Thursday, March 29, 2018

Haruki Murakami – Norwegian Wood, Mar 26, 2018




Seven readers showed up for the second novel of the year, the surreal and haunting story of love lost and found, suicide, sexual mores, and undergraduate life in Japan in the sixties. Haruki Murakami, best-selling author with a global readership, was presenting us his first novel to attain a readership of over one million on its first printing in Japan; and more millions abroad as it got translated into numerous languages.

Zakia, KumKum, Thommo


There was the tricky matter of selecting passages, so many of which are drenched with explicit scenes of sex; several no doubt (like Reiko’s intimate lesbian encounter with her piano pupil), would be contenders for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Somehow, all the readers found a ‘safe passage’ as it was termed by Hemjit, through the book, bringing out the interplay among the chief characters (Naoko, Toru, Nagasawa, Midori, Hatsumi and Reiko) without having to deal with their nether extremities in action.

Saras


Parts of the book are impressionistic, rather than novelistic; not so much telling a story as conveying the feeling of the scene. Since it has a lot to do with remembered feelings which are disappearing as time goes by, the writing takes on the aspect of painted sketches much as scenes of Hokusai’s paintings evoke a single experience felt in the moment, and then gone. One could even say some of Murakami’s settings would impel the reader to record them as haikus.

Joe


KumKum brought sandesh and singaras from Bikash Babu’s sweetshop for sharing with the readers. According to Thommo, Bengalis have perfected the art of making desserts that have just the right sweetness without cloying the tastebuds. He said Sarkars Dairy Tech has come to enjoy a near monopoly among hotels for the quality of the paneer they make, with milk imported daily by tanker trucks from Karnataka.

Bikash Babu Sweets outlet on Durbar Hall Road


Here are the lucky readers who read Norwegian Wood, heard Thommo sing the theme song, and came out happy and unscathed at the end.

Priya, Thommo, Zakia, Saras, Joe, KumKum, Hemjit (seated) 





Full Account of the Reading on Mar 26, 2018

of Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami 

Haruki Murakami

Present: Zakia, Thommo, Saras, Priya, Hemjit, KumKum, Joe

Hemjt who selected the novel gave his introduction. He told us about a friend who was a book reader obsessed with Murakami, and told him this book could take you to a higher plane, enabling access to other worlds. It feels sad also when you read it. It is moving. Thommo noted ‘there are more suicides than characters’, if you count up those who die off-stage, and are only mentioned in passing. KumKum thought it was depressing, but Joe liked the humour sprinkled throughout; these kids may be in and out of each other, but they are also quite caring and inclined to play off each other’s good sides.

Priya found some scenes quite unreal, like those set in the sanatorium. You have the feeling somebody may creep up on you, clap you in a straitjacket and keep you there permanently. Thommo was struck by the extent to which the music and songs these young ones liked were part of his background too. It was part of a global culture that spread its wings in Japan, after the hard-working, inward-looking, generation that built up Japan from the ashes after the war. Their kids were hedonists rebelling against frugal, saving, parents who worked six days a week, and late into the night on weekdays.

Thommo drew attention to Thelonius Monk, one of only five jazz musicians he said who made the cover of Time magazine (in 1964). He was a big draw on the European circuit. Reiko teaches Monk's jazz piano style to her protégé. 

Thelonious Monk - There are sixty-odd pieces still in the active repertoire, something that cannot be said of any other jazz composer’s work

It was the music of Thommo’s generation, and he wondered how great an influence Americans had on Japan after the war. Check out Monk and Miles Davis at the Newport Jazz Festival 1955 playing one of Monk’s standard works, Round Midnight.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZ2HGyKSZyc


This novel sold a million copies in Japan, when Murakami was only accustomed to a tenth of that as sales prior to Norwegian Wood. Americans who read the novel could easily relate to it, especially in the translation by Jay Rubin, which is the authorised English version for publication outside Japan. Saras noted that the courses students take in Japan are all similar to courses in the United States, e.g. History of Drama, examining not Japanese drama but Euripedes and such.

Thommo said the song The bird has flown was the first song by the Beatles with sitar accompaniment (by George Harrison):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxgT4S5G9zI


A capsule bio of Murakami by Hemjit encompasses the facts at the wikipedia entry — born 1949, his books and stories have been bestsellers in Japan and internationally, with translations into 50 languages and sales of millions of copies. His numerous awards include the World Fantasy Award (2006) and the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award (2006). He received the Franz Kafka Prize (2006) and the Jerusalem Prize (2009).

His stories are often surrealistic and tinged by sadness, marked by “recurrent themes of alienation and loneliness.” Steven Poole of The Guardian praised Murakami as “among the world's greatest living novelists.” You can gather more about the author at his own website:

http://www.harukimurakami.com/

Priya’s opening comment was that a book with so much sex in it was bound to sell well. Thommo’s experience in Ho Chi Minh city was coming across tall long-legged inter-racial girls born of American soldiers and Vietnamese mothers, lounging in streetside restaurants.  Joe wondered why the young women of a country devastated ruthlessly by the Americans would have any inclination to imitate their oppressors. Thommo opined the S Vietnamese were American vassals; but there is no such distinction now as the country is unified, and in any case the division was always a colonial one implemented after the French left and before the Americans came in to take their place via their surrogates.

Hemjit
Conscious of the sexual thickets that light up the pages of the book, Hemjit wondered how to  navigate a ‘safe passage’. He found it by selecting the opening scene as Toru Watanabe flies into Hamburg airport, 18 years after graduating. He remembers Naoko, now a shadow, just beyond recall, slipping away. He decides to write this book to wake his failing memory. The ending line is:
I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them.

