A few weeks ago, Haruki Murakami published a new novel, Wind/Pinball. Technically, it’s not a new novel. It’s a new translation of his first two novels, the award-winning short novel Hear the Wind Sing, which was first published in 1978, and his second novel, the sequel titled Pinball, 1973, which was originally published in 1980.
In the Introduction of Wind / Pinball, Murakami affectionately calls these two novels his “kitchen table novels,” mainly because he wrote them during his free time, late at night till the early morning, after returning from running his bar, on top of his kitchen table. He shares with readers how he was suddenly inspired to write a novel one day while sitting on a hill watching a baseball game. At the time, he was 29 years old. His first attempt at writing a novel didn’t go so well mostly because according to him, he didn’t know the correct way to go about it. He would write in his spare time, with no idea where his novel was headed. The end product was not so good, so he decided to re-write the entire novel, taking a whole different approach. He entered the final draft of Hear the Wind Sing in a magazine contest and almost completely forgot about it until he got a call from the magazine saying that it had made their shortlist. The novel went on to win the grand prize.
With just a hundred pages, Hear the Wind Sing is really more of a novella, or a long short story, than a full-blown novel. It is told from the perspective of a nameless narrator who is a college student. His story takes places between August 8 to August 26, 1970, during his summer vacation, where he visits old haunts in his hometown and meets with friends old and new. While the story is mostly about the narrator’s everyday comings and goings – waking up, going out, meeting his friend in a bar he frequents, and drinking beer, he also shares snippets of his past, ex-girlfriends, and opinions on writers, books, and music.
Aside from the narrator, three other characters stand out in Hear The Wind Sing – the narrator’s friend the Rat, who abhors his family’s affluence and has an aversion to sex and violence in novels; a nine-fingered girl the narrator finds passed out in a bar, who he later befriends; and J, the Chinese bar owner who speaks excellent Japanese.
The novel is mostly short descriptions of the narrator’s day, mixed in with past recollections and random thoughts on seemingly unrelated subjects. The novel jumps from the past to the present without warning, which sometimes makes the narrative choppy and disjointed. Not much is really revealed about the narrator except that he’s a college student majoring in Biology who tries hard to believe in the philosophy that every mistake is a learning experience.
As an admirer of Haruki Murakami, I was keen to read his very first novel, especially after learning the circumstances that lead him to write it and later to become a full-time writer. It’s interesting to read that though his first novel did not have any supernatural beings, parallel universes, or other worlds, we can already see a hint of his distinct style of describing his characters doing mundane, ordinary tasks, such as ironing, cooking, or other chores, that don’t help move the plot along or give depth to the characters.
Though the plot of Hear the Wind Sing isn’t particularly compelling, it’s interesting to read as a now-famous author’s first novel. It’s also curious how a story like Hear the Wind Sing could win a magazine contest. Perhaps the other entries were worse than Wind, or maybe, like Murakami says in his Introduction, the judges liked his new fresh style of writing, which is very different from the styles of other Japanese authors. Murakami admits that he was not very familiar with the works of many Japanese authors at the time, and he was unaware of the type of novels popular among Japanese readers.
Hear the Wind Sing is followed by Pinball 1973, which was published two years later. Pinball takes place in 1973 and is also told from the perspective of a nameless narrator, though it is unclear (to me, at least) if it is the same nameless narrator in Hear the Wind Sing. Pinball also features the Rat in more detail and J the bartender. Like Hear the Wind Sing, the nameless narrator in Pinball mostly describes his day in the office, doing translations, and at home, living with twin women. It is a mystery where the twins come from and why they came to live with the narrator. The narrator offers no explanation on their existence and their sudden departure from his life.
From time to time, the narrator would also describe the Rat’s life, relationships, and frustrations. Though their relationship is unclear at the start of the story, the narrator later mentions that he had known the Rat back in 1970 when he was frequenting J’s bar . This is the only evidence that the nameless narrator may be the same man from Hear the Wind Sing. The narrator described how in 1970, he became obsessed with playing pinball, using a certain three-flipper Spaceship machine. The narrator mastered every technique there was to master in pinball, finally getting the highest score. The pinball machine he used to play disappeared after the arcade he used to frequent burned down. Now, after three years, he remembers the three-flipper Spaceship machine and is determined to find out what happened to it.
Like Hear the Wind Sing, Murakami also submitted Pinball, 1973 to a writing contest. Unfortunately, unlike Hear the Wind Sing, it did not win. I was a bit confused while reading Pinball, 1973, because though the narrator said that the story took place in 1973, he jumps from the present to the past then back to the present without clear indications. It’s also not clear what the narrator’s connection is with the Rat and why the two characters are even in the same story. Pinball, 1973 is a bit longer than Hear the Wind Sing, but it seems more like a continuation than a separate story. Pinball, 1973 is later followed by A Wild Sheep Chase, which makes up Murakami’s Trilogy of the Rat.
Wind / Pinball (2015) – Haruki Murakami
Knopf / Doubleday; 234 pages (Hardbound)
Personal rating: 2.5/5