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 ~ Céline, de cinq à sept

To the edge (di George Christakis) Diary of Céline Jeurève, February 12, 2048

Charles: how I miss him this maverick husband of mine, he who sends me those erotic little messages that never fail to affect me (in a sweet way)! He has to be away when I am getting more and more anxious – is this how I feel? – about our friend Monica. What are her intentions? Indeed what are Charles’ intentions? Am I becoming paranoid? Is this what the absence of the object of desire does to the ageing woman? Smiling to myself writing this “ageing woman”…

Well, maybe thirty years ago, but not now! Ah the marvel of medicine!

Charles’ last message, when was it? This morning at about three my time! Fortunately I muted the pad so I found those soft words of him at breakfast time, a couple hours later. He said Kyoto was cold, and estimated his return this coming weekend. I want him. Badly.

London, where I was yesterday, is drenched, the whole island is sinking, metaphorically for now, into the sea. Despite the gigantic efforts to control the planet temperature, over the last thirty years, this maybe where our science hits a solid wall, and, this time, not of our own making. Human activities we have now got under control, a development of a mere couple of decades, mind you, and that took a few disasters and a lot of tough work (as well as the disappearance, real this time, of a few “dinosaurs” on the right of Gengis Khan)… But planet engineering still escapes us, redirecting sunlight, recovering the deserts, all this is moving forward but at a slow, far too slow, pace. In the meantime we will soon be mining Mars…

I am lecturing at the Sorbonne, dear old lady, this morning. Will continue tonight. Writing is good for the soul.

Message from Charles Jeurève to his wife Céline, February 13, six am, Tokyo time

The conference went extremely well. It looks as if preparatory work for a formal protocol between the Federation and the Pacific Alliance should start soon. The North-American Union will have an observer too. I confirm my return this Saturday, not sure of the time yet, the shuttles are very busy, and I am privileged to be booked on one of the official European Federation special flights. Still working on the Azymuth article. I miss you too, and no, I do not lust after anyone else, silly girl. Consider yourself well, better than well, loved, by me.

Transcript of video call from Monica Ross to Céline Jeurève, February 14, seven am, Johannesburg

– … I’ll be back to Milan tomorrow early evening… 

Okay, staying there or?

– At least for a day, stuff to reconcile with the local office, but when are you free?

– Charles only coming back on Saturday, don’t know when yet…

– Do you mind if I land on you earlier?

– Of course not, I’m still lecturing today but will finish early – call me when you know will you?

– O yes, I am so pleased, kisses…

– Take care Monica, kiss.

Image: Copyright All rights reserved by George Christakis

#AtoZChallenge: April 29, 2013 ~ Yalta (Conference)

Yalta Conference, February 4-11, 1945

Yalta Conference
Yalta Conference in February 1945 with (from left to right) Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Also present are USSR Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (far left); Field Marshal Alan Brooke, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, RN, Marshal of the RAF Sir Charles Portal, RAF, (standing behind Churchill); George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, (standing behind Roosevelt).

It was their last meeting, the last Allies Conference of the War, that was to reorganise Europe in “peace-time”.  WWII was drawing to a close: soon Hitler would be dead in the ruins of Berlin, soon the USSR, and her martyrs, would win the war, at last, at the price of 25 million dead.

Soon President Roosevelt would die.  The former Allies would become the enemies of the Cold War.  Atomics would be dropped on defenceless Japanese cities.  When they meet again in Potsdam, in August 1945, Truman is President, the dice are down, and the Cold War has started, in all but the name.  But still, in this cold month of February, 1945, it was possible to hope… against all hopes.  German refugees were flowing through the ruined roads and cities of central Europe, in their millions.  For the next 45 years Germany would be a divided country.

In the US Roosevelt’s New Deal would survive in the guise the warfare/welfare state till the late 70’s, then other demons would take over.

Britain was a shadow of her former self, then a hopelessly indebted country, the country soon of  Orwell’s “1984” –  of food rationing perduring till the 50’s, still a colonial power, although not for much longer.

The long night of Stalinism would last until 1954, the year a French army was defeated in Dien-Bien-Phu in what would be soon called the Republic of North-Viet-Nam, and was still then “l’ Indochine”, and the United Nations (chiefly the US and Britain) would stop bombing what was already North-Korea.

