January 28, 2011


I’ve finished the last of the books I was given by a friend, the syllabus from a recent literature class she audited. The book is “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by the Japanese author, Haruki Maurakami. I’ve mentioned a couple of books from the class in previous blogs (Blogs: 12/27 & 12/29, 2010). Looking back, if there is a common thread among them, it is their willingness to explore the human heart of darkness. Murakami’s book does it unflinchingly. He goes so far as to describe the agonies of a man as he is being flayed alive. Several of the book’s episodes don’t seem to have a direct bearing to the central plot — a husband’s quest to find his missing wife — except that each is an example of unbridled cruelty that exists in the central character’s real and imagined world.

The book has received a number of stunning reviews from important journals.   One critic explains the seemingly unrelated violence as an “engrossing tale of individual and national destinies intertwined” (Kirkus Reviews).

That the novel is beautifully written comes through even in translation. That it touches on important questions, I have no doubt. Is the story compelling? Yes.  Frankly, I’ve never read any work quite like it. But I admit I was disturbed by it. If literature reflects human nature and the societies we build, then when we hold Murakami’s book up to a looking glass how are we to react to the image it reveals. Will we look away? Or will we rally to its warning and resolve to escape the bestiality of his fictional world as we create a real one.

There has been much discussion in our country since the massacre in Arizona on January 8 about toning down the rhetoric as we debate our philosophical and political differences. Few of us would argue against that need. We know the connection between words and deeds. Any number of studies has shown that verbal abuse is a precursor to physical abuse.

We have the power to command our words, but we should never forget they have a power to command us. They are the tools we use to fashion ideas, and these ideas can harden into imperatives that sweep us into darkness.

Having shared Murakami’s vision I can recommend it because its violence not gratuitous. If we are offended by his message, we must ask ourselves what we can do to move our lives and therefore our world closer to peace.