Thommo thinks these are the sublimated experiences of Murakami himself growing up. Joe, on the contrary, thinks Murakami has only used his intimate knowledge of all the physical scenes: Kobe, Kyoto, Tokyo, the forests of Japan, and the life of students. The characters and the story sound entirely invented. For another thing, Murakami is happily married, a boring monogamist. Priya felt Murakami is in love with complications.

Zakia
The passage Zakia chose was quite poetic. After Kizuki dies, Toru realises death is a part of life, not its opposite. Stormtrooper, his roommate, gives him a firefly in a bottle. He releases it and watches as its faint glow disappears, a metaphor for his waning remembrance of Naoko. The signal sentence in this passage is:
Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.

You must read the ending of Zakia’s passage, for it is extraordinarily moving and poetic in its description of the firefly’s flight — 

It hobbled around the head of a steel bolt, catching its legs on curling scabs of paint … with some effort, it mounted … and crouched there for a while …. Neither I nor it made a move for a very long time. … while the countless leaves of the zelkova tree rustled in the darkness.

… then as if some thought had suddenly occurred to it, the firefly spread its wings, and in a moment  it had flown past … traced a swift arc by the side of the water tank … after hovering there for a few seconds … the firefly disappeared, the trail of its light remained inside me, its pale, faint glow hovering on and on in the thick darkness behind my eyelids like a lost soul … stretching my hand out in the dark. My fingers touched nothing. The faint glow remained, just beyond my grasp.

In fact Murakami wrote a short story, Firefly, which was a precursor to this novel.

KumKum
In KumKum’s opinion there are too many ‘sick’ people in the book, quite abnormal. Thommo agreed that there are no normal people in the book at all. KumKum said Midori (the name means ‘green’) is the only sensible person. She and her sister, Momo, look after the book shop after their parents’ death. In the passage Toru comes to the hospital where Midori's terminally ill father is lying, and helps Midori look after him one evening. This becomes a factor in their coming closer together. The father seems to want Toru to look after his daughter Midori when he is gone. Midori is available and willing to be looked after, but Toru is still enmeshed in the coils of his first love, and cannot pull himself away.

Here is a situation where the romantically inclined reader dearly wishes that Toru would see the hopelessness of his quest to save Naoko, and instead go for his own salvation with Midori. But the author has other plans. More suicides, more loss. But what a gal Murakami has fashioned, this high-spirited, joyful, Midori!


Joe
Naoko is the central character who determines the life history of Toru Watanabe, whom we meet in the novel as a young undergraduate. Parents and parental affection or relationships have little role in this novel, except in the life of Midori, the girl with whom Toru had a great relationship but never loved completely. Naoko, the one whose boyfriend committed suicide for no evident reason in high school, is the one Toru is obsessed with. She and  Toru both feel responsible in some way for Kizuki’s death, and Naoko is permanently crippled mentally; she undergoes a psychological trauma that she cannot recover from although Toru tries to rescue her, visiting her in her sanatorium and staying with her and writing to her faithfully. He too becomes an emotional cripple, unable to recover from a one-way love for which there is no hope of requital, ending in a second suicide which leaves him unable to make out with any other woman, as we learn when we meet him 18 years later.


La ballade de l'impossible
(Norwegian Wood)
a film directed with screenplay by Tran Anh Hung 

Why all these suicides? At the epoch of this novel suicide rates were quite high in Japan, about 25 for 100,000 in the population. It has declined since then. One reason for the popularity of this novel in Japan is that it takes on and lays out the suicide ethos quite openly and sympathetically. But it also has the veneer of Western culture explicitly running throughout as a theme, and also in the books the young people read, in the music they listen to, and the motifs they live by. The title is taken from the Beatles song for which George Harrison plays the sitar, Norwegian Wood:

I once had a girl or should I
say, she once had me …
She showed me her room,
isn’t it good, norwegian wood

The song itself is an account of an illicit affair by John Lennon, they say.

Joe wondered if others would agree that the most appealing person in the book is Midori. He read a passage in which she is the protagonist. There is a movie, quite a sensitive one, made by a Vietnamese director, Tran Anh Hung, with Japanese actors, spoken in Japanese with subtitles. Actress Rinko Kikuchi has the role of Naoko. The director wrote the script in French, it was translated into English, and from there into Japanese. You can read about it 


and


Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) and Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi)

The film can be rented (video on demand) for 2.99 € at
http://www.allocine.fr/film/fichefilm-147468/telecharger-vod/


Joe inquired: was the passage he chose relatively ‘safe’ in Hemjit’s sense? The readers’ expectation had been Joe would choose an erotic scene — there were so many to choose from, but Joe confessed they would have taxed other parts of his body besides the lungs and voice-box.

Thommo
Thommo began by singing the simple tune of Norwegian Wood

I once had a girl
Or should I say she once had me
She showed me her room
Isn't it good Norwegian wood?

She asked me to stay
And she told me to sit anywhere
So I looked around
And I noticed there wasn't a chair

I sat on a rug biding my time
Drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said
"It's time for bed"

She told me she worked
In the morning and started to laugh
I told her I didn't
And crawled off to sleep in the bath

And when I awoke I was alone
This bird had flown
So I lit a fire
Isn't it good Norwegian wood?

Everyone appreciated Thommo for singing the theme song which is often referred to in the book. KumKum said she asked Alexa (the Amazon box) to play it for her several times when she was reading the book in Arlington, MA.

