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December 10, 2012


Thanks for this essay, Raj! In typical fashion, you've made this book sound far more interesting than I imagine I would find it if I were to actually read it ;^)

I really enjoyed this! I have never been a Murakami fan --but have never quite been able to put my finger on why I dislike his work. It is less that I find him "over-rated" as I just never enjoy his books--sometimes quitting part way. I have a friend who says, "Reading Mrakami makes me quietly suicidal" and honestly, that is close to how I feel. As I read your review, R, I felt that in part if is just precisely because of this juxtaposition between realism and surealism that depresses me. I love his intelligence and intellectualism but I dislike his nihilism. Now that you mention it, I have the same reaction to Kafka and Chekhov. I am already looking forward to part 2 of this. Cheers.

R, I have never read any Murakami so thanks for the education!

As I've told to you before, I like Kafka (though it has been a decade since I read him). I consider him a comic writer above all, who I think taps into reality at a whole different level (from where things seem Kafkaesque I suppose!), and presents social relationships and interactions in ways that feel no less true. As an analogy, take time-lapse footage of Shinjuku metro station from high above. That too depicts something real once we recognize the variables, and are able to appreciate it accordingly. I suppose more people enjoy time-lapse footage than Kafka, so the analogy only goes so far. :-)

I don't generally like surrealism though, so not sure about Murakami yet … waiting for part 2.

Thank you for the comment. I hope my enthusiasm isn't too disappointing. :-)

Interesting way of looking at Chekhov. Now that you mention it, I can see his nihilism. I do, however, like it.

Murakami is also, on one level, a comic writer, or at least there are some comic elements in his works. Chekhov, too, certainly. And Borges above all. ;^)
As for part 2 ... close your eyes, if you're squeamish, because there will be a discussion of sex.

R, uh-oh!
That said, I think I should be able to handle part 2. If not, I'll whisper nothing more than chi-chi a couple of times.

Kafka has never stirred my soul, either. But I think I like Chekhov quite a lot, though I can see there is nihilism behind that. I think what I don't care for in Kafka (and probably wouldn't like from Murakami) is the surrealism, itself. I guess I'm a stick-in-the-mud.

But I do look forward to Part 2 (and not just for the sex). To my mind, this is exactly the sort of book that I might find interesting when filtered through someone else (usually Raj ;^), though I could never read it firsthand.

Hang on to your sensibilities. We'll see ....

Being a lumper rather than a splitter, especially for the sake of this review’s argument, I’ve lumped together all of realist writing (realism, naturalism, etc) and juxtaposed it against non-realist writing (magic realism, surrealism, science fiction & fantasy, horror, ’slip stream,’ etc). Now that you've (collectively) brought it up, I wonder whether one’s response is more a matter of the comedy and/or nihilism than the “surrealism” that turns one on or off of a writer like, say, Kafka or his long form descendant, Murakami. I didn't necessarily intend to say this, but it’s almost like saying that Murakami is like Kafka but with less irony or humor and more sex and violence.

I am a lumper too, Usha... I would say that Murakami's nihimism is of a wholly different quality (rooted in a contemporary kind of narcissism); and that he juxtaposes realism against magical realism-ish writing makes me just sink when I read his stuff. I have a good friend who is a Murakami scholar and he totally disagrees....Really looking forward to part 2.

I think to call Chekhov a nihilist is a misinterpretation of his themes. He at times represents nihilism, and during one career phase could be said to dwell in despair, but his narrative perspective is consistently anti-nihilistic. I would argue that his work, however dark and sharply realist, is broadly on the side of life.


The issue of Chekhov's nihilism is an interesting one. I think you're right in pointing out that it depends on which phase of his career you're talking about. And his having been a working physician his whole career, certainly inclines one to think he was "on the side of life."

I've never really thought about this, but I'm not sure I could say what Chekhov's "themes" are. What I like is the realism, the humor, the darkness, the open-endedness, the absurdity, and the not flinching from the way people really are, from moment to moment. (Among other things.)

Thank you for your comments.

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