I am a huge fan of Haruki Murakami. When I started this blog, I wanted to read his early works and reflect on how they compared to his more well-known publications, but I could only find a couple of rare (and expensive) copies of the books for sale used on Amazon. Now I know why. Although Murakami published his first works in Japanese in the early 70s, they were not published widely in English until this summer.
And in fact, Murakami himself did not want the books to be published in English and said that he considers The Wild Sheep Chase, which he published in 1982, to be his first book. But they are now out in the world.
Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 were published by Knopf as Wind/Pinball in August.
The books got widely reviewed and were noted as having all the ingredients of later Murakami novels – jazz music, the surreal, strange random events and his ability to make the everyday magical – but they were considered to be less refined than his later works. Critics said they are a great introduction to Murakami and will be enjoyed by fans. Interestingly, when I looked at the Goodreads reviews, I found that “enjoyed by fans” held up, but those who had not read him before were underwhelmed by this introduction.
So what did I think? I agree with the critics that these books have the elements of his later, more developed, work and they are interesting to read because they are like looking at childhood photos of a friend you met as an adult. You see a familiar face in those childhood photos, but there is a youthful enthusiasm that might not be so present in the face you know and love.
Hear the Wind Sing is about a young Japanese man home from college for summer break. He spends most of his time in the local bar drinking with his friend named Rat and meets a young woman with nine fingers. Not a lot happens in this book, but the mood of the later Murakami novels is present.
Pinball has more plot and is about a young man living in Tokyo and working as a translator. He happens to meet female twins who move with him. And he listens to a lot of jazz records. The book culminates when he sets out to find a vintage pinball machine he used to play. And this is when this book becomes more like the Murakami novels I love. There is a quest that involves unique characters and a surreal climax, after which the narrator goes back to his ordinary life in Tokyo.
Of the two, I found Pinball the most engaging as its surreal ending took me by surprise and delivered. But after reading both books, I agree with the readers on Goodreads more than the critics. These are worthy books, and if you are a fan of Murakami, I think you will enjoy them, but for Murakami newcomers, you might want to start with the book he calls his first, The Wild Sheep Chase. This was the first book of his that I read and I found it magical, I could not put it down and read all of his other books I could find in succession afterwards.
I am glad to finally read these debuts and to learn about one of my favorite author’s younger writer self. And if you are not familiar with his work, you can explore what he has written on his website.