Another Contemporary Japanese Literary Piece: Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto Publisher:Faber&Faber Source:Publisher Buy the Book
After my last review on a Japanese classic, today I switch my gear and want to write about the novel titled Amrita. This novel is written by one of the well-known Japanese contemporary writers, Banana Yoshimoto. Many Japanese literature enthusiasts perhaps know Yoshimoto through her famous short novel, Kitchen. Although Amrita is among Yoshimoto’s less-known works, she received the 5th Murasaki Shikibu prize for literature with this work. If you go to a bookstore and check the shelf where Yoshimoto’s works are lined, Amrita stands out because it is the most voluminous work she has ever written. Except for Amrita, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Yoshimoto usually writes very short pieces. It is not really significant, but still an interesting point as I could not help wondering why she chose to write a lengthy work like Amrita after all her short novels 🙂 Of course, after reading the novel from beginning to the end, I tried to come up with an answer. However, I will not share it here. I am leaving the judgement to you and your experience with her works 🙂
Despite its length, Amrita is a novel about the never-ending cycle of life including major events as well as very trivial things that it encompasses. The theme is blended with the elements of magical realism through the protagonist’s memory loss and some supernatural occurrences. And for those readers, who got familiar with the works of Haruki Murakami first, elements of magical realism would certainly remind them of Murakami whose characters are also swayed from one place to another by life. However, the similarity between them does not go beyond that.
The protagonist of the novel is a female character who has lost her memories and her connection with the past. Like a typical Yoshimoto female character, yearning for a bond with others, she tries to regain her memories through connections she re-establishes with her inner circle as well as her encounters with other curious characters in the novel. According to Joanna Briscoe’s 19 July 1997 review chastising the novel for its lack of purpose in The Independent, “If Amrita was set in Surrey, no one would give a damn. Thank heavens for tatami mats, bamboo blinds and the smell of cooking prawns, because without such automatic triggers, devoid of the rubber stamp of coolness currently bestowed by all things Japanese, Amrita would seem banal for a western audience, to the point of mystification.” Briscoe’s observations hold true to the extent that a closure is generally anticipated at the end of a novel, whether that would be an international work or a piece from our own culture. However, Briscoe’s review falls short as she treats Amrita as an exotic piece and isolates it from its socio-cultural circumstances.
Unlike Briscoe, I think lack of closure in Amrita seems to serve a purpose if we take into account the time Yoshimoto wrote this novel. The novel was written in 1994. In other words, it was written in the wake of the economic downturn, a period known in Japan for uncertainties regarding the future as well as increase in crime rate etc. Protagonist’s tie with the past, which becomes blurry as a result of her memory loss, reveals itself as a means of questioning the meaning of being a family through the perpetual trivialities of life. She juxtaposes her relation with her dead sister with non-family member characters. While she feels that she was not close enough to her younger sister who dies at a very early age, she regards anyone simply living under the same roof with her as a family member. Or, an encounter with a stranger surprisingly enough creates feelings of nostalgia. In an age in which past values were rapidly changing and future did not look that promising, forging connections can also be understood as a means of making sense of these changing circumstances. Therefore, it seems that precariousness that shaped 1990s Japan is subtly underscored in Amrita through an emphasis on the meaning of being a family or our relations to others. If you want to spend your commuting hours in a more enjoyable way and familiarise yourself with contemporary Japanese literature, Amrita is definitely a must-read 🙂
A Review of Natsume Soseki’s Botchan
Botchan by Natsume Soseki Publisher: Penguin Classics Source: Publisher Buy the Book
Natsume Soseki’s Botchan was among the set of novels that I read during the last semester. I have already written about two of the novels from that time, now it is Botchan’s turn 🙂 Undoubtedly, any literature enthusiast, familiar with Japanese history and literature, remembers terms such as Westernization and Meiji restoration as soon as they hear the name of the Japanese writer, Natsume Soseki. The issue of Westernization is usually problematized in Soseki’s works either as in the unfortunate and heartbreaking story, Kokoro or humorous and entertaining one such as Botchan.