Thommo also chose a scene with Midori. That surely confirms the vote that Midori, not Naoko, not Toru, or anyone else, is the chief character that draws readers to this novel, and provides its humour and its joyful moments within a tale of depression and woe. She is the balance against all the trauma and unreconciled tragedies. She would be Toru’s redemption, if only he would open his heart.

Not that nudity is excluded. In Japan among family members nudity is open and there is no sense of shame. But Midori is irrepressible, she goes naked before her dead father’s altar at home; the scene is not gross but playful and even prayerful - “Here, Daddy, these are my tits, and this is my cunt.”

Priya
Priya picked the passage where Reiko comes down to see Toru and they celebrate Naoko’s life by playing fifty songs, one by him, and the rest by Reiko on her guitar. They can forget the sorrow of the loss of Naoko as she and Toru drink and play music.

The numbers by Ravel and Debussy, both piano pieces, are worth listening to. They strike the mood at this moment in the novel perfectly. Here is Ravel playing his Pavane pour une infante defunte
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGybwV3U9W8

and Katia Buniatishvili plays Claude Debussy’s Clair de lune
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBl2ClXzt3U

Reiko wants the distraught Toru to only remember this celebration of Naoko, and not the sorrow. And quite unexpectedly it ends by Reiko asking “How about doing it with me, Watanabe?”

As the two go off on their separate ways, perhaps never to meet again, this night remains to illuminate their future. When someone questioned this mid-thirties woman wanting to make out with a young lad, Joe said she is trying to rejuvenate herself, in preparation for the lonely life ahead as a music instructor in a small town Asahikawa “way up in the wilds of Hokkaido.” ‘Tolerant Joe’, said Saras.


Saras
It was Joe’s favourite person in the novel, Nagasawa, whom Saras chose to feature in her reading. Joe imagined he could have learned a lot of street-smarts from a guy like Nagasawa who was single-minded in pursuit of his goals and willing to change tack if he was blocked along some path. He works harder than most at gaining necessary skills (languages, for instance, important for a diplomatic career). He’s equally clear that he cannot get serious about girls until he has made the grade and risen in his career; until then girls are strictly for pleasure, and he’s open about that so none of the girls he goes out with should feel exploited. 

Nagasawa tells Toru:
Look, the world is an inherently unfair place. I didn't write the rules. It's always been that way. I have never once deceived Hatsumi. She knows I'm a shit and that she can leave me whenever she decides she can't take it. I told her that straight from the start.” 

But that does not prevent Hatsumi who was hoping to win his heart and make him fall for her, and marry. As it turns out, two years after Nagasawa leaves for Germany, Hatsumi marries someone else, only to commit suicide a few years later. That brings Toru’s friendship with Nagasawa to an end.

Toru, understands Nagasawa, but in the final analysis Toru realises he is of another bent - kinder to girls and alert to commiserate with their mental traumas.  He can never be as amoral and self-centred as Nagasawa, and therefore will not achieve great success in the world.


READINGS


Hemjit - Ch 1
Toru Watanabe lands 18 years later at Hamburg airport and remembers Naoko, now a shadow, just beyond recall, slipping away, and he decides to write this book to wake up and comprehend fully.
Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene I hardly paid it any attention. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that 18 years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn't give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. I was at that age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me. And worse, I was in love. Love with complications. Scenery was the last thing on my mind.

Now, though, that meadow scene is the first thing that comes back to me. The smell of the grass, the faint chill of the wind, the line of the hills, the barking of a dog: these are the first things, and they come with absolute clarity. I feel as if I can reach out and trace them with a fingertip. And yet, as clear as the scene may be, no one is in it. No one. Naoko is not there, and neither am I. Where could we have disappeared to? How could such a thing have happened? Everything that seemed so important back then - Naoko, and the self I was then, and the world I had then: where could they have all gone? It's true, I can't even bring back her face - not straight away, at least. All I'm left holding is a background, pure scenery, with no people at the front.

True, given time enough, I can remember her face. I start joining images - her tiny, cold hand; her straight, black hair so smooth and cool to the touch; a soft, rounded earlobe and the microscopic mole just beneath it; the camel-hair coat she wore in the winter; her habit of looking straight into my eyes when asking a question; the slight trembling that would come to her voice now and then (as though she were speaking on a windy hilltop) - and suddenly her face is there, always in profile at first, because Naoko and I were always out walking together, side by side. Then she turns to me and smiles, and tilts her head just a little, and begins to speak, and she looks into my eyes as if trying to catch the image of a minnow that has darted across the pool of a limpid spring.


It takes time, though, for Naoko's face to appear. And as the years have passed, the time has grown longer. The sad truth is that what I could recall in 5 seconds all too soon needed 10, then 30, then a full minute - like shadows lengthening at dusk. Someday, I suppose, the shadows will be swallowed up in darkness. There is no way around it: my memory is growing ever more distant from the spot where Naoko used to stand - where my old self used to stand. And nothing but scenery, that view of the meadow in October, returns again and again to me like a symbolic scene in a film. Each time it appears, it delivers a kick to some part of my mind. Wake up, it says. I'm still here. Wake up and think about it. Think about why I'm still here. The kicking never hurts me. There's no pain at all. Just a hollow sound that echoes with each kick. And even that is bound to fade one day. At Hamburg airport, though, the kicks were longer and harder than usual. Which is why I am writing this book. To think. To understand. It just happens to be the way I'm made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them.

