Fiction Review: Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami (1979, Kodansha International)

in #books6 years ago

Murakami isn't for everybody.

I'm not claiming hipster status here, declaring that I'm somehow a superior human being because I enjoy his writing, or that if you hate him your parents used Intelligence as your dump stat during character creation, just pointing out the obvious. If you already tried Murakami and found him lacking, Hear the Wind Sing isn't going to alter your opinion or shatter your worldview like a soccer ball upside the head.

You need to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy his fiction. Think of it this way: if you attend a stage play at your local repertory theater, but you go in with the mindset that you're about to experience a multi-million dollar cinematic blockbuster, you're not going to have a good time. A stage play is all about the understanding between audience and performers that what you're about to see isn't reality, or even a close approximation thereof. There's only so far props and costumes can take the actors--the audience has to agree to that willing suspension of disbelief. A stage production of Oklahoma! rarely involves real horses and carriages, South Pacific isn't performed on a tropical island, and it's sound effects and lighting as opposed to real sewage that signifies the death of Javert in Les Miserables. If you can't get past that, you and the theater won't make good buddies.

Reading Murakami requires a similar mindset. He's a lyrical writer who invents circumstances which cannot possibly be real in order to explore the human condition and play with language. One reads Murakami not to partake of a perfectly normal, rational tale about ordinary people, but to imbibe some of his "magical realism" and go along for the ride through a field of metaphor, simile, and possibility.

Despite this being Murakami's first novel, I wouldn't recommend it as the starting point for the new would-be readers, especially ones who've little to no Japanese literature notched on the bedpost. For those readers, Norwegian Wood or A Wild Sheep Chase are better, more accessible examples of his fiction to start with--wading pools instead of Olympic-regulation natitoriums. If you prefer non-fiction, check out What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, or Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche.

If you like what you see, and know what to expect, then dive in to Hear the Wind Sing.

It's amazing to me to read a first novel by a writer and see them so competently and completely command their authorial voice. Hear the Wind Sing is just such a work--you can see Murakami playing with and laying out so many of the points he wants to hit as an author, establishing tone and setting, flow and viewpoint, style and substance.

The first of what would eventually become a four-book series, Hear the Wind Sing features an unnamed narrator who goes through his life in a way that feels a few degrees divorced from reality. The people he meets, the actions he takes, the sights he sees, are all filtered through a peculiar lens. If you've ever watched an old Doctor Who broadcast and noticed that everything shot on a sound stage (like the TARDIS interior) looks just the slightest bit 'off' when compared to the stuff shot on location (like a disused quarry in Wales), that's a visual representation of what Murakami's literary lens sees.

Be prepared for things to be a little 'off' and take them as they come.

Classifying Hear the Wind Sing isn't easy. It's fiction, yes, but it's fictional in the same way Seinfeld is fictional. Looked at like a traditional novel, you could find it guilty of being about nothing. There's no grand truth at the heart of Murakami's prose, no stunning revelations, not even any truly memorable characters. Reading it is like getting a slightly deeper look at the lives of the people you pass by on the street every day, the ones you interact with at restaurants and check-out kiosks, the folks in the car the next lane over who become part of your life by virtue of being stopped at the same traffic light. You go your way, they go their way, and that's pretty much it.

But what if you could spend a while in their head space? What if you could intuit somehow what gives their lives meaning (or fails to give their lives meaning)? That's the so-called "Magical Realism" of Murakami. It isn't page-turning thrills, it's not mile-a-minute suspense, and most of the characters aren't even very likable. In fact the person for whom the series is named was given the moniker "The Rat" by the narrator, because it just seemed to fit.

Despite all this, the book just works. If you're in a Murakami state of mind, if you're fine with the narrator groping his way through life as we all do (smoking cigarettes, hanging out in bars, and dating nine-fingered women), if you appreciate a fine simile the way cigar aficionados appreciate a fine Cuban, you are the target audience for this book--and much of the rest of Murakami's prolific output too. Just as in real life, the details will go by in a flurry of the mundane, of which you will remember little. But after you close the cover, you'll still have the vague feeling of having been through something important. You'll dwell on memories of your own youth, comparing and contrasting with the unnamed protagonist. You'll ponder some vague point of philosophy or wisdom doled out by a down-on-his-luck, poor-little-rich-Rat.

You'll wonder what the point of it all is, what the point of it all was, and you'll be reminded that it isn't up to Murakami, or any other writer, to answer that question. Just as his characters need to work it out for themselves, so do we all have to decide what (if anything) is important about life. Most of us exist in a day-to-day world, coasting on the knowledge that today's sunset will be followed by tomorrow's sunrise. Hear the Wind Sing is an invitation to recognize what we're doing and look a little closer at the 99% of our lives that pass by without our acknowledgement.

There may be magic in the mundane. No promises. But after every Murakami book, you view the world like the kaleidoscope has been given a quarter-inch twist to the left. Nothing much has changed, but the net result is a change in everything.

Four magically-realistic stars out of five.


