Tuesday, August 25, 2015

PINBALL WIZARD -- A Look at Haruki Murakami's PINBALL, 1973

When I began reading Haruki Murakami’s work, the going rate on eBay for Kodansha’s English translation of Pinball, 1973 was well over $250 a copy. I couldn’t afford to pay that much for a novel (and wouldn’t if I could), but through a stroke of luck, I eventually scored a copy for fifteen bucks.  In my original 2010 review of the book, I wrote, "If Murakami ever allows the two novels to be released in the West, he’d do well to instruct the publisher to collate the two works as a single book. It’d make for more substantial reading." Well, that's exactly what happened. In August, Knopf released Wind/Pinball: Two Novels, a collection that includes new translations of both Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973.

Both Pinball, 1973 and its predecessor provide an interesting, if not entirely significant backstory to the events of Wild Sheep Chase — in fact, the three books are said to form the so-called “Trilogy of the Rat.” Characters and places featured in Wild Sheep Chase are actually introduced in Murakami's first two books: the unnamed narrator, his business partner, the aforementioned Rat, and J's Bar (not to mention J himself). In addition, both of these slender tomes provide an interesting primer to all things Murakami: references abound to all kinds of Murakami staples: elephants, ears, spaghetti, suicide by hanging in a forest, an old girlfriend named Naoko, and wells — the deep, dark, and bottomless kind.

Monday, August 24, 2015


“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?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Eddie Chern, editor of Frank Chin's blog Chin Talks, conducted an extensive interview with me about my work on The Confessions of a Number One Son. We discuss everything from my background to my thoughts on what the novel's prospects might have been, if it had been published in the 1970s as originally intended. You can check out the full interview at link below: