Tag Archives: Murakami

“Enjoy your youth / sounds like a threat / But I will anyway”

(Title courtesy of Regina Spektor)

Boy, do I feel the weight of time passing sometimes. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s fresher’s week. Or because I’m almost done with rereading The Savage Detectives and I just realized that the last time I read it was SEVEN YEARS AGO (?!), when I was living in Mexico. Re-reading it this time has sure made me feel old and melancholic. I’ll never forget how the first time I read it in, what, 2007? 2008?–what struck me most about it was its life, its vitality, its obsession with Paris and travel, cigarettes, and cups of black coffee. Reading it this time, what strikes me most about it is its incredible sense of melancholy and nostalgia–the pain of faded youth.

What else struck me about this book, during this re-read?

— > Its obsession with walking, with street names and neighborhoods. As though characters were using the city’s names and landmarks as a way to orient themselves in an unknowable world (most memorably by the architect father, following his release from the mental institution).

—> The way certain sections read as individual short stories. There’s the refugee who settles in Spain and makes a ton of money by predicting lottery numbers, or Belano’s bodybuilding female roomamate, who possibly provides the strongest moral compass of the book, with her emphasis on habit and hard work, or what she calls “life’s responsibilities, the things I believed in and clung to in order to keep breathing.(556) There’s Edith Oster’s story (the anorexic, unstable girl Belano falls in love with), and Daniel Grossman’s final encounter with his friend Norman and their bitter reminisces about their days as visceral realists (maybe the saddest part of the book for me), and Octavio Paz’s secretary. There’s the hypnotically whacko monologue by the seriously disturbed Austrian that Ulises meets in a jail cell in Israel, and there’s also the triple-whammy of Belano stories at the end: his duel, cave descent, and voyage to Africa (all of which add up to my favorite parts of the book). I can’t believe I never realized this before–that The Savage Detectives is basically linked short stories.

—> The role of inconclusiveness, desperation, and rising tension. I frequently felt like something AWFUL was going to happen, especially in the chapter with the hitchhiking British girl, picking grapes in France.

—> The perspective of the book (in terms of who is narrating) is deeply provocative. I can definitely understand and even sympathize with someone who would read this and just find all the young poets incredibly irritating. If you had them in a university classroom, yeah, you probably would want to punch them. And despite all their talk and obsession with poetry, none of them end up being successful in a traditional, published-author, hot-shot literary figure sense. And yet this is one of the themes that resonates most deeply with me. What does it mean to BE a writer, vs. to write? Are they “failures” if they never publish or become famous? How do you live with your life not turning out the way you wanted it to be? What is the definition of “success”?

—> What an unconventional book this is, really.  Boy, was Bolaño influenced by French surrealism (not that I know much about it, I just get a real vibe for Rimbaud-ish weirdness during this reread). Disappearances and absences to play a big role, most notably in Juan García Madero’s complete disappearance from the middle section. What happened to him? Where did he go? Such a key question for so many other Latin American artists and intellectuals, working in the 50’s through the 70’s.

—> I think the most inspiring sentence in this book for me this time around is this one, in the section narrated by Xóchitl García, who keeps trying to write despite all odds: “María and I looked at each other, not pretending anymore but serious, tired but ready to go on, and after a few seconds I got up and turned on the light.”  (396)

“Tired but ready to go on.” That feels like enough of a mantra for me, for now.

Other quotes:

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I try to do things right but everything turns out wrong, I should go back to Peru, this city is fucking killing me, I’m not the same person I used to be. (239)

I was suddenly overcome by the full horror of Paris, the full horror of the French language, the poetry scene, our state as unwanted guests, the sad, hopeless state of South Americans lost in Europe, lost in the world. (243)

Being alone makes us stronger. That’s the honest truth. (315)

You have to live your life, that’s all there is to it. A drunk I met the other day on my way out of the bar La Mala Senda told me so. Literature is crap. (316)

Don’t worry, the poet doesn’t die, he loses everything, but he doesn’t die. (360)

I would think about my next article, about the story I was planning to write… and the time would fly. (393)

I was still myself. Not the self I’d gotten used to, for better or for worse, but myself. (396)

Then, humbled and confused and in a burst of utter Mexican-ness, I knew that we were ruled by fate and that we would all drown in the storm, and I knew that only the cleverest, myself certainly not included, would stay afloat much longer. (406)

I set out to dissect what had become of my youth. And I concluded that everything had to change, even if I wasn’t sure just then how to go about it or what path to take. (407)

Don’t tempt fate, you lucky bastard, be happy with what you’ve got… We aren’t given much time on this earth. We have to pray and work. (415)