In this review, however, I want to dwell on the character of Botchan rather than the West and East problem, already discussed in detail by many scholars and reviewers. Rather than a critical analysis, I want to focus on Botchan the character himself because the way Soseki portrays him establishes this work as a universal and enjoyable work for many readers with different cultural backgrounds.
Botchan is a young teacher, originally from Tokyo, but dispatched to Matsuyama, Shikoku. Taking pride in being an Edokko, he is the type who does not hesitate to criticize the set of circumstances he is surrounded by in rural Japan. As soon as he starts teaching in the elementary school he has been dispatched to, he encounters various curious characters and tries to see through their disguises while struggling with the little tricks being played on him.
Being very sensitive to injustices, our quick-tempered protagonist has no qualms about confronting those people straight in the face. While his naïve way of confronting people to solve problems and injustices makes Botchan more vulnerable to criticism and disapproval from his colleagues, I totally sympathize with his methods 🙂 After gaining some experience in his new living and working environment, Botchan also notices that his methods are not effective at all. Despite that, at the end of the novel the protagonist deals the situation in his usual way, he brings the justice with his fists and returns to Tokyo.
Certainly, the way Botchan handles the situation sounds immature as well as naïve. This is because the idea of bringing justice with your fists somehow reminds me of a defence mechanism being applied as a result of feelings of resentment and hurt in order to protect one’s ego. Yet, even if it is not a real slap or punch on the face, but rather a metaphorical one, it is sometimes all we need in times of conflict without any hope of resolution to move forward and rid of feelings of resenment. It is for this reason Botchan is a special and interesting character for me 🙂
Strange Weather in Tokyo Review
Published by Portobello Books
This very short novel is the very first literary writing I have read from Hiromi Kawakami. Therefore, I am not entirely familiar with her style, but I could not help reading this very short piece like a bookworm whenever little time I had, which means I read it mostly on the trains while commuting to the university. Okay, let’s get down to the story!
The entire story revolves around two characters, Tsukiko and Sensei. As soon as I saw the name, sensei, it immediately reminded me of Soseki’s Kokoro. However, unlike Soseki’s story, Kawakami tells a romantic story of two lonely people. Tsukiko meets Sensei so many years after her graduation one day at a bar and then the story begins… First, she cannot recognize her teacher at all. It is Sensei, who first approaches her to talk. After their initial talk, it becomes a habit of theirs to drink together. Whenever they meet by chance at their usual bar, they drink and eat together. Like in any romance, they gradually start to have feelings for one another…
Up until here, the story may not sound like an interesting one. It is a very simple story indeed! However, the beauty of the story comes from its simplicity. Kawakami does not force any extraordinary element into the narrative to astonish her readers as to how a young woman and an old man fall for one another! The narration feels very sincere and natural. It is a story that everyone can definitely relate to, I believe. It has been such a long time since I read this novel and, as a result, I can only come up with the general story line! However, one of the interesting points in the story is the way Tsukiko and Sensei communicate. Or, I should say how little they communicate, but despite that they somehow manage to understand each other (well, perhaps Tsukiko is a little bit at a loss at the beginning J). Another point that I like is the fact that they are both lonely, but they face that reality up front without any resentment.
