Murakami and me

In all honesty, this love for Murakami’s work is a complex one to talk about. It’s not about throwing words of praise and hunting for the right adjectives to symbolize the passionate addiction , obsession, that I have for his works. I’ve struggled to express the thought so much that I had to rewrite this piece a whole lot of times. I still struggle to find that balance. I’ll attempt , nonetheless. Fortune usually favours the foolishly brave.

I’ve not been an avid reader and Murakami didn’t exist in my world at all. Times changed and I chanced upon his book. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage .The word on the street was that the gifted author was a lunatic. They had said that his works had an aura of depression, that his works would never paint a rainbow picture of the world, that I had to be a special kind of mad to enjoy his works. I guess the last sentence is true enough and a lot of folks did end up missing the point. It’s a very subtle point that is not that difficult to miss.

To empathise with his works, one needs to view the world around in a different light. The world that Murakami paints, has all sorts of demons and angels that walk among us. In fact, his works are heavily laden with crafted layers of existential philosophy, the nature of soul and body and the separated worlds of wishes and reality. If none of that interests you, the casual convoluted narrative would keep you intrigued. To understand the world that Murakami paints one should also understand the nature of the worlds of the many.

We all lead multiple lives. That alone warrants a divorced , disjoint view of the worlds that we are a part of. Each fracture that is led by our choices, we also leave behind bits and bolts of ourselves locked away in the altered realities. To simplify that statement, each time we pretend, adjust, accommodate or compromise to cope along with something, we also either make peace with that alternate or harbour a longing of a ‘what if’. While for most of us, this fork in the road does not dissociate us from being ourselves, the works of Murakami exaggerate that fracture. He runs wild with possibilities of the alternates and goes on to paint the picture of how the characters cope up with the altered outcome of their choices. In that sense, all the worlds that surround us start to make sense.

Many find Murakami depressing. I wish I could agree to that. I don’t. This again ties back to the world of the characters that we are introduced to. I’d be lying if I were to say that the world is a happy place and that at every corner of this world, we humans embrace happiness and blissful joy. I’d be lying if I said that the world was dark and there is nothing there which finds a nurturing care in this forsaken land that even god looked away from. For most of us, the world is a semi-balanced blend of the extremes. We are happy when we can. We are sad when we are. Smiles and tears when the moments usher themselves in our lives.

The world that Murakami paints, his characters always and I mean always , go through moments of pristine pain. This pain is crucial to both the development of the character and the story itself. I’m a philosophical bloke. I’m a skeptic and a believer too. I believe that unless there is an entropy, there will always be an inertia. In short, there is nothing like a good dose of jolting pain to shake us away from the inertia of disillusionment. It’s that pain that delivers us towards awakening and enlightenment.

in the non philosophical sense, if it aint broke, there aint a story. The author challenges the status quo of the character’s world by breaking them or pushing them to the brink of a collapse that they no longer can contain behind a wall of denial. This usually sets off the domino effect. The plot moves away from establishing characters to forwarding the plot of the story.

Like the rest of us, the characters are faced with choices. Either stay broken. This charts out a linear flow of events to come. Or, do something. The do something part takes the characters on a journey of awareness of the self. The characters start to understand themselves. They are now free to face their demons without the fear of it.

We are no dissimilar to the characters in Murakami’s world. We are equipped with experiences. We also witness those jolts that try to shake us away from our inertia. We either sustain in denial or reject our realities and embark upon a journey of rebuilding ourselves.

This phase is not possible by chewing on a sugar coated , hard boiled candy. Many of us single out this phase and brand the works as depressing. I don’t have an opinion on that perception. In the words of Homer Simpson, it can either be the worst day of your life or be the worst day of your life SO FAR. It’s that so far, that defines our life. That defines our identity. That defines the characters in Murakami’s world.

The journey leads to realization and then there are choices to make. Do the characters accept that realization or do they reject it. More choices and more forks on the road in terms of the narrative. Eventually, that acceptance leads to different outcomes. That’s the simplest view of a cause and it’s effect and the consequences that follow. The cause, the effect, the consequence, the trio dictates the future of all the causes, all the effects and all the consequences that the characters will endure.

What I love the most about a Murakami book is that the ending is never inked. There are no ‘and so they lived happily ever after’. Most of the works take us, the readers, to the point of acceptance of the characters. We are then left to interpret the action of the characters. The characters accept or reject their reality based on our acceptance or rejection of what we witness in the journey. While most readers would call this a lazy writing technique, I think it would have been lazier to spell out the choices that the characters would go on to make. It’s easy to say that the prince kissed the princess and then they lived happily ever after. It’s a challenge to tell us that the prince is wondering if he should kiss the princess. It’s brilliant to leave us to wonder if the princess wants a life with the prince. It’s sheer blissful magic to contemplate if there is a happy ever after to the tale at all.

You’d have to be a special kind of crazy to fall in love with Murakami’s works. I am a special kind of crazy. I am a wreck when I endure the depression. I’m an eternal optimist when the characters embark upon their journey of awakening and self realization. I am a skeptic when they make a choice to believe in the new status quo. I am a realist when the tale comes to a close. When the story is said, I enjoy the peaceful stream of thoughts that drifts carelessly in the raging rapid that the story is.

Like any other book in the world, it is what we make of it. While the world sees depression and resentment, I see life and the struggle to want to live.

Karthik

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In pursuit of closure

Must be a Murakami thing. The themes of closure always feature in all of his works. I reckon the process of hurting oneself, the building of walls to cope up, the loss of faith in the goodness of humanity and emotions specialize in fracturing the heart, the big wide gape ; that life on hold and all in the name of not finding Closure. That quite nicely and accurately sums up the turmoil that Murakami’s characters usually go through. The plots focus on complicating life and each character struggles with finding a closure.

Closure, or as Rachel from Friends called it, CA LOOOOW SURE, is the process of making peace with the dealt hand. There is a wiki page on the matter and it describes closure as an individual’s desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity. Psychologically and otherwise, since there is an established pursuit of an answer that pampers the ego, justifies the misery, it also reflects the journey one embarks upon in trying to arrive at the answer.

The funny irony to the tale is that as an outsider to the tales, we as readers do find it easier to think and understand the course that life has for the characters. The skills are there and it’s usually a question of reading and comprehending that read. The challenges exert a certain control over us when we move away from pages of fiction to pages of our own lives.

The journey seems to be the same. It’s always been the same. The lifecycle of such a process can possibly be outlined as

1. Acknowledgement

2. Awareness of the current self

3. Introspection and RCA

4. Awareness of the changing self

5. Acceptance

6. Acknowledgement

From a theoretical stand point, the lifecycle is both symmetric and cyclic. As with the tales, the absolute starting point is around the awakening of the fact that there is unpleasant unhappiness to deal with. Beyond denial, once the characters acknowledge the state of misery, the journey towards that holy grail answer becomes the sequential next step.

As one strolls around that road , one starts to view oneself through a pristine mirror that is free from the biases of denial and fears. The character learns to call a spade a spade rather than adopting a disillusioned view of what things are. As the characters start viewing their real self, they start spotting the trends that shaped the course of their life. It helps draw a neat RCA of all the whys of their decisions. It also serves to remind the reasons to all the reasoning made.

In Murakami’s world, this phase is the most crucial phase which alters the future of the given character. It’s a phase that shows the strength and courage of the characters who embark upon such journeys. The introspection offers a lucid vivid realization which is almost cathartic in nature. That view usually is free from clutches of how we wanted things to be, distanced from a future that we wanted to exist. This phase divorces the character from the past and the future, leaving the character free to alter the present.

Quite interestingly, closure comes in two parts. The easy bit and the harder bit. The easy bit, yup hear me out, is the one where we find the answers from folks we are connected with. The harder bit is the one where we accept the answers and make that choice to deal with it. I am a little intrigued by the fact that we lead ourselves to believe that we’d find comforts in knowing the thought process and justification of the thoughts that reside in people’s mind. In fact, that’s the beauty to a Murakami’s book. The long journey , the mental distress, the tsunami of emotions and end of the day, the justification from the people connected to the character does not really have a lasting effect on them.

For what it’s worth, wanting people to call out their thoughts; wanting them to explain their decision to us, is an elaborate excuse of delaying and delegating the choices that we struggle to make. It’s inevitable. When push comes to shove, we are left to make sense of everything that refused to make sense to us when our journey began. The beautiful irony to this truth is the fact that unless we embark upon that tumultuous journey, unless we walk alone along that road of uncomfortable thorns, we’d never find ourselves reaching the conclusion that all the misery was just in our mind.

The payoff , to the reader , is beautiful when the characters come full circle and left at a point where there are choices waiting to be made.

It’s no wonder that I love Murakami’s works. Just like happiness, the pursuit of closure happens in our mind. A million steps and a distance later, one wakes up to the blaring reality that one really didn’t have to walk the distance. Could have been done at the comforts of the chair at home.

Guess there is one question begging to be asked. Is Murakami’s world of words very different from ours?

