Hear the Wind Sing

Title: Hear the Wind Sing

Author: Haruki Murakami

Read In: 2023


Purchase: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)

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Introduction by Haruki Murakami:

Then, as an experiment, I decided to write the opening of my novel in English. Since I was willing to try anything, I figured, why not give that a shot?

Needless to say, my ability in English composition didn’t amount to much. My vocabulary was severely limited, as was my command of English syntax. I could only write in simple, short sentences. Which meant that, however complex and numerous the thoughts running around my head, I couldn’t even attempt to set them down as they came to me. The language had to be simple, my ideas expressed in an easy-to-understand way, the descriptions stripped of all extraneous fat, the form made compact, everything arranged to fit a container of limited size. The result was a rough, uncultivated kind of prose. As struggled to express myself in that fashion, however, step by step, a distinctive rhythm began to take shape.

Since I was born and raised in Japan, the vocabulary and patterns of the Japanese language had filled the system that was me to bursting, like a barn crammed with livestock. When I sought to put my thoughts and feelings into words, those animals began to mill about, and the system crashed. Writing in a foreign language, with all the limitations that entailed, removed this obstacle. It also led me to discover that I could express my thoughts and feelings with a limited set of words and grammatical structures, as long as I combined them effectively and linked them together in a skillful manner. Ultimately, I learned that there was no need for a lot of difficult words—I didn’t have to try to impress people with beautiful turns of phrase.

Hartfield says this about good writing: “Writing is, in effect, the act of verifying the distance between us and the things surrounding us. What we need is not sensitivity but a measuring stick.” (from What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?, 1936).

Like an airplane with engine trouble, I started by pitching out the cargo, then the seat, then, finally, the poor flight attendants, getting rid of everything while taking on nothing new at all.

If you’re the sort of guy who raids the refrigerators of silent kitchens at three o’clock in the morning, you can only write accordingly.

That’s who I am.

Whenever I wake up in someone else’s home, I feel like I’m stuck in another body inhabited by someone else’s spirit.

She filled my glass, then looked out the darkened window, as if considering something. “Sometimes, I imagine how great it would be if we could live our lives without bothering other people. Think it’s possible?”

“I wonder.”

. . . the process of thinking about people’s raison d’être produced a strange frame of mind, a kind of obsession, in fact, that compelled me to convert everything in my life into numbers. This condition lasted for about eight months, during which I had to count the number of people in the car the moment I boarded a train, the number of steps of each staircase I climbed, even my own pulse if I had the time. According to my records, from August 15, 1969, until April 3rd of the following year, I attended 358 lectures, had sex 54 times, and smoked 6,921 cigarettes.

I believed in all seriousness that by converting my life into numbers I might be able to get through to people. That having something to communicate could stand as proof I really existed. Of course, no one had the slightest interest in how many cigarettes I had smoked, or the number of stairs I had climbed, or the size of my penis. When I realized this, I lost my raison d’être and became utterly alone.

It had seemed as though those sweet dreams of summer would last forever: the warmth of a girl’s skin, an old rock ‘n’ roll song, a freshly washed button-down shirt, the odor of cigarette smoke in a pool changing room, a fleeting premonition.

The town was home to many kinds of people. In the eighteen years I lived there I learned a great deal. My emotional roots are there, and almost all my memories are connected to the place. Nevertheless, the spring I entered university, I heaved a deep sigh of relief when I left.

“I bet he wants to talk to you about whatever it is.”

“Then why doesn’t he?”

“He’s afraid. That you’ll make fun of him.”

“I would never do that.”

“Still, it looks like that sometimes. That’s how I’ve always seen it, anyway. You’re a sweet kid, but part of you seems—how should I put this?—above it all, like a Zen monk or something…It’s not really criticism.”

“Why do people die?”

“Because of evolution. An individual organism can’t sustain the amount of energy that evolution requires; evolution has to work its way through generations That’s just one theory, of course.”

“So are we still evolving?”

“Bit by bit.”

“Why is that necessary?”

“Opinions are divided on that, too. The only thing we know for sure is that the universe itself is evolving. We can’t tell if it’s heading in any particular direction, or if some greater force is intervening, but we do know that evolution is for real, and that we are only a part of the process.”

It had been a long time since I felt the fragrance of summer: the scent of the ocean, a distant train whistle, the touch of a girl’s skin, the lemony perfume of her hair, the evening wind, faint glimmers of hope, summer dreams.

But none of these were the way they once had been; they were all somehow off, as if copied with tracing paper that kept slipping out of place.

When I go back to the town in summer, I walk the same streets we did and sit on the stone steps of the same warehouse and look at the ocean. Sometimes I want to cry, but the tears don’t come. It’s that kind of a thing.