Overall, it is an interesting story to read. It is both enjoyable and good way to get familiar with the contemporary Japanese literature! I’ll try to add more details as I remember the story more or perhaps I can prepare a quote page for it to give a taste of it 😉
The Guest Cat Review
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide Published by Picador Format: Paperback Source: Publisher Buy the Book
It has been awfully long time since I last managed to write in this blog. Although I was able to finish quite a number of books within the last two months thanks to my amazingly long commuting hours to go to the university, somehow I could not write about any of them. It is not because I was extremely busy. I was as busy as I had been before. Yet, with the new semester starting in April, the amount of miscellaneous things I had to do made me feel exhausted at the end of the day and I found myself a bit reluctant to do any sort of writing so long as I did not have to. And on top of petty stuff I had to take care of, there was the nicest sort of distraction at the beginning of May, that is, Golden Week. Golden Week is one of these rare holidays you can have in Japan. Now wanting to miss the chance, I went to Okinawa, yes that famous beautiful tropical island. After spending a week in Okinawa, it was not that easy to go back to reality as you might imagine 🙂
Talking about going back to reality, which can be also regarded as some sort of change of pace and re-adjusting the self to the former conditions, today I want to introduce a less known Japanese poet and writer called Takashi Hiraide. I particularly chose this writer because Hiraide’s novel titled The Guest Cat is also about change or transition the Japanese went through triggered by the new economic conditions while the bubble economy was coming to an end in 1990s. When I came across Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat in Maruzen (a well-known bookstore in Japan) back in early April, in all honesty I first thought it must be one of the cliché cat-craze products. Still intrigued by the cat figure with sparkling green eyes on the cover, I found myself reaching out to the shelf. As soon as I managed to take my eyes off the bewitching eyes, I learned, to my surprise, novel became a The New York Times bestseller. In addition to its fame abroad, I also figured that Takashi Hirade won the Kiyama Shohei Literary award with this very short novel in Japan, so I decided to give it a try and bought the book.
This short novel or novella – whatever you might fancy to call it as the literary form is my least concern here regarding this piece of work – portrays a young couple whose steady life becomes full of a different sense of meaning when their neighbour’s cat starts to pay regular visits to their house. Our young couple living in a guesthouse due to the high estate prices at the time in Tokyo is not allowed to have either their own baby or a pet according to the rules set by their landlord. Although the couple does not particularly complain about the rules regarding their contract with the landlord, it does not seem that they grow any attachment to the apartment they live. This because, as Hiraide’s readers immediately notice upon reading this work, the couple see their life in that apartment as a temporary one and avoid any action that would imply or give any sense of settlement, including our guest cat. Interestingly enough, the guest cat or Chibi as the couple calls it, also always puts a certain distance despite its frequent visits and it never fully becomes a family member in the guesthouse where pets are not allowed. In other words, although ‘Chibi’ (little thing in Japanese), not only goes to their house regularly but also sleeps and eats there, it never lets the couple touch itself.
Up until now, what I wrote might be a little confusing concerning the connection between the novel and the economic transition in 1990s for those who are not familiar with Japanese culture and society, especially those miracle years when the Japanese economy going through a golden time. This simple story is relevant to this specific transition for good reasons. Eventually, Chibi, through which the couple notices that they miss something in their life, suddenly disappears from the couple’s life (you have to read the novel itself to learn the reason). Around the same time, the landlord asks the couple to move out, as the apartment will be sold. The landlord wants to sell the apartment to make a profit because towards the end of the bubble years, the estate prices in Japan reached their peak. Yet, once the landlord makes the decision, all of a sudden the estate prices start to fall with the burst of bubble and it becomes very difficult to sell the apartment at the desired price. However, this is not the most relevant part of the story regarding the transition. It only shows us the mathematical part of it perhaps, which is closely related to the family life in Japan.
In Japan, the link between the family life and functioning of economy has traditionally been a close one. Soon after joining the adult world or becoming shakaijin, the new adults were supposed to get married and have children. While the husband became the breadwinner and contributes to the Japanese society through his hard work, the women were supposed to be a good mother educating the child to be a good future shakaijin. Yet, in this particular transition period with the bubble economy coming to an end in 1990s, this taken-for-granted family style also started to dissolve because of economic difficulties. This is of course by no means only due to estate prices. Yet, considering that the houses in Japan is very small and once couples get married they usually buy a bigger house slightly away from central Tokyo in order to start their settled family life with their kids. With the burst of the bubble unemployment rose in Japan and many Japanese, instead of regular full-time jobs, had to do the part-time jobs, which meant less income and less income implied a divergence from typical Japanese family style when people were no longer able to follow the tradition. Hiraide’s young couple in The Guest Cat also does irregular jobs instead of full-time ones and they become a good exemplary of such a passage in family life with its emphasis on lack of attachment not only between the couple but also the space they live in.
