Wind / Pinball

Knopf. Aug. 2015. 256p. tr. from Japanese by Ted Goossen. ISBN 9780385352123. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385352130. F
OrangeReviewStarBefore A Wild Sheep Chase made Murakami an international sensation, he wrote these "kitchen-table novels," so named for where his composition efforts took place after he wrapped up managing his Tokyo jazz bar for the day. Both Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 are prequels to Sheep and comprise two-thirds of the "Trilogy of the Rat"; Dance Dance Dance, Sheep's sequel, actually makes the series a tetralogy. This latest two-title edition is a new translation from Canadian professor Goossen, who most recently translated Murakami's The Strange Library; Alfred Birnbaum, Murakami's earliest English translator (including Sheep) published translations of these two works in the mid-1980s, but distribution outside Japan remained mysteriously limited. Read side by side, the translations are not markedly different: Goossen's sentences seem slightly tighter, while Birnbaum's tend toward the more lyrical. Wind introduces the ever-unnamed protagonist and his friend the Rat and covers 18 days during a university summer break; Pinball follows our young man in Tokyo, Rat's growing alienation, and a wild chase to find the titular pinball (machine). Most fascinating is a new introduction in which Murakami shares the serendipitous (surreal) events that led to his novelist career, including a 1978 baseball game epiphany and a wounded bird. He divulges his uncommon style: he composes in English, then "transplants" his text into his native Japanese. The first line of his first novel proves to be a personal lifelong challenge: "There's no such thing as a perfect piece of writing."
VERDICT Whether prompted by devotion, curiosity, or obsession, every Murakami fan will flock to this double feature. For newbies, this duo is an unparalleled opportunity to experience his progression from start to phenom: read in four-part order and witness the maturation of an iconic genius. [See Prepub Alert, 2/23/15.]

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