Zakia - Ch 3 
After Kizuki died, Toru realises death is a part of life, not its opposite. Later he releases a firefly given by Stormtrooper, his roommate, and watches as its faint glow disappears, a metaphor for his waning remembrance of Naoko.
Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.
It's a cliché translated into words, but at the time I felt it not as words but as that knot of air inside me. Death exists - in a paperweight, in four red and white balls on a pool table - and we go on living and breathing it into our lungs like fine dust.
Until that time, I had understood death as something entirely separate from and independent of life. The hand of death is bound to take us, I had felt, but until the day it reaches out for us, it leaves us alone. This had seemed to me the simple, logical truth. Life is here, death is over there. I am here, not over there.
The night Kizuki died, however, I lost the ability to see death (and life) in such simple terms. Death was not the opposite of life. It was already here, within my being, it had always been here, and no struggle would permit me to forget that. When it took the 17-year-old Kizuki that night in May, death took me as well.
I lived through the following spring, at 18, with that knot of air in my chest, but I struggled all the while against becoming serious. Becoming serious was not the same thing as approaching the truth, I sensed, however vaguely. But death was a fact, a serious fact, no matter how you looked at it. Stuck inside this suffocating contradiction, I went on endlessly spinning in circles. Those were strange days, now that I look back at them. In the midst of life, everything revolved around death.

p.57
At the end of the month, Storm Trooper gave me a firefly. It was in an instant coffee jar with air holes in the lid and containing some blades of grass and a little water. In the bright room the firefly looked like some kind of ordinary black insect you'd find by a pond somewhere, but Storm Trooper insisted it was the real thing. "I know a firefly when I see one," he said, and I had no reason or basis to disbelieve him.
"Fine," I said. "It's a firefly." It had a sleepy look on its face, but it kept trying to climb up the slippery glass walls of the jar and falling back.
"I found it in the quad," he said.
"Here? By the dorm?"
"Yeah. You know the hotel down the street? They release fireflies in their garden for summer guests. This one made it over here."
Storm Trooper was busy stuffing clothes and notebooks into his black Boston bag as he spoke.
We were several weeks into the summer holidays, and he and I were almost the only ones left in the dorm. I had carried on with my jobs rather than go back to Kobe, and he had stayed on for a practical training session. Now that the training had ended, he was going back to the mountains of Yamanashi.
"You could give this to your girlfriend," he said. "I'm sure she'd love it."
"Thanks," I said.
After dark the dorm was hushed, like a ruin. The flag had been lowered and the lights glowed in the windows of the dining hall. With so few students left, they turned on only half the lights in the place, keeping the right half dark and the left lighted. Still, the smell of dinner drifted up to me - some kind of cream stew.
I took my bottled firefly to the roof. No one else was up there. A white vest hung on a clothesline that someone had forgotten to take in, waving in the evening breeze like the discarded shell of some huge insect. I climbed a steel ladder in the corner of the roof to the top of the dormitory's water tank. The tank was still warm with the heat of the sunlight it had absorbed during the day. I sat in the narrow space above the tank, leaning against the handrail and coming face-to-face with an almost full white moon. The lights of Shinjuku glowed to the right, Ikebukuro to the left. Car headlights flowed in brilliant streams from one pool of light to the other. A dull roar of jumbled sounds hung over the city like a cloud.
The firefly made a faint glow in the bottom of the jar, its light all too weak, its colour all too pale. I hadn't seen a firefly in years, but the ones in my memory sent a far more intense light into the summer darkness, and that brilliant, burning image was the one that had stayed with me all that time.
...

I twisted open the lid of the jar and took out the firefly, setting it on the two-inch lip of the water tank. It seemed not to grasp its new surroundings. It hobbled around the head of a steel bolt, catching its legs on curling scabs of paint. It moved to the right until it found its way blocked, then circled back to the left. Finally, with some effort, it mounted the head of the bolt and crouched there for a while, unmoving, as if it had taken its last breath. Still leaning against the handrail, I studied the firefly. Neither I nor it made a move for a very long time. The wind continued sweeping past the two of us while the numberless leaves of the zelkova tree rustled in the darkness.
I waited for ever.
Only much later did the firefly take to the air. As if some thought had suddenly occurred to it, the firefly spread its wings, and in a moment  it had flown past the handrail to float in the pale darkness. It traced a swift arc by the side of the water tank as though trying to bring back a lost interval in time. And then, after hovering there for a few seconds as if to watch its curved line of light blend into the wind, it finally flew off to the east.
Long after the firefly had disappeared, the trail of its light remained inside me, its pale, faint glow hovering on and on in the thick darkness behind my eyelids like a lost soul.
More than once I tried stretching my hand out in the dark. My fingers touched nothing. The faint glow remained, just beyond my grasp.

