I began reading “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami this afternoon at Borders. I got through about 45 pages or so before I had to leave. Even in translation, the novel is amazing, but more on the translation later.

What I find most interesting even after only 45 pages of the novel is the sense of dread and menace that is prevalent throughout. After all, the novel is essentially about a lost cat. The protagonist is a man who has quit his job at a law office to live at home, while his wife (who may or may not be having an affair) works as a graphic designer. There’s an interesting Lolita-esque moment when the protagonist meets a 16 year old girl who has been thrown from the back of a motorcycle, and falls asleep in her yard while searching for the lost cat. Then there’s a mysterious phone call from an anonymous woman. I’m not giving very much away.

Murakami creates a very dream-like state. Nothing is really concretely described. I got confused by the spatial description of the “alley that is not an alley” and the houses surrounding it. Particularly impressive are the chapter headings, which have a main title, and two or three sub-headings. For some reason, this works really well, because throughout the chapter, all the titles are elucidated or glanced over. This gives the feel of uncertainty and some ambiguity.

The title of the novel in particular is curious. “Chronicle” implies some sort of detective story or noir. The wind-up bird does make an appearance in the first chapter, but it’s just a set piece, and isn’t of any importance for awhile, at least from my reading. I mean, it’s definitely thematically important, but it isn’t obvious, if you know what I mean.

The translation is good, but apparently the translator, Jay Rubin, who translated the “only official translation,” reduced the original novel by 15-20%, source: Amazon user review. The wikipedia article about the novel states, “Two chapters from the third volume of the original three-volume Japanese paperback edition were not included in the English translation. In addition, one of the chapters near the excluded two was moved ahead of another chapter, taking it out of the context of the original order,” sourced from this 2000 roundtable between Philip Gabriel, Rubin, and Gary Fiskjeton (Knopf editor).

How can you reduce a work by 2 chapters, when Murakami’s chapters are at least 20 pages long, and not consider how much of a change in pace and thematic control you’re creating? I’d rather read the Russian translation, which is apparently the full version. It’s true that the novel is now, in its abridged version (which is implied by the copyright page as being “adapted by Jay Rubin”), at 642 pages. It’s also true that abridging a work is a slap in the face to readers who want uncompromising quality. Why would you want an abridged version of anything? “The Brothers Karamazov” was recently (1990 being relatively recent) translated again, and there is no abridgement. By the way, that translation comes out to around 740 pages, so even if Murakami’s original text were translated, it would still be shorter than Dostoyevky’s masterpiece.

2 chapters matter, even in a 640+ page work. Simple as that. I hate reading works in translation anyway, as it just contributes to the belief that English is the most important language in the world. This also brings me to the issue of canon, but more on that in a later post. Even though I don’t speak Japanese, I speak Russian, so I can read that translation.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to Borders and finish the novel, and then maybe I’ll start on “Infinite Jest” or something.