#AtoZChallenge: April 11, 2013 ~ Japan

Byôdô-in When I was a very young man, a boy still really, I imagined Japan as a beautiful and mysterious – hence unattainable – woman.  For at that age, one looks at countries one has not visited, let alone lived in, as one does those unfathomable creatures of the opposite gender, with a sense of wonder.

Assiduously I frequented the local dojo, which was run by the departmental GPO, in that far away antiquity before those marvellous public organisations were “privatised”, that is plundered, and perfected my throws.

I thought of the 1,800 islands Japan is made of, learnt about the Way of the Warrior –  the Bushido – admired films of kids of my age practising Kendo the way we kicked the ball at my school.  Then I learnt about the long history of a sea-faring and proud people who kept their country closed to the rest of the world for centuries. I learnt about the Tsunamis,  Mount Fuji, the bombs, the geography. I dreamed of Shikoku, the island of the 88 temples, of the mysteries of Kyoto, the imperial city, of the hero-Samurais, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, of the art and magic of the swordsmiths.  I even considered buying myself a Katana…

Katana Then I learned about Seppuku, read Mishima.  One of my judo coaches was a Vietnamese expert who had studied at the Kodokan: I resolved to go there, sometime.

Much later I discovered Haruki Murakami who wrote – still writes – like a Westerner with the elegance and poetry of his country.  And I fell in love – metaphorically – with Naoko (Norwegian Wood), Miss Saeki (Kafka on the Shore) and Naomame (1Q84)…

Japan is the third largest world economy by GDP, and the sixth military power by budget.  After Singapore she has the lowest homicide rate in the world.

Next year – 2014, or 1Q84 plus 30 years – Gorgeous and I are going to Japan, and she said she would come with me to the Kodokan, provided I visited the 88 temples of Shikoku with her, which I promised.  We will look for the second moon.

Daily Prompt: Judgment Day

If you were to judge your favorite book by its cover, would you still read it?

1Q84 1Q84, Haruki Murakami’s masterpiece, is a long poem to love and the irrepressible human spirit: this cover is a joy to look at – the butterflies in the greenhouse, and the two moons.  The two moons signal that this world is another world, and that finding one’s beloved soul mate is to find the way back to the old world, the one before the fall.

Yes I would fall in love again with this novel, just looking at the cover! But then I am a fan of Murakami…






#DPChallenge ~ 2 AM Photo

It’s 2AM and your phone has just buzzed you awake, filling the room in white-blue LED light. You have a message. It’s a photo. No words, no explanation. Just a photo. Tell us all about it. And what happens next.

One New Message As usual I wake up in seconds.  And immediately I know where this pic comes from, and you know I know.  So you must be, perhaps, on your own?  Well I am, as probably you know now…

Yes I like the picture, I like the ring, your ring, where the ring is, and what is around it, close to it. And I am staying calm: you are, after all, some four thousand miles from me, and even making a start now, it will be a good twenty hours before I can get there, and touch your ring… So far away you are, my treasure, and your country is still a mystery for me – as you are.  Its 2 in the morning here, so it’s five in the afternoon for you.  I have just noticed, the pic is just now, a few minutes back.  My mind is racing.  Not for long, I know this cold determination.  I’ll catch the next available flight.  Here is my picture in the meantime…

#WritersWednesday: September 12 – The Greatest Longing

Inspired by Wednesday Writing Prompt, courtesy Amanda L. Webster (@missmandy76)

The Greatest Longing

 He was away for a few days, the first time in nearly a year that they were apart for more than a few hours. On the morning he left she drove him to the airport: “I’ll be back in a sec…” he said to her, holding her high in his arms, his eyes locked into hers. Then he was gone, she got back to their place, suddenly silent.

In their study her pictures were everywhere, they had been editing the book they wanted to publish, soon. He was adamant they should do it, immortalise those precious forms, their intimacy. Her eyes were damp. She walked upstairs to their room, looking at the large bed, still undone, his books left open on the rug, a shirt of his on their chair, and… yes… his collar and hers on the little table. Slowly she showered, without him, on her own, the first time in months. Then she dressed, soberly, jeans, a black T-shirt, her hair in a bun.