KumKum - Ch 7
Toru Watanabe goes to help Midori take care of her father in hospital and comes closer to her. 
"What do you think about my father?"
"I like him. Not that we had all that much to say to each
other. But, I don't know, he seems nice." "Was he quiet?"
"Very."
"You should have seen him a week ago. He was awful," Midori said, shaking her head. "Kind of lost his marbles and went wild. Threw a glass at me and yelled terrible stuff - 'I hope you die, you stupid bitch!' This sickness can do that to people. They don't know why, but it can make people get really vicious all of a sudden. It was the same with my mother. What do you think she said to me? "You're not my daughter! I hate your guts!' The whole world turned black for me for a second when she said that. But that kind of thing is one of the features of this particular sickness. Something presses on a part of the brain and makes people say all kinds of nasty things. You know it's just part of the sickness, but still, it hurts. What do you expect? Here I am, working my fingers to the bone for them, and they're saying all this terrible stuff to me-"
"I know what you mean," I said. Then I remembered the strange fragments that Midori's father had mumbled to me.
"Ticket? Ueno Station?" Midori said. "I wonder what that's all about?"
"And then he said, Please, and Midori.", "Please take care of
Midori?"'
"Or maybe he wants you to go to Ueno and buy a ticket. The order of the four words is such a mess, who knows what he means? Does Ueno Station mean anything special to you?"
"Hmm, Ueno Station." Midori thought about it for a while. "The only thing I can think of is the two times I ran away, when I was eight and when I was ten. Both times I took a train from Ueno to Fukushima. Bought the tickets with money I took from the till. Somebody at home made me really angry, and I did it to get even. I had an aunt in Fukushima, I kind of liked her, so I went to her house. My father was the one who brought me home. Came all the way to Fukushima to get me - a hundred miles! We ate boxed lunches on the train to Ueno. My father told me all kinds of stuff while we were travelling, just little bits and pieces with long spaces in between. Like about the big earthquake of 1923 or about the war or about the time I was born, stuff he didn't usually talk about. Come to think of it, those were the only times my father and I had something like a good, long talk, just the two of us. Hey, can you believe this? - my father was smack bang in the middle of Tokyo during one of the biggest earthquakes in history and he didn't even notice it!"
"No way!"
"It's true! He was riding through Koishikawa with a cart on the back of his bike, and he didn't feel a thing. When he got home, all the tiles had fallen off the roofs in the neighbourhood, and everyone in the family was hugging pillars and quaking in their boots. He still didn't get it and, the way he tells it, he asked, "What the hell's going on here?' That's my father's "fond recollection' of the Great Kanto Earthquake!" Midori laughed. "All his stories of the old days are like that. No drama whatsoever. They're all just a little bit off-centre. I don't know, when he tells those stories, you kind of get the feeling like nothing important has happened in Japan for the past 50 or 60 years. The young officers' uprising of 1936, the Pacific War, they're all kind of "Oh yeah, now that you mention it, I guess something like that once happened' kind of things. It's so funny!
"So, anyway, on the train, he'd tell me these stories in bits and pieces while we were riding from Fukushima to Ueno. And at the end, he'd always say, "So that goes to show you, Midori, it's the same wherever you go.' I was young enough to be impressed by stuff like that."
"So is that your "fond recollection' of Ueno Station?" I asked. "Yeah," said Midori. "Did you ever run away from home, Watanabe?"
"Never."
"Why not?"
"Lack of imagination. It never occurred to me to run away." "You are so weird!" Midori said, cocking her head as though truly impressed.
"I wonder," I said.
"Well, anyway, I think my father was trying to say he wanted you to look after me."
"Really?"
"Really! I understand things like that. Intuitively. So tell me, what was your answer to him?"
"Well, I didn't understand what he was saying, so I just said OK, don't worry, I'd take care of both you and the ticket."
"You promised my father that? You said you'd take care of me?" She looked me straight in the eye with a dead-serious expression on her face.
"Not like that," I hastened to correct her. "I really didn't know what he
was saying, and - "
"Don't worry, I'm just kidding," she said with a smile. "I love that about you."
Midori and I finished our coffee and went back to the room. Her father was still sound asleep. If you leaned close you could hear his steady breathing. As the afternoon deepened, the light outside the hospital window changed to the soft, gentle colour of autumn. A flock of birds rested on the electric wire outside, then flew on. Midori and I sat in a corner of the room, talking quietly the whole time. She read my palm and predicted that I would live to 105, marry three times, and die in a traffic accident. "Not a bad life," I said.
When her father woke just after four o'clock, Midori went to sit by his pillow, wiped the sweat from his brow, gave him water, and asked him about the pain in his head. A nurse came and took his temperature, recorded the number of his urinations, and checked the intravenous equipment. I went to the TV room and watched a little football.
At five I told Midori I would be leaving. To her father I explained, "I have to go to work now. I sell records in Shinjuku from six to 10.30."
He turned his eyes to me and gave a little nod.
"Hey, Watanabe, I don't know how to put this, but I really want to thank you for today," Midori said to me when she saw me to reception.
"I didn't do that much," I said. "But if I can be of any help, I'll come next week, too. I'd like to see your father again."
"Really?"
"Well, there's not that much for me to do in the dorm, and if I come here I get to eat cucumbers."
Midori folded her arms and tapped the linoleum with the heel of her shoe.
"I'd like to go drinking with you again," she said, cocking her head slightly.
"How about the porno movies?"
"We'll do that first and then go drinking. And we'll talk about all the usual disgusting things."
"I'm not the one who talks about disgusting things," I protested. "It's you."
"Anyway, we'll talk about things like that and get plastered and go to bed."
"And you know what happens next," I said with a sigh. "I try to do it, and you don't let me. Right?" She laughed through her nose.
"Anyway," I said, "pick me up again next Sunday morning. We'll come here together."
"With me in a little longer skirt?"
"Definitely," I said.