In the novel, contrary to the above-mentioned example of a typical Japanese family life style, we witness a couple distant from one another and whose life only becomes slightly more exciting once this guest cat enters their life. Although it is a very short piece, Hiraide’s The Guest Cat tells a lot to its readers about Japanese society and how it changed at such a critical time without necessarily being critical about it. Rather, Hiraide seems to depict a realistic picture from a distance even while the novel also holds certain autobiographical marks about the man Hiraide himself.
A Very Useful Guidance to the Harukist World
Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Matthew Strecher Published by Continuum Contemporaries Format: Paperback Source: Publisher Buy the Book
I have been long working on a paper for the upcoming conference, Librasia 2015, which will be held in Osaka next week, so I could not manage to find the time to sit down and write a review here. The other day, while I was in a bookshop, I came across a very good source for my dissertation. I also thought that it might be an excellent guidance for those who are not so familiar with the Haruki Murakami world and want to make a better sense of his characters and use of surreal etc. This critical work written by Matthew Strecher, one of the major Murakami critics in the West, is titled Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It is a very short critical work composed of only 96 pages and, as the title suggests itself, it mainly focuses on one of the major Murakami works, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
Divided into five main chapters, Strecher first starts with a brief biography of Haruki Murakami and informs his readers into what sort of age Murakami was born in terms of both literary writing and political events. By drawing a parallel line between the political uprisings such as the student movement of 1960s, Strecher points out the particularities from which Murakami’s writing style and character portrayal arise. Strecher, who describes the transition from a politically active period to a period reigned by a sense of loss and confusion as one of the reasons concerning the change in the Japanese literary scene, continues with the analysis of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in the second chapter. He explores themes such as sexuality and the ‘other’, the function of oracle, the significance of the well and mark on the face of the protagonist as well as the war memories of the characters and so on. In the third chapter, Strecher in a sense replies the questions of many readers who are confused about Murakami’s endings in his novels in general by referring to both Western and Japanese critics and their ideas on The Wind-Up Bird. Strecher who, touches upon the performance of the novel in the fourth chapter, concludes this brief critical work with a chapter focusing on possible further reading materials and questions as well as useful websites for those who want to discover the Harukist world more.
Although it is a very short critical work, it is still an excellent guide both for students and readers in general. As a matter of fact, by not burdening his readers with too much information and detail, Strecher manages to give a sense of Harukist style of writing and characters in a neat and precise manner. While it is a literary criticism focusing mainly on Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Strecher’s insightful yet brief observations can easily prove to be useful to understand other Murakami works, too. Yet, for those who are looking for a more detailed account of Murakami’s works, I would also recommend another critical work written by the same author, titled The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami.
Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage Review
Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami Published by Harvill Secker Format: Hardcover Sources: Publisher Buy the Book
On August 24, 2014 in the Guardian’s book blog, Marta Bausell wrote about the questions of Murakami’s readers and how the writer responded those questions in the Edinburgh Book Festival. Among those questions, there is one that particularly attracted my attention. Bausell noted down that Murakami was asked why most of his characters are so sad. According to Bausell’s account, Murakami, who was indeed astounded by the question, answered, “I have no intention to write about sad characters” (Murakami qtd. in Bausell). As a matter of fact, unlike this reader mentioned by Bausell, I have also never thought that Murakami’s characters are sad. On the contrary, I have always felt that they are usually so passive – in the sense that they would not take any action so long as they are not pushed for it – that his characters cannot be so sad. Or, even if they are ready to take an action as in the case Toru Okada, the protagonist of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to restore his marriage, his sadness does not amount to a level, which would render him as a depressed or gloomy man. Therefore, I would not necessarily consider his characters to be sad in general.
