First person of singular, the new book of Haruki Murakami, has the tone of confession. These are eight stories told in the first person, as the title promises. The proposal is to confuse author and narrator. The signs, or red herrings, are there, for the faithful reader who wants to see them.
The voice is immediately recognized, a cadence built on the same concerns of previous books (jazz, persistence along the paths of art, baseball, concerts), and yet, First person of singular is entering some new path. Page by page, these stories speak of women.
Art, women and death
Rough stone, cold pillow, the story that opens the book, makes two worlds collide that seem opposite: on the one hand, the most starkly modern that Japan has to offer, with its precariousness and high-turnover jobs; on the other, the poetry of classical meter, which has its roots in a past of refinement and aestheticism.
The narrator tells us the story of a co-worker. They barely know each other when she asks permission to spend the night at her house and in her bed, just to avoid traveling alone on the subway to the city of Koganei. The only biographical details that he knows about her (so he says, “biographical details”), are that she writes tankas and published a collection of poems. She doesn’t expect anything from work, and it makes sense: no one who has known art can be comfortable selling their time.
Some of this modern, soulless profile of Japan, with its arubaito, his part-time jobs, appears in Saleswoman, the novel of Sayaka Murata. Keiko, the main character, has been working in the same shop, open 24 hours a day for nineteen years. He saw eight bosses pass, none of his first companions remained. Keiko understands that she shouldn’t stay, they explained it to her, although she knows that this is the only place in the world where she feels comfortable.
Unlike the woman of Saleswoman, the woman of Rough stone, cold pillow he seeks to jump from one job to another, without pause, hoping that one day he will have enough money to live on. Before, he worked in a real estate agency and in a bookstore. In the logic of modernity, this commitment to the same formula, expecting a different result, is a symbol of adaptation.
In the second story, Cream, again an enigmatic woman appears, whom the narrator hardly knows. Many years ago he shared some music classes with her. They never saw each other again. With the chance encounter comes an invitation. She invites him to a recital atop a promontory in Kobe.
When he arrives at the right place, accompanied by a bouquet of flowers, he discovers it empty, even abandoned. Was it a joke? He doesn’t care too much. In a surrounding square, the most curious thing in history happens: in the middle of an attack that makes her heart race, an old man comes up to her wanting to chat.
The old man formulates a phrase, a single phrase that, when repeated, suggests a koan, those fragments of wisdom that do not seek an answer, but encourage enlightenment. “A circle with many centers,” says the old man. In that conversation with the old man we recognize the Murakami of always, with his surrealism and his dream world, capable of making us believe that a monkey can speak and steal the names of loved women, as happens in another of the stories in the book, Confessions of a Shinagawa monkey.
The image of a woman with the Beatles album on her chest freezes the memory of another encounter (by chance, of course) in the hallways of the institute in the story With the Beatles. Afterward, the woman seems to vanish into thin air, like a cloud of smoke. A second, more tragic woman advances the plot. His story has something of The gears, the classic tale of Akutagawa, the last thing he wrote before taking his own life. Suicide also flies over in another Japanese novel published these days: Light territory, from Yuko Tsushima. In both Tsushima’s novel and Murakami’s tale, voluntary death, paradoxically, gives a woman body and presence, returns her to the present, rescues her from absence and oblivion.
Carnival, another of the tales of First person of singular, is an ode to music. Why does music that bewitches and suspends time always evoke a woman? Beats the music lover Murakami that we saw in many previous books and that we knew in detail in Music, just music, that long talk about classical music with the teacher Seiji Ozawa. The beginning of Carnival she is pure power: “She was the ugliest woman I have ever seen. Perhaps it is a partial judgment, since many others uglier than her must swarm the world, although it is hard to believe, but if I stick to those with whom I have established some kind of relationship, however weak, she takes, of course, the prize ”.
They met, coincidentally, at an opera break. She was with another man, but each had attended on their own. “A certain solidarity always unfolds among those who have no one to go to certain shows with.” The bond between the narrator and the ugliest woman in the world grows, carried by the music of Schumann. When they choose a single work to pay tribute to, they choose “Carnaval”, and they insist on attending each new performance, they want to listen to each new CD or vinyl. Shared music makes them complicit, without any other form of intimacy. Music does not need rituals that involve the body and touch. Until one day, like the women in other stories, she disappears. The narrator just heard from her again from a police report on the news.
There is something circular about meeting a woman, losing her, and hearing from her again, long afterward.
The separation of the narrator from the poet of the tankasIn the first story, he came with her promise to send him his collection of poems by mail. He is sincerely interested, although he suspects that she is not going to bother to do so. One day, the book appears in the mailbox of his house. It is a handmade edition, numbered. He waits for the right moment to read it, he doesn’t take it lightly. There is something magical about poetry, another kind of trust and vulnerability, as if it were not possible to hide completely. He knows that there he will find something that completes that woman who asked him for permission to say the name of another boy while they were making love. Time passes, he can’t remember her face. He wonders if he will continue writing, sometimes he fears that he has ended his life. “Not a few of his poems conveyed a certain thirst for death.”
Of other people’s gardens
Murakami, the westernmost of Japanese writers, tells in the foreword of Blind willow, sleeping woman, her first storybook, that writing novels is a challenge, while writing stories is a pleasure. “If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing stories is more like planting a garden.”
To think of a garden is to think of a body of water that contains rocks and small islands connected by curious bridges. It is stopping to contemplate huge roots, shady paths, stone lanterns, ancient moss-covered monoliths. There are echoes of Buddhist teachings in the composition of a garden. Only the skill of thousands of men can build a Japanese garden. Once it is shaped, it is up to nature to complete the prodigy. With his centuries-old work, nature surpasses the artist’s dream. On Gathering wheat ears in the Buddha fields, Lafcadio Hearn He states that Buddhism is a key to the enigmas of Japanese art.
The center where two straight lines converge
Says the narrator of one of the tales of First person of singularIt could be any of them, it doesn’t matter, they all seem to be the same: “Why do I think about her so much? Not even if we crossed the street or met at adjoining tables in a restaurant would we recognize each other. The straight lines of our lives had converged that night and, after crossing at a single point, they had separated to continue each on their way, moving further and further away ”.
The stories in this book are small flashes that light up one night, before going out again forever. Turning points where two lives touch for an instant, in the hallways of the institute, in the crowd that crosses Shibuya or in the interval of a concert. Chance loaded with symbol or a sample, just, of how the past remains latent to re-enter with all its power in a present that never stopped longing for it.