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Literary Tourism and Entering the World - Haruki Murakami Livejournal Community
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Literary Tourism and Entering the World
A few days ago I got done reading Cry, The Beloved Country, Alan Paton's hard hitting anti-apartheid novel, only a few hundred kilometers from where it was set (in the shadow of the KwaZulu Natal's Draconsberg mountain range in South Africa).  Not Murakami, I know, but bear with me.  I was feeling especially guilty for having waited so long to read such an important piece of South African literature, being that I'm living here for six months in a study abroad program and this particular piece of literature is said to perfectly represent the dehumanizing reality of 1950s SA (something you must have some kind of an understanding of to grasp why the country exists as it does today, which I did not realize until finishing the book).  But I'm particularly glad I stalled, otherwise I would not have found myself reading it so close to where it was set, in a town where I heard more Zulu than English. 

A most surreal of experiences, potentially the most profound literary experience I've ever had.  And this got me to wondering (as I shook out fine white granules of sand from the copy of Wind Up Bird Chronicles my friend had lent me after he spent a week reading it on the beaches of Zanzibar), does having some formative knowledge of the Japanese landscape, first hand experience in the cities his characters dwell, give the reader a rich experience?  Seeing for my own eyes the furtile land struggling to produce for a population too great with too little knowledge on how to care for it, forcing myself to walk past children on the streets in rags as they stood before me with hands cupped (you know what they're thinking, in that instant, that if I was African they wouldn't approach me for money, that in their lives it's just the natural order of things that white people have money and little black children go begging only to them)...I could not possibly have understood the novel, with it's abiding message of forgiveness and reconciliation in the face of hatred, with out these experiences.

I'd like to hear from individuals who live in, or have visited Japan, and how this has affected their reading of Murakami.  Or, on a similar note, other authors you have read in their native environments.  To take it one step further, what's the weirdest place or circumstance under which you've read a Murakami novel?  I think my friend might take the cake by packing his hefty copy of Wind Up Bird Chronicles all the way to Zanzibar (where they actually say "hakuna matata" instead of "you're welcome").

Literary tourism is actually a blossoming industry in the KwaZulu Natal, but I don't know about anywhere else.  One could make a substantial amount of money guiding lit snobs with well endowed bank accounts around the worlds of their favorite authors.  Any thoughts?  I never do guided tours when I travel, but if I knew the guide would be imparting juicy morsels of cultural knowledge steeped in the literary consciousness of some of my favorite authors, I might be so inclined to partake.
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oberstein From: oberstein Date: April 1st, 2008 09:46 am (UTC) (Link)
The weirdest place/circumstance under which I've read a Murakami novel is during a 3-hour stopover at Narita, on the way back to San Francisco. I didn't feel like packing a book; people watching at airport terminals in other countries is usually interesting enough for me and reading for extended periods on a plane makes me dizzy. However, while walking through the terminal, a bookstore had a small display of books in English by its door and the covers of several Murakami books caught my eye. I bought myself a new copy of Norwegian wood, the UK version which used some slightly different words from what I'm used to, such as "hairslide" instead of "barette". I rearead most of what would have been the red half of the book while in Japan, sandwiched between people speaking Japanese and Korean, then finished up the green half when I got back to the US.

Thankfully no muzak versions of Norwegian Wood were actually involved.
smoth_god From: smoth_god Date: April 1st, 2008 12:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
My love of Murakami was one of my reasons for going to Japan, where I spent two years working as a teacher. I had read all of his then-released books before going and thought I knew them pretty well. Wind-up Bird and Hard-Boiled Wonderland were my two favourite books of all time, and I had pictures in my head of what typical Japan looked like. When I arrived, I was very surprised that my mental images looked nothing like the reality of small-town Japan.

Half-way into my time there, Kafka on the Shore was released in English translation, and I bought and read it straight away. While I didn't enjoy the story as much as some of his older works, I had a much more rewarding experience with the book, as I would quite often recognise features of the characters' surroundings that were familiar to me, and I could fill in the blanks, knowing what details of the streets, hotel rooms and parks would be in the author's imagination but not written on the page.

Now, when I think back to the mental pictures that I was given by the books I read before seeing Japan, I'm struck by how Anglicised they are. The characters live in English-style houses in English-style streets; characters travel in English-style cars and trains. But when I think of the events from Kafka on the Shore, they're all in a setting framed by my experiences of Japan, which I think gave me a much more rewarding experience. I can see the service station, full of vending machines and boxes of snack foods, so different to the ones I knew before from England. I can see the bridges of Shikoku and the expressways, which, had I read the book before going to Japan, would probably have been surrounded by lush English countryside.

I think this says as much about my own reading ability as anything else, however. I wouldn't dream of claiming that one can only really enjoy a book once one has been to the place where it's set. I'm aware that when I read my eyes tend to skim-read descriptions, meaning that my mental images are probably more influenced by my own experiences than the author would intend.

I'm certainly looking forward to re-reading the Murakami back catalogue with my experiences of Japan, for sure.
sino_rimbaud From: sino_rimbaud Date: April 1st, 2008 08:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I finished reading Wind-Up Bird during a trip to Japan and China. Heavily engrossed in the middle while at a ryokan, and then traveling by overnight train in China. Eventually polished off the book at my relatives', shivering without heat (it was December). Though I wouldn't call these settings at all bizarre, they definitely influenced the way I visualized the story - gave it more immediacy, if you will, especially during Lieutenant Mamiya's bleak tale.
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