While this may hold true for most of his novels and short-fiction, Tsukuru Tazaki of Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, if I am not mistaken, is his first protagonist, who genuinely wishes to die. Whether it is mere sadness or just emptiness he feels inside triggers his wish to die it is upon readers to decide. Yet, as the very opening of the novel demonstrates it clearly, Tsukuru has a very strong desire to die: “If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he wouldn’t have hesitated to push it open, without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life” (Murakami 1). Despite the fact that death has such a strong hold on Tsukuru, he does not commit suicide. This is “… because he couldn’t conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had toward death” (Murakami 1).
Why does Tsukuru want to die? According to the way narrator explains, “the reason why death had such a hold on Tsukuru Tazaki was clear. One day his four closest friends, the friends he’d known for a long time, announced that they did not want to see him, or talk with him, ever again” (Murakami). Tsukuru, who cannot understand why his friends have decided to cast him off, also cannot find a sense of belonging ever again. This seems to be one of the major factors why he is prone to suicide. In addition to being rejected by his friends, our protagonist considers himself to be colourless. All of his friends are, in accordance with the meaning of their names, also represented by a colour, which further defines the indispensable role each has within their small circle. Lacking a colour unlike the other members, Tsukuru, however dear his friends are to him, regards himself as a redundant member. That is why the act of casting him off leaves him without the slightest sense of belonging and shocks him very deeply.
Similar to his Japanese predecessors, Murakami seems to focus on a character who cannot fit in or feel a sense of belonging in Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. This sort of theme has been very common in the Japanese literary scene. However, the reasons why the characters could not fit in their societies and wanted to commit suicide differ from one another depending on the spirit of the age. Yet, Murakami’s Tsukuru Tazaki with his encounter a woman called Sara and finding some sort of resolution towards the end seems to differ from the characters of Osamu Dazai and Natsume Soseki, etc.
Tsukuru is a character living in the 1990s of Japan in which consumer trends and culture took a different turn after the years of affluence and money spending. According to the articles I came across while conducting my research, late 1980s and 1990s mark the beginning of a different consumer attitude in Japan, which Jordan Sand defines as marginalisation of the gaps or commodifying the gaps in his article “The Ambivalence of the New Breed: Nostalgic Consumerism in 1980s and 1990s Japan”. By the term, Sand refers to the futile act of resistance towards consumer trends and the managed society it creates in order to discover the self or actualize an authentic self-realization. One of the examples regarding the notion of “commodifying the gaps” can be the philosophical essays, which “described contemporary society as a “Klein Bottle”—an enveloping and cyclical space with neither inside nor outside” (Sand 96). According to Sand, this sort of philosophical essays triggered a movement against ‘managed’ society. Yet, unconsciously the popularity they gained turned them into a commodity/consumer product in return. In other words, everything became a product of consumer culture even when people had the slightest intent to escape from them. The sight of the original was lost and as a result, “for the New Breed, who lacked a canonized site of loss, the “originary landscape” could be imagined anywhere” (Sand 101). Among such imaginary landscapes, one could find “symbolically evoking lost home of childhood, [or] idealized sites of private retreat within the city” (Sand 102). Tsukuru Tazaki among such a generation can be perhaps regarded as one of those in his private retreat yet to canonize his site of loss or find out the location of his desire in order to achieve a sense of belonging.
Bausell, Marta. “Haruki Murakami: ‘My lifetime dream is to be sitting at the bottom of a well”’. The Guardian. 24 August 2014.
Murakami, Haruki. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Trans. Philip Gabriel. London: Harvill Secker, 2014.
Sand, Jordan. “The Ambivalence of the New Breed: Nostalgic Consumerism in 1980s and 1990s Japan.” The Ambivalent Consumer: Questioning Consumption in East Asia and the West. Ed. Shaldon M. Garon and Patricia L. Maclachlan. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2006.
