Picture of book
March was Murakami Month. 31 days of special attention for the famous & well-loved author Haruki Murakami. What a good idea for a Hello Japan mini challenge!

This month’s task is to read, or otherwise experience Haruki Murakami’s work.

I have already read a LOT of Murakami’s books, so I decided not to join in the The Wind-up Bird Chronicle read-along, nor the Japanese Literature Book Group choice of A Wild Sheep Chase & Dance, Dance, Dance. But of course I could not let March pass without any Murakami on my plate! And since I don’t get much reading done these days, I have only read Murakami this month! Next to Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book read-along that is…

Cover Blind Willow, Sleeping WomanFirst I picked Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman of the shelf; a collection of Murakami tales. I’m not really a short-story-grrl: I like to dig into a book and need some time to get acquainted with (get a feel for) the characters. My problem with short stories and novella’s is that they seem to be over before they begin :\ But I do want to read the complete works of Murakami, so ‘Blind Willow’ became a buddy read with Elsje. She finished it a while ago whereas I’m still only half way! Is it that bad??? No, not at all ;) I like the characters and the magical atmosphere, so I am really enjoying myself. It’s also nice that I can (often) finish a story in one sitting. But the book does not call out to me to come and read NOW, the way a pageturner does.

So. To complete my mission I could have chosen to write a review of just one of the stories. Or to rent the Tony Takitani dvd again. But nooooo. I did something else I want to tell you about: I reread another, special edition of short stories by Haruki Murakami! It’s called Een stoomfluit midden in de nacht and was a 2006-2007 New Year’s gift of a group of Dutch publishers. Not for sale :) My copy was generously given to me by maupi, who came by it through her work as a translator.

Special edition of short stories by Haruki MurakamiNext to the title story Yonaka no kiteki ni tsuite (originally published in 1995), this publication contains two other stories: Kreta Kanō (Kanō Kureta, 1993) and De tweeling en het verzonken continent (Futago to shinzunda tairiku, 1985). It’s a real scoop because these stories have never before been translated into a foreign language! ^_^

So I now stand for the great task to translate the titles in English — from Dutch, because I don’t read Japanese LOL. The name of the book means literally: A Steam Whistle in the Middle of the Night. Maybe someone can give a hint whether it is the same in Japanese?

* * * Note: the rest of this post contains spoilers! * * *

The story A Steam Whistle in the Middle of the Night is REALLY short: only 3 pages. But it’s the most beautiful of the lot, and maybe that’s why it is also the title of the book; even though it’s the closing story. It’s a heartwarming narrative of a boy expressing his love for a girl. To truly feel the extent of it, she needs to understand first how awful, absolutely gruesome it is to wake up alone in the middle of the night, far from reality. Like being locked up in an iron coffin that has sunk to the bottom of a deep sea — running out of oxygen. The only thing that can bring you back is the faraway sound of a steam whistle. That’s how much he loves her.

Aw.. The image of a steam whistle in the night recalled my childhood, lying in bed on those rare nights of extreme fog.

The first story of A Steam Whistle in the Middle of the Night is Kreta Kanō. Those of you who have read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle will immediately recognize the name :) Kreta works for her Sister, Malta Kanō, who listens to the sounds of body fluids to solve people’s problems. Kreta’s got a huge problem too… She is so irresistible to men that once they lay their eyes on her, they need to possess her: assault being the result. All men. Malta says it’s because her water is out of synch with her body. That’s why men are attracted to her — like the tides, I guess. It’s a fascinating story, set after her adventures in ‘Wind-up Bird’. Kreta also brought to mind the woman in Taichi Yamada’s novel Strangers

The ‘longest’ story in this 61 page booklet is called The Twins and the Sunken Continent (again my translation is very literal so I’m open to improvement :) I should read it for a third time because it’s a typical Murakami, making me wonder what the hell it’s all about. There are two mysterious twin sisters (who are also supposed to appear in his novel Pinball, 1973; a book I unfortunately still lack!), a glass club in Roppongi, weird dreams and a missing colleague called Noboru Watanabe — again a name that may sound familiar. In an early story that was later made into The Wind-up Bird Chronicle both the missing cat and the protagonist’s brother-in-law bear that name. In the novel they were renamed to Noboru Wataya. It is said that in real life Haruki Murakami has a very good friend called Noboru Watanabe ;)

Een stoomfluit in het midden van de nacht is a real gem to have. It even makes me reread – and read once again; something I normally just don’t do.

So as you can probably tell, I’ve had a great Murakami March!
I hope I’ve made you join in the fun a bit?!

* All stories in Een stoomfluit midden in de nacht are translated from Japanese by Jacques Westerhoven, © 2003.

Earlier I’ve posted some of my thoughts on A Wild Sheep Chase on Graasland (in Dutch).

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