Charles’ short story last year?

Message from Céline Jeurève to her husband Charles, dated February 10, 2048, marked “late before bed”

Got word from M. Yes she’s keen. Is she keen on “us”, “you”, or “me” – or all at the same time?! She’s lovely. You saw the movie of the catwalk, they went nuts… Reminded me of that moment in Glamorama when Chloe and Victor go on stage… ‘Xcept there is no Victor as far as I can see: do you know?

Btw she remembered your story in Azymuth! When are you back, feel already itchy…? Forensic sucks. Strange how a science can attain its apogee when its use is near rock bottom!

Saw another portrait of Sandra-F15-N to nite on the newsreel. She’s stunning, currently in Moscow. Another video from the Gosho tomorrow? Please… Surprise for you if we do…

Narrator’s historical note

The reference to the Pacific Alliance in Charles’ message is interesting. Following the World Peace Conferences in the early ’30s, after the disastrous decade that preceded, and in response to the formation of the BRICS Federation, the (other) Pacific nations attempted to develop a similar structure, with Japan, the Philippines and the Australia-New Zealand Confederation at its core. The result is still evolving, slowly, due in part to anxiety on the part of the North-American Union.  The invite to Charles to attend the Pan Pacific conference, from the Azymuth magazine (a spin-off from the European Federation’s Press Academy think-tank) may be due to his early articles and short stories on the “origins of the East Asian consensus”.

#AtoZChallenge: April 30, 2013 ~ Zero

Zero

Zero

Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero” Model 21 takes off from the aircraft carrier Akagi, to attack Pearl Harbor.

Well, this is the last post of this series, and I have succeeded in keeping slightly ahead of myself for the whole Challenge!

This last post is about aircrafts and engineering, and bravery.

The “Zero” was one of the finest fighters of WWII. It was the Mitsubishi A6M (Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter) in service in the Japanese Imperial Navy from 1940 to 1944.  In the early operations of the Pacific War it was considered as the most capable carrier-based fighter in the world, and gained a legendary reputation as a dogfighter, achieving a kill ratio of 12 to 1.  After 1942 US industrial might and engineering skills more than offset this advantage, with more powerful engines, better weaponry and manoeuvrability approaching the Zero.  War accelerates everything, technical progress, and the destruction of man.