I‘ve read an older book from him. Unfortunately I don’t remember the title 😑 but I still remember that I liked it a lot - at least that’s something 😊 @peekbit

That's wonderful, @peekbit! Murakami can be a hard writer to get into, but I'm glad to hear you liked the book you read so much. Maybe you'll like another one of his in the future? :)

I found the title - just to let you know... It's "South of the border, West of the Sun". Maybe I should read it again... 😊

Hey there, I said I will come back when I am finished with it and I just did this morning! I did not know this was such a short novel. I see what you mean now and I agree: this would not be the best way to discover Murakami.
Its magical realism is present, but contrary to the two books I mentioned I find there is not enough story. It's more a few moments in a slice of life of one particular person.
The way of presenting situations, characters, the chosen musical theme (70s this time), the bar, drinks, cigars, it's all there though.
And there are some nice passages that make you pause and ponder about your own life.
I think the only element missing, to me, is an overarching story really.

I liked it and I think I'll see about the other three in the quadralogy. ☺

Hey, you have excellent timing! I just this morning completed my readthrough of Pinball, 1973, and I'm assembling my thoughts for the forthcoming review.

It's very similar to Hear the Wind Sing, in that it's more a series of interconnected vignettes as opposed to a fully-contained novel, but I still really enjoyed it. If you got through HtWS and enjoyed it, I see no reason not to pick up the second in the series. It's more of the same, just different, full of about five thousand different passages you want to copy and quote and savor and least if you're me. ;)

Love that you're kind of following me along on this, @jalayn. Hope you're having fun. :)

I'm sure having fun, it's cool 😊 There is something I forgot to add to my mini-comment about the book, but I think it's important: the author makes clear that sometimes very basic things are what makes us happy, and we're not always aware of it.
I may be wrong, but this looks to me like something very recurrent in Miyazaki's work (like in Omoide poro poro for example)

Right now, I started reading Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows (I love James Lovegrove's writing) but on paper, not on my ebook reader. And after that, or during that read, I'll certainly start Pinball, 1973 ! ;-)

Great review. How can I know the stats my parents rolled for me? I'm a bit curious 😉
I wish I could find the rare +2 INT wizard hat!

As for this book, I've read two of Murakami so far, 1Q84 and Kafka on the shore, but not his first one. Looks like a very promising read ; and I admit you hit the nail on the head, it often feels like he writes about the characters like he sees them through a slightly altering lens.

Did you read IQ84? What did you think of it?

Thanks so much, @jalayn! My parents never shared the rolls with me, but I think they were trying for a Paladin and wound up with a really shitty Fighter/Cleric who sucks at both jobs but gets the XP penalty for dual-classing anyway. Best I can tell, I have not a single attribute over 14, and Charisma was clearly the dump stat.

For Intelligence improvement, you can't go wrong with glasses. Just remember, the bonus is to perceived INT by others, not actual intelligence, and you'll lose it as soon as you try to discuss anything sports related. Grants a nice buff to your Bluff skill as long as you're talking about anything STEM-related though. ;)

I did indeed read 1Q84. It was actually my first book of his--not a suggestion I would make to anyone else, but the review I heard on the radio pushed it right to the top of my list.

I absolutely loved it, though I thought the first two books were better than the last one. The last one had a different English translator, so I don't know if that was the problem or if book 3's plot lost my interest by not focusing so much on Aomame. At some point I'll get around to reviewing it here, but I also want to re-read it and see if it still holds up when my life isn't quite so stressful (at the time I read it, I was helping a friend deal with chemo/radiation for his cancer, and my grandmother died). Strange as it may seem, 1Q84 seemed to be the perfect book to help me get through both stressful periods.

At the same time, I'm almost afraid to face it again. What if it loses some of the power it held over me seven years ago? One never can tell with books...I believe they come into one's life when most needed, just like a form of magic. When the time is right to re-read 1Q84, I think I'll know. :)

Haha good one, I do have glasses but rarely use them, maybe I should in fact!

I did not know 1Q84 had different translators, for me it felt like the third one was differently paced. I too wanted the story to come back to the main character. Even overall, there were times when I could not put the book down, and times when I just thought it dragged way too long. Still, I loved the story and it made me want to read Kafka on the Shore right after I finished since I saw glowing reviews. I think the magical realism is what does it for me. It's just enough to make you see the authors's world differently.

I know what you mean when you say sometimes it's best to leave past experiences behind. For example, I read the first trilogy of Forgotten Realms a long time ago and thought at the time it was absolutely brillant😅 Now, I am not so sure about that...
I think you've said something important: the moment you read the book, the things that are going through your life, the environment you are in, all these things play a big part in how we perceive a book.
Anyway, good review, I'll come back here once I am done with Hear the wind sing!

Perhaps just opening up a window into someone else's life is magic enough.

Have added to my TBR list!

I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as I did, @terry93d. :)

I expect I'll review it, too, whenever I read it. It might be a while, though. My TBR list is always growing, and so's my TBR pile - and often in separate directions from each other.

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