I didn't go to the hospital that next Sunday, though. Midori's father
died on Friday morning.
She called at 6.30 in the morning to tell me that. The buzzer letting me know I had a phone call went off and I ran down to the lobby with a cardigan thrown over my pyjamas. A cold rain was falling silently. "My father died a few minutes ago," Midori said in a small, quiet voice. I asked her if there was anything I could do. "Thanks," she said. "There's really nothing. We're used to funerals. I just wanted to let you know."
A kind of sigh escaped her lips.
"Don't come to the funeral, OK? I hate stuff like that. I don't want to see you there."
"I get it," I said.
"Will you really take me to a porno movie?" "Of course I will."
"A really disgusting one."
"I'll research the matter thoroughly." "Good. I'll call you," she said and hung up.
A week went by without a word from Midori. No calls, no sign of her in the lecture hall. I kept hoping for a message from her whenever I went back to the dorm, but there were never any. One night, I tried to keep my promise by thinking of her when I masturbated, but it didn't work. I tried switching over to Naoko, but not even Naoko's image was any help that time. It seemed so ridiculous I gave up. I took a swig of whisky, brushed my teeth and went to bed.

Joe - Ch 10
Midori breaks up with the other guy to be with Toru, and says by way of self-assessment she’s kinda cute and has nice boobs. “Stop thinking and hold me tight.”
"I broke up with him. Just like that." Midori put a Marlboro in her mouth, shielded it with her hand as she lit up, and inhaled.
"Why?"
""Why?'!" she screamed. "Are you crazy? You know the English subjunctive, you understand trigonometry, you can read Marx, and you don't know the answer to something as simple as that? Why do you even have to ask? Why do you have to make a girl say something like this? I like you more than I like him, that's all. I wish I had fallen in love with somebody a little more handsome, of course. But I didn't. I fell in love with you!"
I tried to speak, but I felt the words catching in my throat.
Midori threw her cigarette into a puddle. "Will you please get that look off your face? You're gonna make me cry. Don't worry, I know you're in love with somebody else. I'm not expecting anything from
you. But the least you can do is give me a hug. These have been two tough months for me."
I put up my umbrella, and we went behind the game area and held each other close. Our bodies strained against each other, and our lips met.  The smell of the rain clung to her hair and her jeans jacket. Girls’ bodies were so soft and warm! I could feel her breasts pressing against my chest through our clothing. How long had it been since my last physical contact with another human being?
"The day I last saw you, that night I talked to him, and we broke up,"
Midori said.
"I love you," I said to her. "From the bottom of my heart. I don't ever want to let you go again. But there's nothing I can do. I can't make a move."
"Because of her?"
I nodded.
"Tell me, have you slept with her?"
"Once. A year ago."
"And you haven't seen her since then?"
"I have seen her: twice. But we didn't do anything." 
"Why not? Doesn't she love you?"
"That's hard to say," I said. "It's really complicated. And mixed up. And it's been going on for such a long time, I don't know what's what any more. And neither does she. All I know is, I have a sort of responsibility in all this as a human being, and I can't just turn my back on it. At least, that's how I feel about it now. Even if she isn't in love with me."
"Let me just tell you this, Watanabe," said Midori, pressing her cheek against my neck. "I'm a real, live girl, with real, live blood gushing through my veins. You're holding me in your arms and I'm telling you that I love you. I'm ready to do anything you tell me to do. I may be a little bit mad, but I'm a good girl, and honest, and I work hard, I'm kind of cute, I have nice boobs, I'm a good cook, and my father left me a trust fund. I mean, I'm a real bargain, don't you think? If you don't take me, I'll end up going somewhere else."
"I need time," I said. "I need time to think and sort things out, and make some decisions. I'm sorry, but that's all I can say at this point."
"Yeah, but you do love me from the bottom of your heart, right? And you never want to let me go again, right?"
"I said it and I meant it."
Midori pulled away from me with a smile on her face. "OK, I'll wait! I believe in you," she said. "But when you take me, you take only me. And when you hold me in your arms, you think only about me. Is that clear?"
"I understand exactly."
"I don't care what you do to me, but I don't want you to hurt me. I've had enough hurt already in my life. More than enough. Now I want to be happy."
I drew her close and kissed her on the mouth.
"Drop the damn umbrella and wrap both your arms around me - hard!" she said.
"But we'll get soaking wet!"
"So what? I want you to stop thinking and hold me tight! I've been
waiting two whole months for this!"
I set down the umbrella and held her close in the rain. The dull rush of
 tyres on the highway enveloped us like a fog. The rain fell without a break, without a sound, soaking her hair and mine, running like tears down our cheeks, down to her denim jacket and my yellow nylon windcheater, spreading in dark stains.

