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Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words Hardcover – Jun 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Pr; American ed edition (June 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860469868
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860469862
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 15.6 x 3.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 558 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,047,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Part exuberant celebrator, part human Murakami encyclopedia, Rubin, a Harvard professor of Japanese Literature and a Murakami translator, puts about the author's life and writing under a microscope in this homage to all things Murakami. The internationally bestselling Murakami began publishing at age 30, while he and his wife ran Peter Cat, a Tokyo jazz club, and, as the title of this volume suggests, Murakami's writing is filled with musical references. Rubin starts by introducing the reader to "The 1963/1982 Girl from Ipanema," "one of Murakami's most musical stories." Rubin delves into Murakami's obsessions, from animals (particularly cats) to detachment, sex and hunger, by breaking down many of Murakami's stories and all of his novels. Rubin's plot summaries can go on too long before he gets to his critique, but his analyses are colorful and heartfelt, opening new ways of understanding the coolly surreal Murakami. Only in a few instances does Rubin point out a misstep, such as in Sputnik Sweetheart. Quips Rubin: "In one of the worst lines of the book, the narrator actually thinks to himself: 'Sumire went over to the other side. That would explain a lot.' Indeed it would, just as the existence of gremlins would explain how my glasses moved from my desk to the dining-room table." While Rubin states this book is for other Murakami fans, casual Murakami readers and those baffled by the writer's works could gain something from this volume.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This combination of biography and critical analysis of Murakami's life and work to date carefully chronicles one of Japan's most popular contemporary authors. Sometimes he is dismissed as a "pop lit" writer in a category with Banana Yoshimoto, especially for the novels and stories that have pop song titles (Dance Dance Dance, Norwegian Wood, "Slow Boat to China"). But works such as Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle have been taken more seriously and have garnered Murakami several literary prizes and invitations to Princeton, Harvard, and Tufts. A workaholic, Murakami is also noted as a translator (into Japanese) of Raymond Carver, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Irving, and others, as well as for his encyclopedic knowledge of Western music and his journalistic pursuits. Still in his early 50s, Murakami is taking his place in Japanese literature with Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe, and Junichiro Tanizaki. Rubin (Japanese literature, Harvard) has translated several of Murakami's works and gives an evenhanded, nicely balanced account of his life and art. Much has been written about this important author in Japanese, but this is the first full look at him in English. Recommended for all public libraries holding Murakami's works. Kitty Chen Dean, Nassau Coll., Garden City, NY
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
First of all, don't buy this book purely for biographical purposes, hoping to get some hidden insight on Murakami's life. It is clear that Murakami values his privacy intensely and Rubin goes to great lengths to respect that. Also, what information is given about Murakami will pretty much conform with what you probably could've assumed about him. This book, more than anything else, is a chronological literary criticism of Murakami's works up through "after the quake." Rubin does a good job of analyzing many of the running motifs and themes that occur in Murakami's books (wells, corridors, birds, and elephants, to name a few). It is clear that Rubin has a hard time being a Murakami fan and a Murakami scholar at the same time, but he seems to do a good job remaining impartial (although it is clear which books are his favorites and which are not!)
My first experience with Murakami was when I read "A Wild Sheep Chase" a year and a half ago, and before I knew it I had read every major novel and short story he'd written, finishing Pinball 1973 just last week. I read the books in an order that pretty much had nothing to do with the order they were written (beware that the order that the English translations came out in is often quite different than the original order). As a result, reading the details Rubin gives behind each of the books and about the growth that Murakami experienced along the way were among the highlights of the book for me and helped to solidify the ties that hold his books together. Murakami fascinates me because he is still growing rapidly as a writer and a person and the growing pains as well as the links to his past work are found in each work if you know what to look for.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is about 50% Rubin's analysis of Murakami's work, about 30% biographical, about 10% about the translation work and differences between Japanese and English, and about 10% "interview style" where we get a few inside details on The Man Himself. This much is true: Anyone expecting a lot of information about The Man Himself should be a little disappointed. The book bills itself as granting more info than it does. I suspect this is out of Rubin's own deferrence to Murakami's privacy. He treads delicately on the info of the author's life in the biographical sections and when we do get a smattering of Murakami's own words about himself (and it's rare), it feels like nuggets culled from stray emails rather than from a sustained closeness of the translator to his author-friend. That's a shame, but it doesn't mar the book, which is a real resource for English readers without a real roadmap of his lesser works. Knowing which stories I need to seek out is so much easier, and understanding the significance of Murakami's first two novels is much better illuminated than before-- given their basic unavailability in print in English.
For me, Rubin's translations are my favorites. I simply have to disagree with the reader from the dolphin hotel. The touch that Rubin gives to his translations is very delicate and appreciated. I too have had a chance to peruse Binrbaum's NW translation, and although I can't find it directly lacking in any way, I simply prefer the Rubin version.
I really wish Rubin had gone a lot further into understanding what it takes to translate Murakami. This is the area in which he has very unique knowledge compared to the rest of us and he only rarely tells us much about it.
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Format: Hardcover
As a previous reviewer mentioned, this book consists mostly of Rubin's literary criticism of all Murakami's works. This includes some things that are not readily available in English, especially things not available in book form. Rubin does, however, include excerpts of the material he discusses and he mentions magazines where Murakami's short stories have been published. Notes on translation are excellent, as is the bibliography.
While this book is not a straight-up biography, I think complaints about a lack of biographical material are unfounded. There is a lot of information about the chronology of Murakami's life and that of his wife, as well as insights into his thoughts on Japan and Japanese society. It is well known that Murakami is very private, and I was actually surprised at how much of a glimpse into his life and feelings Rubin was able to give us.
A note of some caution: although Rubin does not reveal everything in his criticism of Murakami's novels and short stories, I recommend that before reading this book you read as much of Murakami's works as you can get your hands on. This is partly because of spoiler issues, but mostly because it is the way to get the most out of Rubin's comments. And if you're anything like me, you will want to go back and re-read everything after seeing Rubin's take on the material -- unlike another reviewer, I feel that it is valuable to hear as many opinions as possible about Murakami as well as about any other writer.
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Format: Hardcover
Having been Murakami's translator for many of his best novels and stories, Jay Rubin has written a solid introduction to Murakami's work in general. There are many great insights in this book, especially dealing with the aspect of translating Murakami's Japanese itself. The most helpful of these was the differentiation of the two versions of Japanese first-person narration - boku and watashi - and problems for this kind of narration to translate properly into English. Since most Japanese literature (according to Rubin) features these first-person narration techniques and not a third-person one (a 'default' narration of western literature), Murakami's narration could seem very interior. This insight helped me understand why Murakami seemed to heavily favor such a narrative technique (which I tended to view as a monotonous trait)- it's a cultural difference, rather than a writerly one.
The biographical information of Murakami is sketchy at best, though. Much of it is regurgitated pastiche of already existent info. As I was looking forward to find out about the man who wrote about such fantastic things, I was disappointed to find out the psychological probing of any kind was absent.
But get this book if you don't know much about Murakami or his work - it's an excellent introduction.
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