White Noise Review
White Noise by Don DeLillo Published by Penguin Classics Format: Paperback Source:Publisher Buy the Book
White Noise is the first novel that I read from Don DeLillo. Throughout my reading, I had mixed feelings about this novel. Although DeLillo is among the highly prestigious writers and his works have very often got positive reviews, this novel initially gave me the impression that it had hardly any consistent story line. I was reading through the pages, but it seemed that DeLillo was just attacking consumerism through sarcastically elaborate exchanges between his characters, particularly Hitler lecturer Jack Gladney, his son Heinrich and his colleague called Murray. Indeed, despite the witty and humorous dialogues of his characters, this was my impression till I reached the second part of the novel in which Hitler lecturer and his family experience a toxic gas event in their city. Together with the toxic gas event, the major problem between Jack Gladney and his wife Babette, while being disclosed to the readers, the story finally gains a certain momentum. Gladney learns that his wife has been secretly taking some pills for some time. Neither these pills are being sold in any drugstore nor any information concerning the pills is publicly available. In order to find out the mystery behind the pills, Hitler lecturer Gladney has them checked by a colleague. Yet, his colleague at the university cannot tell him much apart from their ingredients. Not so satisfied, Gladney asks it to his wife, who has before avoided the topic. He finally manages to learn that his wife has an extreme case of a fear of death and she has been desperately looking for medicine that can suppress this great fear. The fact that Babette has a fear of death and its disclosure to her husband is not simply a driving power for the novel. This interesting turn in the flow also allows DeLillo to indulge himself and his readers with the examination of life versus death in the age of consumerism. There are other scenes in the novel supporting this examination of DeLillo further. For instance, there is a scene in which the whole Gladney family gathers and watch TV together, particularly the news related to death, disasters and some sort of violence. While watching the news with his family, Jack Gladney the Hitler lecturer finds a new revelation in that: watching such news gives them a sense of togetherness as well as an awareness of being alive. It seems that the information and stimulus that we are being exposed to in our postmodern and consumerist societies shape our perception of concepts such as life and death while they sometimes trigger extreme case of fear as in the case of Babette. Overall, despite my initial impression, this is a novel, which is a must-read. These days I have especially come to be even more interested in this novel in relation to my research topic focusing on consumerism and I am considering the write a comparative essay on Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and this novel to discover consumerism from the perspective of different cultures. Perhaps, such a comparative study might reveal us a little bit more about both authors’ character portrayal style. What do you think? Are these authors similar or do you think that there are more differences than similarities?
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Review
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami Published by Vintage Books Format: Paperback Pages:607 Source: Publisher Buy the Book
Not so infrequently critiques, either Japanese or Western, have associated Murakami’s works both stylistically and thematically to Western writers such as Thomas Pynchon, Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Don DeLillo and many others. By doing so, Murakami, while to a certain extent being denied an original voice, has been very often positioned as a writer indulging himself in the Western canon as opposed to his Japanese contemporaries who are dealing with the notion of Japaneseness. On the surface, such a view can be considered to hold some truth as Western references such as music, food, books, philosophy and so on occupy a great space in his works. However, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is irrefutably more Japanese than Western, if such a division of any literary work can/should be done. Perhaps, with its references to the Second World War Japan and the post-war Japanese politics and economy deals more openly with Japan and Japaneseness than any other of his works.
This voluminous work of Murakami is about a man called Toru Okada and fall of his marriage soon after his cat bearing the same name with his brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya, gets lost. Actually, everything starts with a strange phone call from a woman who claims to know Toru Okada. Although Okada cannot seem to recognize the voice of this mysterious woman, the phone call can be regarded as a foreshadowing concerning his wife and marriage. In addition to the strange phone calls, the novel surrounds itself around curious objects such as a cat, a mysterious house and a dried-up well as well as intriguing characters with their life stories somehow linked to the Second World War. These interesting characters and curious objects all together add up to the typical and magically surreal world of Murakami. Those who expect to find a surreal world as lavish as The Kafka on the Shore, unfortunately there is no fish raining from the sky. Yet, alternatively you may take a siesta at the bottom of a well if you fancy.