Thommo - Ch 9 
Toru spends a night at Midori’s place and hears she took off her clothes in front of the altar to her dead father.
"Let's forget this love hotel crap, then. Going to a place like that just makes you feel cheap. Let's go to your house. You must have enough bedding for me?"
Midori thought about it for a minute, then nodded. "OK, we'll spend the night at mine."
We took the Yamanote Line to Otsuka, and soon we were raising the metal shutter that sealed off the front of the Kobayashi Bookshop. A paper sign on the shutter read TEMPORARILY CLOSED. The smell of old paper filled the dark shop, as if the shutter had not been opened for a long time. Half the shelves were empty, and most of the magazines had been tied in bundles for returns. That hollow, chilly feeling I had experienced on my first visit had only deepened. The place looked like a hulk abandoned on the shore.
"You're not planning to open shop again?" I asked.
"Nah, we're going to sell it," said Midori. "We'll divide the money and live on our own for a while without anybody's "protection'. My sister's getting married next year, and I've got three more years at university. We ought to make enough to see us through that much at least. I'll keep my part-time job, too. Once the place is sold, I'll live with my sister in a flat for a while."
"You think somebody'll want to buy it?
"Probably. I know somebody who wants to open a wool shop, She's been asking me recently if I want to sell. Poor Dad, though. He worked so hard to get this place, and he was paying off the loan he took out little by little, and in the end he hardly had anything left. It all melted away, like foam on a river."
"He had you, though," I said.
"Me?!" Midori said with a laugh. She took a deep breath and let it out.
"Let's go upstairs. It's cold down here."
Upstairs, she sat me at the kitchen table and went to warm the bath water. While she busied herself with that, I put a kettle on to boil and made tea. Waiting for the tank to heat up, we sat across from each other at the kitchen table and drank tea. Chin in hand, she took a long, hard look at me. There were no sounds other than the ticking of the clock and the hum of the fridge motor turning on and off as the thermostat kicked in and out. The clock showed that midnight was fast approaching.
"You know, Watanabe, study it hard enough, and you've got a pretty interesting face."
"Think so?" I asked, a bit hurt.
"A nice face goes a long way with me," she said. "And yours ... well, the more I look at it, the more I get to thinking, "He'll do'."
"Me, too," I said. "Every once in a while, I think about myself, "What the hell, I'll do'."
"Hey, I don't mean that in a bad way. I'm not very good at putting my feelings into words. That's why people misunderstand me. All I'm trying to say is I like you. Have I told you that before?"
"You have," I said.
"I mean, I'm not the only one who has trouble working out what men are all about. But I'm getting there, a little at a time."
Midori brought over a box of Marlboro and lit one up. "When you start at zero, you've got a lot to learn." "I wouldn't be surprised."
"Oh, I almost forgot! You want to burn a stick of incense for my father?"
I followed Midori to the room with the Buddhist altar, lit a stick of incense in front of her father's photo, and brought my hands together. "Know what I did the other day?" Midori asked. "I got all naked in front of my father's picture. Took off every stitch of clothing and let him have a good, long look. Kind of in a yoga position. Like, "Here, Daddy, these are my tits, and this is my cunt'."
"Why in the hell would you do something like that?" I asked.
"I don't know, I just wanted to show him. I mean, half of me comes from his sperm, right? Why shouldn't I show him? "Here's the daughter you made.' I was a little drunk at the time. I suppose that had something to do with it."
"I suppose."
"My sister walked in and almost fell over. There I was in front of my father's memorial portrait all naked with my legs spread. I guess you would be kind of surprised." 
"I s'pose so."
"I explained why I was doing it and said, "So take off your clothes too Momo (her name's Momo), and sit down next to me and show him,' but she wouldn't do it. She went away shocked. She has this really conservative streak."
"In other words, she's relatively normal, you mean."
"Tell me, Watanabe, what did you think of my father?"
"I'm not good with people I've just met, but it didn't bother me being alone with him. I felt pretty comfortable.
We talked about all kinds of stuff."
-What kind of stuff?"
-Euripides," I said.
Midori laughed out loud. "You're so weird! Nobody talks about Euripides with a dying person they've just met!"
,,Well, nobody sits in front of her father's memorial portrait with her legs spread, either!"
Midori chuckled and gave the altar bell a ring. "Night-night, Daddy. We're going to have some fun now, so don't worry and get some sleep. You're not suffering any more, right? You're dead, OK? I'm sure you're not suffering. If you are, you'd better complain to the gods. Tell 'em it's just too cruel. I hope you meet Mum and the two of you really do it. I saw your willy when I helped you pee. It was pretty impressive! So give it everything you've got. Goodnight."

Priya - Ch 11
Reiko plays 50+ songs on her guitar as a funeral dirge for Naoko so they can forget the sorrow as she and Toru drink; the celebration ends by Reiko asking “How about doing it with me, Watanabe?"
We took the five-minute walk along the river bank to the local public baths and came home feeling more refreshed. I opened the bottle of wine and we sat on the veranda drinking it.
"Hey, Watanabe, could you bring out another glass?"
"Sure," I said. "But what for?"
"We're going to have our own funeral for Naoko, just the two of us. One that's not so sad."
When I handed her the glass, Reiko filled it to the brim and set it on the stone lantern in the garden. Then she sat on the veranda, leaning against a pillar, guitar in her arms, and smoked a cigarette.
"And now could you bring out a box of matches? Make it the biggest one you can find."
I brought out an economy-size box of kitchen matches and sat down next to her.
"Now what I want you to do is lay down a match every time I play a song, just set them in a row. I'm going to play every song I can think of."
First she played a soft, lovely rendition of Henry Mancini's "Dear Heart".
"You gave a recording of this to Naoko, didn't you?" she asked. "I did. For Christmas the year before last. She really liked that song."
"I like it, too," said Reiko. "So sweet and beautiful ..." and she ran through a few bars of the melody one more time before taking another sip of wine. "I wonder how many songs I can play before I get completely drunk. This'll be a nice funeral, don't you think - not so sad?"
Reiko moved on to the Beatles, playing "Norwegian Wood",
"Yesterday", "Michelle", and "Something". She sang and played "Here Comes the Sun", then played "The Fool on the Hill". I laid seven matches in a row.
"Seven songs," said Reiko, sipping more wine and smoking another cigarette. "Those guys sure knew something about the sadness of life, and gentleness."
By "those guys" Reiko of course meant John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. After a short breather, Reiko crushed her cigarette out and picked up her guitar again. She played "Penny Lane", "Blackbird", "Julia", "When I'm 64", "Nowhere Man", "And I Love Her", and "Hey Jude".
"How many songs is that?"
"Fourteen," I said.
She sighed and asked me, "How about you? Can you play something - maybe one song?"
"No way. I'm terrible."
"So play it terribly."
I brought out my guitar and stumbled my way through "Up on the Roof". Reiko took a rest, smoking and drinking. When I was through, she applauded.
Next she played a guitar transcription of Ravel's "Pavanne for a Dying Queen" and a beautifully clean rendition of Debussy's "Claire de Lune".
"I mastered both of these after Naoko died," said Reiko. "To the end, her taste in music never rose above the sentimental."
She performed a few Bacharach songs next: "Close to You",
"Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head", "Walk on By", "Wedding Bell Blues".
"Twenty," I said.
"I'm like a human jukebox!" exclaimed Reiko. "My professors would faint if they could see me now."
She went on sipping and puffing and playing: several bossa novas, Rogers and Hart, Gershwin, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Carole King, The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki Song", "Blue Velvet", "Green Fields". Sometimes she would close her eyes and nod or hum to the melody.
When the wine was gone, we turned to whisky. The wine in the glass in the garden I poured over the stone lantern and replaced it with whisky.
"How's our count going?" Reiko asked. 
"Forty-eight," I said.
For our forty-ninth song Reiko played "Eleanor Rigby", and the fiftieth was another performance of "Norwegian Wood". After that she rested her hands and drank some whisky. "Maybe that's enough," she said.
"It is," I answered. "Amazing."
Reiko looked me in the eye and said, "Now listen to me, Watanabe. I want you to forget all about that sad little funeral you saw. Just remember this marvellous one of ours."
I nodded.
"Here's one more for good measure," she said, and for her fifty-first piece she played her favourite Bach fugue. When she was through, she said in a voice just above a whisper, "How about doing it with me, Watanabe?"
"Strange," I said. "I was thinking the same thing."

