Wednesday, 17 October 2012

69 by Murakami Ryu

Practically found myself being pulled through this novel, as at first appearances I'd anticipated that it might read a little like Murakami doing Murakami as the theme and setting have some undeniable overlap, although the narrative throughout '69' has it's own distinctive pace and confidence, originally published in Japan in 1987 the novel turns 25 this year, this edition is the Kodansha one, although the novel will be re-issued by Pushkin Press next year. Set in the year 1969, (of course..), the events are seen from the perspective of seventeen year old Yazaki Kensuke, the narrative is a retrospective one although this doesn't really become apparent until the end of the novel. To what degree the events in the novel could be related to Murakami's life I'm not sure, but the setting is Sasebo, where Murakami was born and Murakami was also seventeen in 1969, an enjoyable aspect to Yazaki relating his story is at times at the beginning or ending of describing events are his imaginative elaborations on the truth, and then a quick correction by describing the true turn of events.

The novel evokes the prevailing mindset and mood of the period, the student movement, (Yazaki organizes a barricade at his school, painting slogans on the walls), and it's soundtrack, The Beatles, Dylan, Janis Joplin, and also the writers read, Camus, Rimbaud, Burgess, also the anti-Vietnam movement. The real motive for Yazaki's political motivations   become apparent, to impress the opposite sex, a subplot that runs throughout the novel is that he and his friends are organising a festival which he gives the name 'Morning Erection Festival', which will include the screening of an avant-garde film that they producing, which they hope will star girls from the school. The portrait that Yazaki gives is a searingly honest one, and at times unflinching which may sit uncomfortably in places, Yazaki can't help seeing through the pretensions of his teachers and to a degree others around him. Being a portrait of the juvenile years of a young man it's got everything you'd almost come to expect, girls, brushes with authority, gang fights, (almost), but at the end of the novel Murakami in a post script fills us in with what the characters have done with their lives subsequently. It's remarkable to note  that most of the references in the book are of Western things, maybe this is a true picture of 1969, (or the late sixties), in Japan, but it remains of course a snapshot from one perspective, Yazaki is likened to Chuya Nakahara at one point, although he struggles to picture this actor before remembering his real identity, perhaps this represents an unintentional repudiation of the past. The novel was translated by Ralph F. McCarthy, two of Murakami Ryu's short stories, The Last Picture Show and Whenever I Sit at a Bar Drinking Like This, I Always Think What a Sacred Profession Bartending Is, can be read at (Words without Borders).


Rise said...

It's a favorite of mine. So so funny. Together with The Murakami's Norwegian Wood, it paints a great portrait of 1969 Japan.

me. said...

Really enjoyed this too, I've still not seen the film adaption, books are usually better tho.

I've got Piercing to read which sounds rather horrific, then I'll wait for the reissue of Popular Hits.. and From the Fatherland.. next year.

It would be great to see a short story collection one day.

Unknown said...

No R. Murakamis for me so far, but that will change next year as I'm sure to read some of the Pushkin versions - possibly 'Coin Locker Babies' first :)

By the way, I've put up my 'January in Japan' sign-up post - hope you can join in (and maybe even contribute a post!):

me. said...

Thanks for highlighting 'January in Japan', hopefully I'll pop by with a post.

Really enjoyed the first half of Coin Locker Babies, but as the novel progressed it began to loose my attention, I can't remember why. Really enjoyed '69' though and am looking forward to the titles from Pushkin