In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Murakami does not solely dwell on a marriage problem. Rather, the novel seems to disclose modern Japan together with its post-war economic policies and politics through the story of Toru Okada and his search for his wife. Particularly, the relationship between Toru Okada and his brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya exemplifies this. Throughout the novel, Toru Okada is juxtaposed with his brother-in-law who is an influential public figure thanks to his views on politics and economics. Indeed, Noboru Wataya represents a male figure with immense power not only as a public figure but also with his mysterious kind of influence on women. These women include his sisters as well as other women. However, Noboru Wataya is not so frequently present in the novel as a character actively interacting with other ones. Rather, he spreads his power by means of TV with his great argumentative skills while controlling women with a more mysterious and darker sort of power.
As opposed to Noboru Wataya, Okada is a man who has recently given up his job and takes care of house chores while his wife works at a magazine. This juxtaposition carries great significance considering the post-war economic policies and family structure. It is a well-known fact that after the war, manufacturing played a key role in Japanese economic recovery while hard-working and dedicated male working force continued to carry its importance. In line with such an economic policy, electrical goods introduced to Japanese consumers through advertisements draw particularly attention. In the advertisements of electrical goods, Japanese family was not only pictured in a more Western way but also the woman’s role as a housewife was further emphasized. Although it was also common for Japanese women to work at the time, house chores were still primarily associated with women. However, in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle there is a reversal with Toru Okada cooking, washing the dishes and doing the ironing. Noboru Wataya for this reason abhors Toru Okada who symbolises the emasculated Japan. Therefore Okada’s meditations at the bottom of a well can be interpreted as his attempt to save his wife and win against the dark power the consumerist society exerts on them through the image of Noboru Wataya.
This novel can certainly be read in different ways and there are other themes that need to be discussed such as violence and healing through some mystical powers etc. However, in this review I tried to give my opinion on the novel in relation to my research very briefly and my ideas need further elaboration. Feel free to tell me your interpretation of this novel or what you (dis)liked about it 🙂
Silent House Review
Silent Houseby Orhan Pamuk Published by Faber and Faber Format:Paperback Pages:402 Source:Publisher Buy the Book
I have started to read Orhan Pamuk around the time I graduated from high school. In a book fair I attended in Istanbul in 2006 (I might be wrong about the year, but some time around those years), I bought my first novel called The White Castle. Being fascinated by Pamuk’s gloomy and dark yet relaxing narration, I continued reading him despite his taboo-like status. Although he has come to have much more acceptance from Turkish public throughout the years, in a scholarship interview in 2013, the committee did not hesitate to take a mocking attitude towards my answer, Orhan Pamuk as one of my favourite Turkish authors. Not being exactly sure of whom the committee were being scornful – perhaps it was both of us – I was surprised to witness the ongoing bias lacking a real literary or academic justification apart from Pamuk’s views on politics and history. In all honesty, I felt disappointed and even more disturbed to observe intolerance even within the scholarly groups approximately seven years after my initial acquaintance with Pamuk’s works.
Perhaps it is one of the reasons that The White Castle still remains to be the only Pamuk novel I read in Turkish. With an awareness of his highly controversial position and due to living abroad, I have been more inclined to read his novels’ English translations. In this way, I have not only felt that I created the free space to read him comfortably but also I have had an easy access to his novels in bookstores abroad. Yet, relying on the English translations, I managed to read his second novel Silent House just a year ago. This novel about a family gathering in the summer foreshadowing the approaching military coup of 1980 was written originally in 1983 and is among my favorite ones.
Silent House’s dominant subject is without a doubt the prevailing social and political conditions of Turkey before the military coup of 1980. However, Pamuk does not simply narrate a story similar to Turkey’s political and social turmoil of the time. While doing so, he portrays the two politically bipolar groups, the leftists and rightists of the day in a half-mockingly ironic manner. In Pamuk’s impartial narration, both sides depicted in their extremities are being reduced to an object of ridicule. On the leftist side, there is a grandson who despises the rightists and their piousness because of their strict and intolerant ways wants to continue the funny and delusional legacy of his deceased grandfather. For that purpose, he takes up the task of writing a voluminous encyclopaedia – “the encyclopedia: the natural sciences, all the sciences, science and Allah, the West and the Renaissance, night and day, fire and water, the East and time and death and life. Life! Life!” (119) – so that Turkey can become an equally modern state.