Saras - Ch 8
Nagasawa gives Toru a lesson in self-centred life improvement combined with a fuck-as-you-please outlook on life.
"Yeah. The more languages you know the better. And I've got a knack for them. I taught myself French and it's practically perfect. Languages are like games. You learn the rules for one, and they all work the same way. Like women."
"Ah, the reflective life!" I said with a sarcastic edge. 
"Anyway, let's eat out soon." 
"You mean cruising for women?" 
"No, a real dinner. You, me and Hatsumi at a good restaurant. To celebrate my new job. My old man's paying, so we'll go somewhere really expensive." 
"Shouldn't it just be you and Hatsumi?" 
"No, it'd be better with you there. I'd be more comfortable, and so would Hatsumi." 
Oh no, it was Kizuki, Naoko and me all over again. 
"I'll spend the night at Hatsumi's afterwards, so join us just for the meal." 
"OK, if you both really want me to," I said. "But, anyway, what are you planning to do about Hatsumi? You'll be assigned overseas when you finish your training, and you probably won't come back for years. What's going to happen to her?" 
"That's her problem." 
"I don't get it," I said. Feet on his desk, Nagasawa took a swig of beer and yawned. 
"Look, I'm not planning to get married. I've made that perfectly clear to Hatsumi. If she wants to marry someone, she should go ahead and do it. I won't stop her. If she wants to wait for me, let her wait. That's what I mean." 
"I have to hand it to you," I said. 
"You think I'm a shit, don't you?"
"I do." 
"Look, the world is an inherently unfair place. I didn't write the rules. It's always been that way. I have never once deceived Hatsumi. She knows I'm a shit and that she can leave me whenever she decides she can't take it. I told her that straight from the start." 
Nagasawa finished his beer and lit a cigarette. 
"Isn't there anything about life that frightens you?" I asked. 
"Hey, I'm not a total idiot," said Nagasawa. "Of course life frightens me sometimes. I don't happen to take that as the premise for everything else, though. I'm going to give it 100 per cent and go as far as I can. I'll take what I want and leave what I don't want. That's how I intend to live my life, and if things go bad, I'll stop and reconsider at that point. If you think about it, an unfair society is a society that makes it possible for you to exploit your abilities to the limit." 
"Sounds like a pretty self-centred way to live," I said. "Perhaps, but I'm not just looking up at the sky and waiting for the fruit to drop. In my own way, I'm working hard. I'm working ten times harder than you are." 
"That's probably true," I said. 
"I look around me sometimes and I get sick to my stomach. Why the hell don't these bastards do something? I wonder. They don't do a fucking thing, and then they moan about it." 
Amazed at the harshness of his tone, I looked at Nagasawa. "The way I see it, people are working hard. They're working their fingers to the bone. Or am I looking at things wrong?" 
"That's not hard work. It's just manual labour," Nagasawa said with finality. "The "hard work' I'm talking about is more self-directed and purposeful." 
"You mean, like studying Spanish while everyone else is taking it easy?" 
"That's it. I'm going to have Spanish mastered by next spring. I've got English and German and French down pat, and I'm almost there with Italian. You think things like that happen without hard work?" 
Nagasawa puffed on his cigarette while I thought about Midori's father. There was one man who had probably never even thought about starting Spanish lessons on TV He had probably never thought about the difference between hard work and manual labour, either. He was probably too busy to think about such things - busy with work, and busy bringing home a daughter who had run away to Fukushima. "So, about that dinner of ours," said Nagasawa. "Would this Saturday be OK for you?" "Fine," I said.

1 comment:

Hemjit Bharathan said...

Thanks Joe. Enjoyed reading it.