Wednesday, 7 March 2007

REVIEW: Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami.

UPDATE: My Wind/Pinball review can be found here

ISBN: 477002214X
Publisher: Kodansha International Ltd., (1987)
Paperback: 165 pages

Late last year, after finishing Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (read my StarTwo review), I went on a quest to complete my Haruki Murakami collection. I felt like I simply had to have every one of his books published in English to truly get into this author. I was lucky that Borders was having their 3 for 2 promotion for all the British covers of Murakami, so I managed to get them all, except for his two first novels: Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. Though these novels have had their English translations published in Japan, Murakami doesn't want the English-speaking world reading them, because he thinks they're terrible.

Thanks to eBay, and an enterprising fellow in Japan who's stocked up on English copies of Hear the Wind Sing, I managed to get my hands on a copy. And at 6" x 4", such a cute copy it is! At that minuscule size, it's the perfect book to read on the Putra line at 8am. That's of course, if you don't doze off first. As is usually the case, the problem with first novels is that the writer hasn't found his voice yet, and this is especially true with Hear the Wind Sing.

The novel takes place within 18 days in the summer of 1970, and follows the aimless wanderings and ramblings of the nameless protagonist that Murakami is infamous for and also that of his friend, Rat. Murakami's signature icons and animals already start to appear in this book. Elephants, cats, wells, weirdo girls. They're there, but perhaps a little less underused than they will be in his later novels and short stories. Then there's his penchant for invoking Western culture. References abound from Gatsby to Dostoyevsky, Marvin Gaye to The Beach Boys.

Though this initial novel proves Murakami was already a writer with great ideas and adept in creating interesting dialogue, it also betrays a lack of skill in plotting. Did he pick that up later on? There is no discernible plot whatsoever in this book, just a college student aimlessly going through his life while waiting for his summer vacation to end.

I thought Hear the Wind Sing plodded along at an unbearably slow speed. Nothing that helps the story move along ever happens, and when a mystery crops up, they go unsolved, and the characters remain unbothered and indifferent. The dialogue continues throughout to hint at something more substantial waiting to be revealed, but that never seems to happen. Talk about pretentious! If this was submitted to Western publisher by an unknown writer, it'd be left rotting in the slush pile.

I'm currently working my way through his second novel, Pinball, 1973, and I'll be posting up a review of that quite soon.

For more on Hear the Wind Sing, Bookfox has a good review on his blog.

8 comments:

  1. I guess sometimes the writer does know best.

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  2. I'm waiting till he dies. There's a lot of stuff he's written that hasn't been translated (and is utterly crap, yet I want to read them anyway).

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  3. I am amazed. You are obviously such a big Murakami fan. I'm curious, what is it about Murakami's novels that captivate you?
    If we can identify enough die hard fans (yes, I'm one), then let's try and bring him down here.

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  4. I'm not really sure what exactly about Murakami I like so much.

    I started out with Norwegian Wood and I thought that was a beautiful novel. It captured the essence of nostalgia perfectly, and his writing style often makes the reader want to continue reading, as I noticed in his short stories as well as in Kafka. I think that quality's in A Wild Sheep Chase too, which is my current read.

    I also LOVE how he comes up sentences like this:
    "It was another rerun of the same old day. One you almost have to dog-ear to keep from getting it mixed up with the rest." (Pinball, 1973)

    And the sometimes inane but weird dialogue his characters have... that totally hooks me everytime.

    Some people don't get Murakami, but for me he's just fun to read.

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  5. hi there -- i just finished "Hear the Wind sing" and want to comment on the review. Lack of plot has never been a problem for me -- i'm a big Murakami fan and although this definitely isn't his best, it is well worth hunting down. I've found most Murakami fans want to read *everything* by him, so these two first novels should be included. There's lots of descriptions and scenes to enjoy, and [as mentioned] a few elements recurring in his later work. Recommended, if only for the fans.

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  6. Hi Anon, thanks for dropping by.

    Having read Pinball, 1973 and Wild Sheep Chase since reading Hear the Wind Sing, I have to agree... Hear the Wind Sing is essential for fans, especially if you want to really understand Wild Sheep Chase, which is in my opinion, quite a good book. Hear the Wind Sing truly is worth hunting down. It's a very cute book, but I wouldn't recommend regular readers to get it.

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  7. I also happen to be a big fan of Murakami, and he is very popular in Taiwan. We translate ALL of his book - even the one he wrote about whiskey and jazz. Bascially anything with his name on it sells. Including nonfiction one, there are around 45+ books written by him. It is a shame that the English publisher wont publish all of them! It is kinda fun to read about what he thinks of the difference between a Greece cat and a American one.
    Anyway, what i was trying to say is, among all his novels, my favorite one happen to be pinball 1973. Hear the wind sing is definetly in the top 5. When he was writing these two books (his very first two novels), he is still the owner of a jazz cafe. So he doesnt have a lot of time working on the novel. Usually he writes after the shop was closed ... like from 2am to 4. So every paragraph in this two novel was short, and you are right about the plot - there is no plot. But somehow this kind of style just catches me. I have try this foolish game with my friend for a while - ask your friend to think about a question he wants to ask, then asks them to pick page number. Usually when you turn to that page there is gonna be a sentence or two on it thant actually somehow answer the question. Ok, this sounds really stupid, but it works quiet well with pinball 1973.
    Btw, the english copy of pinball 1973 is quiet expensive on amazon, but I once got a English PDF copy from my friend. So the version you have is this one or you actually spend hundreds of dollars buying the paper copy?

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  8. I loved reading the review. I am Murakami fan and like the rest of you all, I too do not know why I love reading his books so very much. All I can say is I want to read ALL his written work :)

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