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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Hear the Wind Sing

Murakami Haruki

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Wind/Pinball

Title: Hear the Wind Sing
Author: Murakami Haruki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1979 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: in Wind/Pinball - US
in Wind/Pinball - UK
in Wind/Pinball - Canada
in Wind/Pinball - India
in Écoute le chant du vent/Flipper, 1973 - France
in Wenn der Wind singt/Pinball 1973 - Deutschland
in Escucha la canción del viento y Pinball 1973 - España
  • Japnese title: 風の歌を聴け
  • Published together with Pinball, 1973 as Wind/Pinball
  • With an Introduction by the author
  • Translated by Ted Goossen
  • Previously translated by Alfred Birnbaum (1987)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : charming proto-Murakami

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 1/8/2015 .
The Guardian . 4/8/2015 Hannah Beckerman
The Guardian . 13/8/2015 Ian Sansom
The Independent . 23/7/2015 Arifa Akbar
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/8/2015 Steve Erickson

  From the Reviews:
  • "These new-old books are short but by no means slight. Nor are they only for hard-core Murakami fans." - The Economist

  • "What establishes these two novellas as quintessential Murakami are not just the themes of isolation and loneliness that will characterise many of his later works, nor their colloquial style that positions them firmly in the familiar territory of classic American coming-of-age novels. Itís that both stories hint at the unique, postmodern blend of the real and the surreal, the quotidian and the allegorical for which Murakami would later become famous." - Hannah Beckerman, The Guardian

  • "Early Murakami isnít Murakami-in-the-making, itís already and entirely Murakami." - Ian Sansom, The Guardian

  • "As stories read without (unfair?) comparison, both books have that unique blend of melancholy and beauty that Murakami manages so well; they are mysterious, moreish, but also mannered and incomplete. (...) What is also there, especially in Hear the Wind Sing, is reflections on writing itself, as if Murakami were stating his reasons, and his need, to tell stories." - Arifa Akbar, The Independent

  • "If Murakamiís hybrid futurism is a product of Japanese tradition clashing with local postmodernism, then the greatest revelation of his debut is how this contradiction has raged in Murakami from the outset." - Steve Erickson, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Hear the Wind Sing was Murakami Haruki's first novel, and now (2015) comes packaged in a new translation (by Ted Goossen) together with his follow-up, Pinball, 1973 in one volume, as Wind/Pinball. With some overlap of characters -- notably the unfortunately named 'Rat' and barkeep J -- and a similar feel, the pairing is quite natural. An Introduction by Murakami, in which he explains how he came to write these -- indeed, his whole path to becoming a writer -- is also helpful.
       Among the interesting titbits about the writing of Hear the Wind Sing is that Murakami reveals in his Introduction is that: "I decided to write the opening of my novel in English", and then translate that into Japanese. [It's disappointing then that he and the publishers didn't go to the trouble of digging out those original English efforts and including them in this volume, too, -- in an appendix or the like.]
       As he explains:

What I was seeking by writing first in English and then "translating" into Japanese was no less than the creation of an unadorned "neutral" style that would allow me freer movement. My interest was not in creating a watered-down form of Japanese. I wanted to deploy a type of Japanese as far removed as possible from so-called literary language in order to write in my own natural voice. That required desperate measures.
       It certainly seems to have worked: Murakami's distinctive tone is on full display in his debut -- perhaps even more obviously than in his later, more nuanced writing. The opening paragraph -- presumably one of the parts originally conceived in English -- sums up the struggle to find that (original) voice, Murakami's stand-in unnamed narrator then going on to explain his years of struggle in trying to write his small story:
     "There's no such thing as a perfect piece of writing. Just as there's no such thing as perfect despair." So said a writer I bumped into back when I was a university student. It wasn't until much later that I could grasp his full meaning, but I still found consolation in his words -- that there's no such thing as perfect writing.
       The analogy -- writing and despair -- is pure Murakami, and nicely sets the tone for the work.
       Hear the Wind Sing begins with the narrator's thoughts on the act of writing -- this story in particular, as well as the act in general. He offers the example of the (fictional) pulp author Derek Hartfield as someone from whom he learned about writing -- even as he admits: "as a writer, Hartfield was sterile in the full sense of the word".
       The story proper, he finally explains, covers eighteen days in the summer of 1970, describing his time back in his hometown while on summer break from his biology studies in Tokyo. He was twenty-one -- "Still plenty young, but not as young as I used to be" -- and he describes a pretty aimless time and the various encounters he has.
       There's some suggestion of the narrator trying to find himself, in some sense, through different means -- though it's not done too obviously. His younger self from 1970 reflects some on his life, and offers a variety of details and tallies, for example. At one point -- fairly recently (he only stopped in April, 1970) -- he was: "compelled to turn everything in my life into numbers", keeping close count and a record of everything he does and encounters:
     I believed in a ll seriousness that by converting my life into numbers I might be able to get through to people. That having something to communicate could stand as proof I really existed. Of course, no one had the slightest interest in how many cigarettes I had smoked, or the number of stairs I had climbed, or the size of my penis. When I realized this, I lost my raison d'être and became utterly alone.
       His friend Rat, who has dropped out of school, is more obviously struggling with purpose (or the lack of it) -- but this too is a reflection of the narrator's own struggles. Typically, too, the Rat appears to find some escape in literature: while at the beginning: "The Rat was a virtual stranger to books" (unlike the narrator, who spends a great deal of time reading) he already conceives a novel and, following up almost a decade later we learn: "The Rat is still writing novels".
       The summer days that the narrator recalls are largely uneventful -- but in that pregnantly uneventful way youthful days of summer can be. He has encounters -- he meets a girl; he doesn't meet another; he has beers with the Rat; he spends time at J's bar -- with many of the conversations of the simple, open-ended, philosophical-speculative kind, about the larger issues that still seem so uncertain. In typical Murakami-fashion, there are no clear answers -- which is part of the answer. Typically, the girl disappears from the narrator's life. And, typically, the story concludes:
     All things pass. None of us can manage to hold on to anything.
     In that way, we live our lives.
       And typically too, although: "This is the end of my story", it's not the end of the novella, which is bookended by present-day sections from nearly a decade later.
       In the final section, the narrator again returns to Derek Hartfield, the man who came to realize what was: "the only path for him, his true vocation -- writing novels". Amusingly, the narrator bogs down in numbers again, as if they could help make the essence of Hartfield clear; Hartfield's 150,000 words-per-month writing habit is not one he can live up to -- his path is a different one -- but one can understand his admiration for the writer, best summed up in an interview-quote he once gave, justifying having killed off the hero of his latest novel not once but (impossibly) twice:
     What would be the point of writing a novel about things everyone already knows ?
       Hear the Wind Sing is Murakami's first attempt at capturing that elusive perspective -- of capturing the unknown known, the deep banal. It's charmingly and cleverly done, and the framing device appealingly elevates the novel as a whole.
       Quite an achievement, overall -- and a fascinating must-read for anyone interested in Murakami's work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 July 2015

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Hear the Wind Sing: Reviews (* refers to a review of the earlier Alfred Birnbaum translation): Murakami Haruki: Other books by Murakami Haruki under review: Books about Murakami Haruki under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Japanese literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Murakami Haruki (村上春樹) was born January 12, 1949. He attended Waseda University. He has written several internationally acclaimed bestsellers and is among the best-known contemporary Japanese writers.

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