“You keep looking at the sea and you start to miss being with people; you stay around people all the time and you just want to look at the sea. Funny about that.”
-- Haruki Murakami, from Alfred Birnbaum's translation of Hear the Wind Sing.*
Published as Kaze no Uta o Kike in 1979, Hear the Wind Sing was later translated into English by Alfred Birnbaum in 1987. But funnily enough, despite Murakami's exploding global popularity in the years to follow, Birnbaum's translations of Hear the Wind Sing and its sequel Pinball, 1973 were not immediately made available to US and UK publishers. For the longest time, these English translations were exclusive to Japan as part of the Kodansha English Library. To my knowledge, Murakami has never provided a satisfactory answer as to why these works were withheld for so long, but I suspect the brevity of each novel might have factored into the decision.** Whatever the truth, thanks to a number of Japanese eBay sellers, these books did not remain completely out of reach for Murakami fans outside of Japan. In fact, I count myself among those fans lucky enough to purchase both books -- and at reasonable prices, too. But now, Murakami devotees no longer have to go to such lengths to obtain his early works. In August 2015, Knopf solved the problem by publishing Wind/Pinball, a double volume newly translated by Ted Goossen.
In a brand new introduction titled "The Birth of My Kitchen Table Fiction," Murakami fondly remembers the series of events that led to the writing of Hear the Wind Sing. While he was watching a baseball game, he suddenly became possessed with the idea of writing a novel, and so, while running a jazz bar with his wife, he would write for an hour every night after closing for the next three months. When the manuscript was completed, he submitted it to a literary magazine named Gunzo and, lo and behold, ended up winning its literary prize in the process. Not a bad start, eh? As a Murakami fan myself, I was already aware of this story, but what I didn't know -- and what Murakami reveals here, among many other things -- is that he sent Gunzo his only copy of the manuscript: "If they hadn't selected it, it probably would have vanished forever. (Gunzo didn't return rejected manuscripts.) Most likely too, I would have never written another novel. Life is strange" (xvi). Let that sink in for a second. That means no Wild Sheep Chase. No Norwegian Wood. No 1Q84.
Let's all send a note of thanks to Gunzo, shall we?
“There’s no such thing as perfect writing. Just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”* These are the first lines of Haruki Murakami’s debut novel, Hear the Wind Sing. Spanning much of the month of August 1970, the book details — among other things — the plight of a twenty-one-year-old man who escorts an inebriated stranger back to her home, only to find himself passing out and spending the night. When she wakes up the next morning, the mystery woman has no idea how she got home and is understandably upset about what she did or didn’t do with our unnamed protagonist. The usual misunderstandings ensue, although the outcome is less Three’s Company-style high jinks than the premise might suggest.
Along the way, we learn more about the narrator's past as well as the origin of his friendship with a character nicknamed "The Rat" (a man who will figure prominently in both Pinball, 1973 and Wild Sheep Chase). Subsequent encounters with the mysterious woman occur, but not exactly of the romantic variety.
At less than one hundred pages, Hear the Wind Sing makes for a brisk summer read. A lot of the elements Murakami fans have come to love in his novels appear here in their earliest existing forms. If Murakami’s career is a banquet, then Hear the Wind Sing is a light, but tasty appetizer -- one that leaves you wanting more. And more is what he would deliver.****
NOTE: If there is one complaint I have about the book, it's that it's missing the two pages present in the Birnbaum translation, a postscript of sorts that ties up the narrator's vested interest in the fictional American writer, Derek Heartfield. [UPDATE: Translator Ted Goossen graciously responded to my inquiry and revealed that in the version of Hear The Wind Sing published in Gunzo, there was no postscript. It was only added in the book version. When Murakami's complete works were published later, that postscript was removed. Thus, this is the "official" version.]
This review was originally published at LoveHKFilm.com, the former home of Ronin on Empty, on September 29, 2010. It has been edited to reflect my recent impressions of the new translation. The original review can be found here: http://www.lovehkfilm.com/blog/roninonempty/?p=368
*Goossen's translation reads: "Looking at the ocean makes me miss people, and hanging out with people makes me miss the ocean. It's weird."
**In his introduction, Murakami uses the phrase "love mingled with a bit of embarrassment" to describe his first two novels, so perhaps "embarrassment" is the explanation for why he wouldn't allow them to be published outside of Japan.
***Ted Goossen's translation: "There's no such thing as a perfect piece of writing. Just as there's no such thing as perfect despair."
****As a side note, the book was turned into a movie in 1980, one that Murakami himself disliked. If anyone has a link to a trailer, I’d love to see it.