I’m finally getting to the point where I can start to read a bit of Japanese. That is, I can follow the gist of what I read without constant interruption to look up words and kanji. Actually, I’ve been actively resisting using the dictionary. That’s just not how I read English when I was a kid; and that’s not fun and not the way to stay motivated!
I’ve been reading short stories by Haruki Murakami. I’ve got two of his short story collections, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and The Elephant Vanishes. At first I went through and read all the super short stories. Ten pages or less was my rule. I find that I can get through these in a single sitting. They’re a nice size, but the stories aren’t all that satisfying. Usually no real plot or character development. What do you expect in 10 pages, right?
TV People was the first Murakami story published in the New Yorker. I usually enjoy me a good New Yorker short story, so I was curious to see what a Murakami New Yorker story looks like. TV People is more satisfying than the super short stories I’ve been reading. There’s (a bit of) a plot, and you get to spend some time with the protagonist. Honestly though, I don’t like it. I don’t understand it, is another way to word it. To me this story is just a vague ennui / apathy metaphor blah blah blah. In reading through these Murakami stories, the cover of my childhood copy of The Emperor’s New Clothes flashes into my head over and over. Presumably the clever people at the New Yorker know something that I don’t, and there really is a there there in there somewhere, but beats me if I can find it.
On the upside, Murakami is great for students of Japanese (like me!). It’s so accessible, it can give you a false sense of confidence. I sometimes go paragraphs and paragraphs knowing every word, feeling really good about my Japanese. That is, until I pick up a newspaper or even a tricky children’s book. There were a few passages in TV People that I found tricky, but most of it was straightforward.
Reading Alfred Birnbaum’s translation of TV People from the New Yorker, you really get a sense of how simple the language is. I almost feel as if, in translating Murakami into English, the translator needs to doll up the prose a bit to make it feel natural. But hey, I’m the one who thinks everyone’s naked here, so I would say that…
If you’re just starting to read Murakami, then there are two kanji you should know. Murakami loves these kanji!
訊く・訊ねる is just a fancy way of writing 聞く・ 尋ねる (kiku and tazuneru). There’s probably some nuance I’m missing here, but anyway, you’ll see this character used over and over so best get used to it.
Murakami’s characters love to 眺める (nagameru - stare/gaze). This one is actually a standard use kanji, but I didn’t know it until I started reading Murakami.