Love at First Sight

Response to “The Fall of the Roman Empire, the 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler’s Invasion of Poland, and the Realm of Raging Winds”

Short Story by Haruki Murakami

Swiftly gathering up the laundry, I then went around shutting all the windows in the apartment. Once the windows were closed, I could hardly hear the wind at all. Outside in the absence of sound the trees—Himalayan cedars and chestnuts, mostly—squirmed like dogs with an uncontrollable itch. Swatches of cloud cover slipped across the sky and out of sight like shifty-eyed secret agents, while on the veranda of an apartment across the way several shirts had wrapped themselves around a plastic clothesline and were clinging frantically, like abandoned orphans.

Murakami has a sense of humor. His writing is irresistibly wry and witty. The presence of his own matter-of-fact body and sensory connection to his everyday world in conjunction with references to seismic historical and meteorological events causes hilarity.  He is merely shutting some windows in this passage I have quoted, but because of the stage he has set for this event, that simple act takes on exaggerated proportions. The sudden absence of sound he describes creates an audible imagined memory of sound presence, and then the abrupt silence illuminates and accentuates the visual perspective of the trees outside his closed windows.

Every object in Murakami’s world is animated, alive, and possessing emotions. His writing reminds me of Van Gogh’s thickly textured, energetic paintings of cedar trees against swirling skies. In the passage above, the shirts have abandonment issues. The trees squirm like dogs with uncontrollable itches. Each sentence comes alive in the mind like a hand-drawn animation, which packs years and decades and layers of meaning colorfully and entertainingly into just a few little words. The mind is capable of holding so much information all at once, especially the visual mind, and those of us who think in this way can make a whole film out of one passage like this one. It is really quite amazing!

The quote I have used is a touchstone passage for the rest of the story in that it is a fantastic example of Murakami’s very animated visual style of storytelling. His own self/body, the relationship he has with objects, his dwelling, and the outside world, are all so alive, vibrant, and full of metaphor and humor! The author’s allusions to events much larger than the present situation warrants (clouds as shifty-eyed agents, shirts as orphans), are an exaggeration that is a luscious example of the writer’s humor and hyperawareness of several conditions, free associations, juxtapositions at once.

I fell in love with this writing and am ordering the book asap. I am also very impressed with the translator; it can’t be easy to translate this and manage to preserve the author’s voice as apparently has effectively been achieved by Mr. Birnbaum!

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