During a teppanyaki experience at the Bali Intercontinental last year, I was seated by a Swiss man. In case you’re not familiar with teppanyaki it’s a Japanese style of cooking where guests are seated around a grill and entertained by a white-hatted chef who chops veggies, sets fire to the food and throws knives around in a hyperactive culinary display.
It’s a fun way to eat, especially for families (my kids love it) but eating alone in a restaurant can be awkward. Especially if you’re the quiet type. I think me and the Swiss man, who was also travelling alone, were both quiet types. We’re the type of people who don’t want to talk with strangers they’re randomly seated next to in a Japanese restaurant.
Never the less, we were both well raised so we chatted politely about the usual things you discuss with other travelers: where we came from, where we’d been and where we were going. Then, as the conversation started to dry up, being quiet types, we ended up discussing books and our favourite authors. The Swiss man, a maths teacher whose name I can’t remember, raved about his favourite author, a Japanese writer called Haruki Murakami and in particular his book The Wind Up Bird chronicles.
Having never read a Japanese book, and having loved my travels in Japan, I was intrigued. Especially because this quiet and frankly slightly dull man became so animated when he talked about the books he loved by Murakami.
Soon after this I found myself commuting to work for the first time in 20 years. Last time I commuted it was by London underground so I could read on the journey. This time I was driving myself so I decided to find an audio book to listen to during the journey.
That’s how I ended up driving around the Sunshine Coast in Australia, listening to 26 hours of Rupert Degas, an American actor, reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, as recommended to me by a Swiss man I met in Bali.
I’m glad I did.
A bit about Haruki Murakami
Murakami is a contemporary Japanese author with a cult following. I couldn’t tell you much more about him except his writing is beautiful, evocative and thought-provoking and I want to read more of his books. Many more.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
First I need to warn you that this book is odd. It blurs the line between fantasy and reality (Amazon has it in the magical fantasy section) so you’re never quite sure if the hero, Toru Okada, is telling the truth or making things up.
Furthermore nothing much happens in the book apart from Mr. Okada losing his cat, his job and his wife. The story is really about the weird characters he meets and the odd things he does as his life slowly unravels.
Remember that I listened to rather than read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The story is so odd I’m not even sure I would have persevered with the book if I’d read it. But the narration was brilliant. You can get a free trial on Audible and listen to it yourself if you like.
Having never listened to an audio book before. I discovered I loved listening to a story. But I think the narrator Rupert Degas had a lot to do with that. In fact I’d listen to more books read by Rupert Degas purely for hid clever narration which seemed to incorporate endless accents and characters of all ages and gender, all of which he pulled off brilliantly.
While the story may be odd it’s Murakami’s writing that’s compelling. If I could even write one metaphor as beautifully as Murakami does on every page of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle I would die of happiness.
Then, coupled with this breathtakingly beautiful writing, there are the most profound truths about life, love and the human condition. Here are some of my favourite quotes.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle quotes
“Memories and thoughts age, just as people do. But certain thoughts can never age, and certain memories can never fade.”
“Spend your money on the things money can buy. Spend your time on the things money can’t buy.”
“Have you ever had that feeling that you’d like to go to a whole different place and become a whole different self?”
“To know one’s own state is not a simple matter. One cannot look directly at one’s own face with one’s own eyes, for example. One has no choice but to look at one’s reflection in the mirror. Through experience, we come to believe that the image is correct, but that is all.”
“Hatred is like a long, dark shadow. Not even the person it falls upon knows where it comes from, in most cases. It is like a two-edged sword. When you cut the other person, you cut yourself. The more violently you hack at the other person, the more violently you hack at yourself. It can often be fatal. But it is not easy to dispose of. Please be careful, Mr.Okada. It is very dangerous. Once it has taken root in your heart, hatred is the most difficult thing in the world to shake off.”
“I’d be smiling and chatting away, and my mind would be floating around somewhere else, like a balloon with a broken string.”
“The point is, not to resist the flow. You go up when you’re supposed to go up and down when you’re supposed to go down. When you’re supposed to go up, find the highest tower and climb to the top. When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom. When there’s no flow, stay still. If you resist the flow, everything dries up. If everything dries up, the world is darkness.”
“When you are used to the kind of life, of never getting anything you want, you stop knowing what it is you want.”
“Everybody’s born with some different thing at the core of their existence. And that thing, whatever it is, becomes like a heat source that runs each person from the inside. I have one too, of course. Like everybody else. But sometimes it gets out of hand. It swells or shrinks inside me, and it shakes me up. What I’d really like to do is find a way to communicate that feeling to another person.”
“What we see before us is just one tiny part of the world. We get in the habit of thinking, this is the world, but that’s not true at all. The real world is a much darker and deeper place than this, and much of it is occupied by jellyfish and things.”
“You might think you made a new world or a new self, but your old self is always gonna be there, just below the surface, and if something happens, it’ll stick its head out and say ‘Hi.’ You don’t seem to realize that. You were made somewhere else.”
“Nothing so consumes a person as meaningless exertion”
“This person, this self, this me, finally, was made somewhere else. Everything had come from somewhere else, and it would all go somewhere else. I was nothing but a pathway for the person known as me.”
“From the moment of my birth, I lived with pain at the center of my life. My only purpose in life was to find a way to coexist with intense pain.”
“My reality seemed to have left me and was now wandering around nearby. I hope it can find me, I thought. But knowing what I don’t want to do doesn’t help me figure out what I do want to do. I could do just about anything if somebody made me. But I don’t have an image of the one thing I really want to do. That’s my problem now. I can’t find the image.”
“In terms of evolutionary history, it was only yesterday that men learned to walk around on two legs and get in trouble thinking complicated thoughts.”
“There are things in this world it is better not to know about. Of course, those are the very things that people most want to know about. It’s strange.”
A few more Murakami quotes I love
“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
“Life is not like water. Things in life don’t necessarily flow over the shortest possible route.”
“You can keep as quiet as you like, but one of these days somebody is going to find you.”
“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.”
“What we call the present is given shape by an accumulation of the past.”
“If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then there’s salvation in life. Even if you can’t get together with that person.”
“The most important thing we learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school.”
Have you read any Haruki Murakami books yet?
Have you tried listening to audio books on Audible?
If you’d like to you can get an Audible Free Trial and listen to The Wind Up Bird Chronicle or any other book you fancy to see if you enjoy listening to books as much as I did.