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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Pinball, 1973

Murakami Haruki

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To purchase Wind/Pinball

Title: Pinball, 1973
Author: Murakami Haruki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1980 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 129 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: 1973年のピンボール
  • Published together with Hear the Wind Sing as Wind/Pinball
  • With an Introduction by the author
  • Translated by Ted Goossen
  • Previously translated by Alfred Birnbaum (1985)

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Our Assessment:

B : solid early 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:
  • "The meatier and more surreal Pinball, 1973 (.....) Despite plots that offer little more than a catalogue of bizarre events and random musings, there are enough flashes of brilliance to keep the reader interested. Signals that would become familiar in Mr Murakamiís fiction make an early appearance" - The Economist

  • "Murakami fans will no doubt delight in this new publication. For newcomers, these early works are an excellent introduction to a writer who has since become one of the most influential novelists of his generation." - Hannah Beckerman, The Guardian

  • "What keeps the reader engaged are the Murakamian swerves, the long shots, the non sequiturs and the odd adjacencies." - Ian Sansom, The Guardian

  • "The second novel is more skittering, not quite defining its shape, but soon settles backs into youth angst and campus nostalgia. Japan and its past is more prominent here" - Arifa Akbar, The Independent

  • "With its more assured voice, its greater mastery of tone and the confidence of a sharper and more mature whimsy, Pinball, 1973 demonstrates the extent to which the author was already progressing in leaps." - 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:

       Pinball, 1973 is Murakami Haruki's second novel, now published together with his debut, Hear the Wind Sing, in new translations (by Ted Goossen) as Wind/Pinball.
       Pinball, 1973 follows closely on Hear the Wind Sing, complete with the reappearance of several characters -- notably the Rat and barkeep J -- and even begins with the nameless narrator reflecting on life about a decade earlier, exactly the time of the central story of the earlier novel. His recollection of a desperate effort to connect and comprehend others back then -- "I went around asking everyone to tell me about where they were born and raised" -- is an amusing idea, and contrasts nicely with his more adult present.
       The bulk of the novel, the central story, is set in 1973, the narrator a partner in a successful translation agency -- one which specializes in professional, rather than literary translation. As he explains:

     I'm a translator.
     Fiction ?
     No, I said. Scum. I scoop it from one ditch and dump it into another one, that's all.
       He lives with a mysterious set of twins, whose names he never learns; in predictable Murakami-fashion, they disappear from his life at the appropriate time. While Hear the Wind Sing has its off-beat elements, it's here that Murakami's trademark invention comes to the fore, as in scenes such as:
     They tenderly laundered their sweatshirts once a week in the bath. Lying in bed reading the Critique of Pure Reason, I would glance up and see them kneeling side by side, naked on the tile floor, scrubbing away.
       A few years earlier, the narrator had become obsessed by pinball (having already warned readers: "This is a novel about pinball"):
     I entered the occult world of pinball for real in the winter of 1970. Looking back, it was as if I had spent the next six months living at the bottom of a dark hole. I dug a hole just my size in the middle of a meadow, squeezed myself in, and blocked my ears to all sound. Nothing outside held the slightest appeal.
       Though he escaped that hole, the narrator does admit: "I love wells" -- indeed, wells figure prominently earlier in the novel, too, and it is of course a recurring theme in Murakami's later work.
       While he got over his pinball obsession, the narrator is drawn back to it to some extent in 1973, needing resolution in finding the old machine he played on, or at least the game that he was obsessed by. With only three such machines imported to Japan it's difficult to find, but he makes the right connections and can find catharsis in his encounter with it, in: "a graveyard of old dreams, old beyond recall".
       Parallel, the Rat leaves a past (or rather more or less his present) behind -- even though:
I know the situation may be no different wherever I go. But I still have to leave. If it turns out to be the same, I can live with it.
       The narrator quotes from a book on pinball:
The goal of pinball is self-transformation, not self-expression. It involves not the expansion of the ego but its diminution. Not analysis but all embracing acceptance.
       As such, it would appear to be nearly entirely the opposite of the ultimate act of self-expression, (novel-)writing. Much of Pinball, 1973 is an attempt to address and reconcile these seeming extremes: to manage both. It succeeds quite well and succinctly.
       Pinball, 1973 features more of Murakami's quirky side -- which he would go on to develop much more fully -- than Hear the Wind Sing. Most of this works quite well, but it can feel a bit forced and doesn't quite achieve the naturalness of the more straightforward Hear the Wind Sing.
       Still, it's a solid and enjoyable novel, and certainly good fun for anyone who likes Murakami.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 July 2015

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Pinball, 1973: 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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