After reading heaps of accolades for Haruki Murakami, I randomly picked up this one to be the first actual novel and second book by him for me to read. The first one was The Elephant Vanishes, which is a collection of short stories. I can say I was not disappointed and would like to read more of his work soon!
It’s a simple story of a simple person, Hajime set in post-war Japan. He makes friends with Shimamoto in junior school, who like him is an only child. She is the only one who he can relate to but hardly does he know that the young love is going to create a void impossible to fill in his life.
Hajime and Shimamoto part ways after junior school. Hajime meets another girl Izumi, whom he badly hurts. He spends college life and then initial years of work life as a loner until he meets Yukiko, marries her and have two daughters and two successful Jazz bars. Loving family, lovely wife, decent earning..seems like a settled life but he is never able to forget Shimamoto! He loves his wife but she is not enough for him, the gap only Shimamoto can fill!
One day after many years, out of the blues, he follows a beautiful rich woman resembling Shimamoto but cannot muster courage to talk to her and she is lost again. And then she appears at his bar after 25 years and the spark is ignited again! She comes to meet him at his bar, they talk and then she disappears for a while. Hajime never gets to know anything about her life and she disappears forever again & he has to continue his life without her presence and with love for her in his heart.
Almost everyone can relate to something like this, rather upto some extent and in some ways. Hajime is not a very likable character certainly. He hurts people he loves , moves on and loves again. His character evolves inspite of being stuck in Shimamoto’s memories. In numerous ways, all of us are like him! So many times, something we desire is just at a hand’s distance and still unreachable! As Haruki correctly mentions, somethings only go forward! We truly don’t get everything in the same way as we would want. It’s one of those books which makes you realise the conflicts of mind & heart of a common man.
Its’ small and simple but brilliantly written. Inspite of its elegiac quality, it provides an escapism for the reader to feel a bit of Hajime and Shimamoto in him/her.. when we miss few things dearly..find them only to lose them all over again… mysteries of life etc. etc.
Some beautiful lines:
“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.”
“The sad truth is that certain types of things can’t go backward. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can’t go back the way they were. If even one little thing goes awry, then that’s how it will stay forever.”
“Lots of different ways to live and lots of different ways to die. But in the end that doesn’t make a bit of difference. All that remains is a desert.”
“Even castles in the sky can do with a fresh coat of paint.”
“After a certain length of time has passed, things harden up. Like a cement hardening in a bucket. And we can’t go back anymore”