Downstairs she got on with cleaning the kitchen, then the lounge. On the terrace she watered their “garden”.  She made coffee, and nearly choked in her mug, as she started crying, finally giving in. How will she cope tonight? Who would he meet at that conference? Will he call her? She thought of timezones, Japan was so far away…

In the evening she knew she would stay awake, waiting for his call. She got a text: turn on the Mac and the camera. He was calling her from his hotel room, on a video link. His face appeared on the large screen, smiling to her, incredibly clear: “First the good news”, he said charmingly, “I am back tomorrow, and expect you there on the dot!” She was now wet with tears and a little aroused. “And now for the very bad news: look at what I found in Tokyo!” He was showing her a little dildo, marvellously chiselled, in a beautiful wooden box covered with Kanji characters. Then his face came closer, his lips so clear, and she embraced the screen, her face flooded with tears of joy.

#WritersWednesday: August 1st

Yukio Mishima, the last Samurai

 He was one of the most gifted and original writers of his generation, straddling western modernity and, at the same time, rooted in the heroic traditions of his country, Japan. His death, following the samurai ritual of the seppuku, confirmed his uniqueness, in what he saw as an age of cowardice and pretence. Dying by his sword may have been his finest hour.

Kimitake Hiraoka – the author Yukio Mishima –  was born on January 14, 1925, in the Yotsuya district of Tokyo. He was listed three times for the Nobel prize for literature. He wrote forty novels, and works of poetry, plays and Noh and Kabuki dramas. He was also an actor and directed one film. A fluent English writer and speaker, his interviews can be found here. His last work, The Sea of Fertility tetralogy, was described by Paul Theroux as “the most complete vision that we have of Japan in the twentieth century.”

Playing tag!

 A big smile and thank you to Holly Michael (@HollyMichael) for tagging my photoblog and inviting me to tag in turn! As is the tradition, here are my answers to 11 questions, and then my tags…

1/ If you could change your name, what would you change it to and why? I probably would not, but, say, having to do it, would be to Constantine, in honor of the Christian emperor of Rome (blushing)

2/ Name 3 things you couldn’t live without (not people or animals): my iPad, my old climbing boots, my camera (Nikon!)

3/ Which do you prefer – beach or forest? Why? I think forest, I come from there!

4/ Do you have a ‘I need to do this by the time I am ……‘ age? Which one is it? Visiting Japan (before I can no longer stand long haul flights!)

5/ Laptop or desktop? I write on my Mac mini, or for short text, my iPad, but, have to say, salivating over the Macbook Retina…

6/ Are you still friends with your best friend from childhood? sadly not, actually the subject of The Page, my unfinished novel (in a way)

7/ If you could critique any book, which one would it be? A La Recherche du Temps PerduFor me it is the 20th century defining novel, at least in French…

8/ Describe your perfect day? Walking with my wife in the mountains by clear weather

9/ Where in the world do you feel most at home? At home

10/ Do you talk with your hands (ie do you gesture wildly when you talk?) Sometime, depends on audience

11/ How well do you know the history of your country of birth? Quite well, French history was one of my strong subjects at school, and I have kept reading about it.

My tags – beautiful writers’s blogs I keep visiting:

Photo blogs (random selection):

I don’t expect the last four to be “taggable”!

#AtoZChallenge: April 28 – Y is for ¥

The Yen is Japan’s national currency. Its importance  in the world foreign exchange (Forex) markets reflect the size and dynamism of the Japanese economy. Japanese Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the measure of an industrial nation’s economic strength, is third worldwide, after the US and China.

Since the demise of the Bretton Woods agreement in 1973, the world’s currencies are floating, with the US Dollar (USD) succeeding so far in maintaining its position as primary reserve currency. Since the global financial crisis of 2008 that position is under increasing pressure, as the US stand accused by many of abusing their seignorage position, thus holding their creditors hostage to their ability to reduce the national debt through devaluation, and hence the downgrading of US Treasury bonds (the IOU’s held by the creditor countries, of which Japan, China, India and Saudi Arabia are leaders).

Among the world currencies the Yen, and, increasingly the Chinese Renminbi, dominate the Asian Forex markets.

The exchange rate between the US Dollar and the leading Asian currencies, Yen and Renminbi, are of crucial importance for the trade balance of those countries with America. There is a long history, since the onset of the “long downturn” in the 70’s, of a tug-of-war between the US  and leading exporting nations, Germany, Japan and now China, for which the US is the premium market.

World-class centres for Forex are located in Tokyo, Hong-Kong, Frankfurt, Chicago, New-York, Sydney and in the City of London (more exactly its extension of Canary Wharf). There the main Forex dealing institutions trade in Yen and hope soon to create Renminbi desks (so far restricted to Hong-Kong).