Friday, January 15, 2010

Pinball, 1973

Not counting 1Q84, which is due to be published in September 2011 according to most reports, did you know that Haruki Murakami still has two novels not published in America? Well now you do!

The two novels in question are called Kaze no uta o kike (風の歌を聴け)and 1973-nen no Pinbouru (1973年のピンボール), and in English, they're called Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 respectively. They're the first two novels Murakami ever wrote, and along with A Wild Sheep Chase, the three novels make up the Trilogy of the Rat, as all three novels star the same protagonist who has a friend nicknamed "the Rat" (Of course, Dance Dance Dance is a sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, making it really a tetralogy, but I guess the name was invented before Dance Dance Dance was published. Besides, who says the word tetralogy? Nobody, that's who! Can we bring this parenthetical aside to a close already??). Reportedly, they're unavailable in America because Murakami himself has admitted that he doesn't think they're very good anymore, and refuses to grant publishing rights.

However, there is an official English translation available for both novels, if you have the internet-savvy and/or money to hunt them down.A long time ago (I could check the publication dates but I don't feel like it), Kodansha published English versions of Murakami's most famous works within Japan into English as part of their "Kodansha English Library" collection or some such, basically with the idea that Japanese college students would read them to learn English. And in the back of the novel, there is in fact a page by page listing of uncommon vocabulary and phrases with English to Japanese translations. The best part about these versions is that they're translated by Alfred Birnbaum, who is the translator for the official English version of A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance. (And for those interested in translation comparison, Norwegian Wood is available (officially) from Vintage and translated by Jay Rubin, and in a Kodansha "English Library" version translated by Alfred Birnbaum. I haven't compared the two yet, but I bet it would be fascinating and intend to do so when I can get a hold of a copy.)

Hear the Wind Sing is pretty easy to find online, and will probably cost you about 15 bucks. If I wrote this post a few months ago, I would've said Pinball, 1973 is nearly impossible to get without a couple hundred bucks (or a couple thousand for some rare first editions). But as it turns out, it was just reprinted in Japan about three weeks ago(!!!), and most people on eBay are selling for about $20-25.

It's pretty awesome that its now reprinted, easy-to-get, and fairly inexpensive for non-Japanese reading Murakami-enthusiasts. I ordered and read Hear the Wind Sing a couple years ago and liked it, but I don't remember it very well anymore. Pinball, 1973, which I just read, was surprisingly enjoyable, though it is still far from Murakami's other works. Part of the problem is length; both novels are ridiculously short (I guess you could call them novellas in that sense), so they don't go anywhere. Pinball, 1973 is also where Murakami first tries out his alternating narrator technique. The problem is, the chapters about the Rat are really boring. It provides a missing link to what you find out happens to the Rat in A Wild Sheep Chase, but are otherwise thoroughly unnecessary. The plot is crazy-thin, really more of a series of unrelated events regarding the narrator's lonely and directionless life (a theme Murakami will end up perfecting in later novels). However, some sequences are really touching and others are really hilarious, so I think its still worth a read. I mean, the climax of the novel is the protagonist having a conversation with a Pinball machine.What more do you want??

I decided to write about Pinball, 1973 to celebrate that I finally actually read it. I've had a legally-dubious PDF version that I found online on my computer for years, and have started reading it no less than four times only to put it down at various points. Now that I have finally read it, I can now say that I have officially read every single Murakami novel published in English. This victory is short lived of course, now that 1Q84 has a street-date, and it's even less exciting, now that I know I could have easily read it with an actual book in my hands. Oh well. I'm ordering it now. At least it'll look good on my bookshelf.


  1. Thanks for the tip on Pinball,1973,will track down a copy too.Great blog too!.

  2. Books in English are crazy expensive. I got a copy of 風の歌を聴け for like 300 yen.

    I just finished it today and it's the only thing I've ever read by Murakami, but yeah... it doesn't really go anywhere. I guess I could have picked a book with a better pedigree, but I figured since I was gonna read it in Japanese I'd start with something short.