“Wind/Pinball” is the 2015 translation and American publication of Haruki Murakami’s first two novels, written in the late 1970s. Both novels are very short and the book is preceded by a wonderful author’s note about how he became a writer. If you are a Murakami fan, you will recognize the magical realism, existential, and spiritual tones found in all of his later works.
The first novel, “Hear the Wind Sing”, is told by a 29 year-old narrator looking back on eighteen days during a summer spent at home while on break from college. The novel revolves around the narrator’s friend (Rat), a girl he meets passed out on the bathroom floor in a bar, the bar owner (J), baseball, American pop music, and memories. I had a hard time writing the review for this first novel because the events of the story are so disjointed and the foggy feel in the book comes through the characters thoughts and cryptic conversations, none of which makes for easy summarization.
Rat comes from a wealthy family, hates rich people, drinks too much and speaks in philosophical riddles. “The Rat’s favorite food was pancakes, hot off the griddle. He would stack several in a deep dish, cut them into four neat pieces, then pour a bottle of Coke over the top.” We learn that Rat is involved with a woman and he arranges for the narrator to meet her. When the appointed time arrives, and the narrator shows up in suit and tie as requested, the Rat advises that “It’s a no go….I gave it up.” Rat suffers from dark moods and the story ends with him writing novels, presumably because that is what people who suffer from dark moods do.
The narrator loves to write and finds it easier than living in the moment. “I love writing. Ascribing meaning to life is a piece of cake compared to actually living it.” The only thing we learn about the narrator’s family is that his father required that he and his brother shine his shoes every day. The narrator describes each of the girls he has slept with, including the woman he met passed out on the floor in a bar. In one particularly peculiar interlude, a disc jockey telephones him and tells him that a young woman has dedicated the song California Girls to him, because the narrator had borrowed the album from the woman many years before and never returned it. He goes out and buys the album and spends a great deal of time trying to find her. The book ends with the narrator going back to college.
The second book, “Pinball, 1973”, involves Rat and J the bartender again. In this book, the narrator and a friend have begun a translation business and business is booming. The narrator is living with female twins who somehow just show up at his door. We learn more about Rat and the woman he is involved with, and J and Rat become very close. In the meantime, the narrator tells us a little history about pinball machines and he becomes obsessed with a particular machine in J’s bar. When the bar is closed and the machine suddenly disappears, he goes on a quest to find it. In typical Murakami fashion, that quest takes him to a surreal warehouse filled with 78 previously discarded pinball machines and at least one of the machines virtually comes alive.
If you are a Murakami fan, then read these two novels just to get a sense of his beginnings. If you are not a Murakami fan, do not read these novels; because if you do, you will never become a Murakami fan and you will miss the good stuff, like “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “Kafka on the Shore.”
You can reserve “Wind/Pinball” at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11163893__Swind__P0%2C20__Orightresult__X6?lang=eng&suite=gold.