UPDATE: My Wind/Pinball review can be found here.
Paperback: 160 pages
In Murakami fan circles, simply owning a copy of Pinball, 1973 is a mark of hardcore-ness. Like Hear the Wind Sing before it, Haruki Murakami does not allow English translations of Pinball, 1973 to be published outside of Japan. Back in the 80s, Alfred Birnbaum translated it into English and Kodansha published it as a novel for Japanese students who wanted to improve their English. While the English edition of Hear the Wind Sing continues to be reprinted and sold in Japan (and available for a moderate sum via eBay, see my review), Kodansha stopped its reprint runs of the English edition of Pinball, 1973 and has now become a collector's item, fetching vast amounts of money on auction sites and reseller stores. Last time I checked, the cheapest copy went for USD$2500.
Of course, Murakami addicts or the curious can always download a less than legal PDF of the book, painstakingly typed by a fan in the UK. But who wants to read PDFs? I don't. I prefer my books on paper, thank you very much. I won't say how, but I did manage to finally acquire a paperback copy of Pinball, 1973... and yes, it's less-than-legal, meaning it's not an authentic publication from Kodansha, meaning it's a pirated book. I know, I know, I'm gonna burn in book hell. But whatever. It's Murakami so it has to be worth it... right?
The novel itself concerns the same two individuals we got to know in Hear the Wind Sing, the nameless protagonist, of whom I will nickname "Boku*", and his best friend, the Rat. Boku has moved to Tokyo where, with the help of a university friend, has set up an English translation service. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, a pair of twin girls appear in Boku's apartment and they decide to stay indefinitely. Boku, being the stereotypical Murakami protagonist, doesn't mind and even relishes the opportunity to have a little company after he comes back from work.
While the twins have made themselves at home, Boku becomes obsessed with looking for a pinball machine he used to play at a bar he used to frequent, back in his small hometown. This bar happens to be run by another friend, J, and is also where the Rat spends most of his time reading Western literature, especially Russian epics. Rat, though he is in a comfortable relationship and is writing a novel, is not content with his life, and seeks for greater meaning.
Alone, Pinball, 1973, isn't a great novel but it is mostly readable. In comparison to Hear the Wind Sing, it is a much, much better effort and has the advantage of having a plot, no matter how vague. So was it really worth it, to go to all that effort in acquiring this elusive book? I don't know really. The book is rather mundane, yet still a little Murakami-esque. I guess I can console myself with the fact that my collection is somewhat complete. At least, until I raise enough dough to get an original copy.
* "Boku", the generic nickname for a nameless Murakami protagonist in any of his novels or short stories, was coined by Jay Rubin in his biography cum literary criticism, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words. The term seems to have stuck with a growing number of Murakami fans, so I too shall adopt it. Jay Rubin also happens to be one of Haruki Murakami's three English translators.