Karthik

Book review : Norwegian Wood

Cover Page of Norwegian Wood, Murakami

Norwegian wood by Haruki Murakami.

It is an infinitely difficult tale for me to review. It’s not because the tale is beyond a justifiable review, it’s solely because I am blinded by the emotions that I’d bring to the table when I talk about this book. I shall do my best to alienate myself from the book while I attempt to review this Masterpiece.

Norwegian wood, a song by The Beatles, also happens to be the song that the leading lady of the tale likes. Naoko. Toru Watanabe is the narrator and this story revolves around his life, how it intersects with Naoko , Reiko and Midori. The book is a testament to the predictability of how unpredictable our reasoning becomes when we face challenges that test our emotional stability. In short, Love, is the most predictable means to call out how we become unpredictable because of it.

N.W is a simple tale of love. Toru, his best friend Kizuki and K’s girlfriend Naoko are a trio. The story takes place when Toru is aged 17. Kizuki kills himself which leaves a void in Naoko and Toru’s lives. It’s a void that is beyond repair. It leaves a gaping hole in their lives. Toru and Naoko move to Tokyo, each pursuing their education. Toru and Naoko seem to find solace between themselves and Naoko , one fine day, exiles herself from Toru’s life. Toru feels the icy talons of isolation once again.

He later comes to know that Naoko , who is suffering from depression, has checked herself into an institution. Naoko reaches out to him through letters. Toru makes it a point to visit her and that’s when they meet Reiko. Reiko is Naoko’s roomie and she’s also a victim of a breakdown. There is a new trio that is formed.

While all of this happens, Toru meets Midori and finds her to be full of life, a quality that he misses both in his life and that in Naoko. She represents everything that Toru misses. Toru is in love with Naoko. Naoko is imprisoned by her depression. She’s a broken version of what she can be. She’s unable to reciprocate that love. Her solitude leaves Toru in a state of solitude. Midori start to fall for Toru and he feels the conflict.

So far the plot of the book does point towards the simple fact that love can get as complicated as one wants it to be. It’s not the mere words of love that this book represents. It is a hurricane of emotions that each of the character expresses. The volatile nature of emotions, the impact of such emotions on our lives, the way our lives affect the lives of folks around us, and this book absolutely , precisely rams the hammer down the perfect nail.

As the protagonist suffers the misery of helplessness of his love, we feel his pain. We feel the pain and misery that keeps Naoko trapped. Her inability to jolt herself off her depression, the toll and strain that has on the love, the residual sadness and guilt of Kizuki’s death, a world of walls keep the lovers apart. Toru’s love for Naoko keeps him disconnected from Midori. Midori’s solitude finds comforts in Toru.

It’s not hard to imagine the way love flourishes through pain and sadness. Each character is trapped , waiting and longing for that special attention. Each character denies that special attention to someone that desperately seeks from them. We are left with human nature in its rawest unblemished form.

What happens to the love? Whose love finally endures the test of time? Whose battle with depression, loneliness finally sees the light of dawn? The story goes on to conclude in the most fashionable way that readers of Murakami are now used to.

I loved this book. This book struck a chord and I couldn’t keep myself away from living the characters in my head. The book expresses a lot of themes.

We find it hard to accept but the under appreciated truth to many of us is the fact that we put our happiness in someone else’s hands. The tale is a testament to that fact. There is the side of love that the book ventures into. Love, while is empowering, it also has the capacity to render us helpless. There is frustrated helplessness plastered across the walls of this tale. Then comes the big elephant in the room, Depression. What I loved the most about the book is that it portrayed a picture of Love in the time of a depression. I guess it’s hard in real life as it’s conveyed in the book.

The book also explores the fact that people are drawn to certain people. Toru is broken inside, he finds himself gravitating towards Naoko, Midori and Reiko, and all of them are broken too. Like attracts like, I’d presume. There is a certain nativity in such pain. We draw and reach out to similar folks.

This book is most definitely not about giving up on life. The broken lives of Toru and Naoko represent the baggage of the past. Midori represents the present. Reiko represents the way future unfolds. It’s a convoluted thought that connects the characters to the linearity of time. But that’s how I see it. Toru and Naoko are anchored to the past and hence neither is able to move on. Midori on the other hand, represents life. She’s the one character that makes choices in the right time. It’s just a matter of time for her to realize if her choices were right or wrong. Reiko represents the future. She is both an outcome of the past, and also changes with changes to the choices that are made in the present.

For what it’s worth, somewhere , some time in the future, I’ll read this again. I love this book!

Karthik