On the rightist side, there is a young man who is infatuated with a leftist girl. Instead of approaching the girl directly and confessing his love, he decides to discipline her – including beating her to death in the middle of the street – in order to show her the right political and social life. As a matter of fact, the young man is always under the impression that the girl ridicules him because of his ideals despite a lack of real conversation between them. When he sees the girl with a leftist newspaper, he demands an explanation but only then he notices the Coca-cola bottle in his hand and spits out “Goddamn it” (191). In this way, Pamuk seems to emphasize in a funny yet dramatic way that both sides, in spite of expecting understanding and tolerance from one another, commit the same crime by not recognizing and acknowledging each other.
This lack of genuine understanding or communication is in fact given on multiple levels in addition to the prevalent political reference. With a grandmother who can be regarded as the Turkish Miss Havisham, as defined in the New York Times review of Silent House in 2012, impossibility of conveying one’s feelings due to a generational gap is also highlighted: “You might all revived by something that comes from a plastic bottle, but not me. I didn’t say it because they wouldn’t understand. Your souls are a stillborn plastic! But if I’d said that they’d have probably laughed” (171). Apparently, this Turkish Miss Havisham perceives it as a futile attempt to communicate her ideas on the basis that she and her grandsons are two radically different beings. While the lack of understanding between young men and women stemming from social and economic status comprises of another instance of contemporary communication problems in Silent House, Pamuk brings this novel to an end in a surprisingly grotesque way just when the reader feels a semblance of order and after the laughter he arises throughout the novel.
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami / Review
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami Publisher: Harvill Secker Publishing Date: December 2, 2014 Format: Hardcover Pages: 88 Source: Publisher Buy the book
Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library with a child protagonist being lured into a mysterious library and a sheep man serving freshly prepared doughnuts – perhaps the sheep man from A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance – immediately reminds his readers of the Brothers Grimm’s famous fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Yet, in Murakami’s story, it is not the doughnuts that will fatten up the child protagonist and turn him into a delicious meal for the strange old man working in the library. Rather, the knowledge being attained from the books is to make a mouth-watering meal out of his brains.
The story actually begins with the protagonist going to the library to return some books and on the way to the library he recognizes a sudden desire to read about Ottoman tax collection system. Yet, the volumes on Ottoman tax collection cannot be taken out of the library and for this reason he is led to a reading room in which he is locked.
As a matter of fact, from the very moment the protagonist enters the library he feels something strange: “the library was hushed more than usual” and “my new leather shoes clacked against the gray linoleum. Their hard, dry sound was unlike my normal footsteps” (1). Moreover, despite seeing the grotesque face of the old man in the library, he cannot bring himself to leave the library because he is not “… very good at giving anyone a clear no” (10).
After the door is locked on him, the protagonist starts his descent towards the very bottom of the library: “It was a very long staircase. Long enough, it seemed, to reach Brazil” (17). This is the very turning point in this short novel: either a world that is similar to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel will welcome the child protagonist when the descent comes to an end. Unfortunately enough, the latter is proven to be the case as he ends up in a jail cell where he compulsorily starts his reading about the Ottoman tax collection.
Whether the protagonist manages to escape this maze-like library, you can only find out upon reading the novel. However, by choosing a storyline more similar to the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel rather than Carroll’s Alice, Murakami seems to be critical of the information and the way it is consumed. Today, information, which has been transformed into a consumer object, in the schools and libraries is carefully categorised and presented. In this way, it has long become a handy tool for the education system to produce not only individuals in line with our consumer societies but also a system working towards specialised knowledge. In this nightmare-like visit to the library, Murakami in his usual funny and witty way looks like telling us something about this matter through his child protagonist.