Belano, I said, the heart of the matter is knowing whether evil (or sin or crime or whatever you want to call it) is random or purposeful. If it’s purposeful, we can fight it, it’s hard to defeat, but we have a chance, like two boxers in the same weight class, more or less. If it’s random, on the other hand, we’re fucked, and we’ll just have to hope that God, if He exists, has mercy on us. And that’s what it all comes down to. (420)

We weren’t writing for publication but to understand ourselves better or just to see how far we could go. (435)

It has to do with life, with what we lose without knowing it, and what we can regain. So what can we regain? I said. What we’ve lost, said Norman, we can get it back intact. (481)

The search for a place to live and a place to work was the common fate of all mankind. (488)

She doesn’t see, she never sees, the fool, the idiot, the innocent, this woman who’s come too late, who’s interested in literature with no idea of the hells lurking beneath the tainted or pristine pages, who loves flowers and doesn’t realize there’s a monster in the bottom of the vase. (526)

I’m basically a fighter. I try to stay positive. Things don’t have to be bad or inevitable. (545)

I know the secret of life isn’t in books. But I also know that it’s good to read, that it can be instructive, or relaxing: we agree about that. (551)

Norwegian Wood (Murakami)

Unlike The Savage Detectives, I’d never read this book before, but also ended up completely loving it. Similarly to Detectives, I was intensely impacted by Norwegian Wood’s pervasive feeling of melancholy and nostalgia, and its depiction of being young. Coincidentally, two of Murakami’s main characters are also obsessive walkers of Tokyo, tying in with Detectives’ use of street names and neighborhoods as a contrast to its characters’ disorientation.

Oh, this book is so sad! It’s very different from the other Murakami books I’ve read (Sheep Chase, Kakfa, 1Q84, Wind-Up Bird, After the Quake, Colorless TI think that’s it), in the sense that it’s a very straightforward, realistic story. It begins simply enough, with our narrator-hero Toru Watanabe on a plane landing in Germany and hearing the faintest strains of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” playing on the speakers. And just like we’re transported back to his days in university in Tokyo, narrated in a decidedly detached, passive style. Toru is unimpressed by university and ends up finding his most formative experiences outside the classroom: “By the second week in September I reached the conclusion that a university education was meaningless. I decided to think of it as a period of training in techniques for dealing with boredom.” (62)

I was very impressed by the structure of this book. Like The Savage Detectives, it’s filled with stories that other characters tell the narrator, who is fundamentally a blank slate. Two characters, Midori (a main love interest) and Reiko (an older woman he meets) verge on being Manic Pixie Dream Girls (and probably would be in the hands of a lesser writer), but are thankfully given a rough rawness that serve to combat any potential Pixie-ness. A lot of this rawness is related to sex, which is another thing that surprised me about this book–I was definitely not expecting Murakami to be this graphic in parts!

I was also deeply affected by the novel’s themes of regret, death, and loss. There’s a scene involving a firefly in a jar that could potentially be corny, but ended up reading as tragically transcendent to me, almost Gatsby-esque (which is fittingly one of Toru’s favorite books). I liked the different examples that Toru witnesses of adulthood, like his friend who is obsessed with acquiring women and power, and an old man who passes away with very little to show for it (in regards to this latter character, Toru wonders, “what had he left behind? A nothing-much bookshop in a nothing-much neighborhood and two daughters, at least one of whom was more than a little strange. What kind of life was that?”) (261)

(The rest of this review contains SPOILERS so stop reading now if you’d rather not know details of the book’s plot, which is actually something I recommend–it was fun for me to read this book and be surprised!)

In terms of the themes of death and loss, both appear early on in the earliest chapters, when Toru’s 17-year-old best friend Kizuki inexplicably commits suicide. This drives Toru into the arms of Kizuki’s girlfriend Naoko, who is (to put it simply) somewhat troubled (this theme of madness is another crazy link with Savage Detectives that I just noticed! I wonder why both authors focused so much on the idea of sanity when writing about youth… I guess because it’s a very intense time). Naoko eventually retreats to a rural sanctuary in the countryside for other people like her, who are finding life a bit too intense and difficult to deal with (I liked how the novel pointedly notes that it was only people with money who were able to go there). Toru regularly visits her and becomes friends with her roommate Reiko, an older woman who used to be a classical pianist before (as they say) things went wrong. As Reiko puts it, “Something inside me had vanished. Some jewel of energy or something had disappeared – evaporated – from my body… Here I was in my early twenties and the best part of my life was over.” (155)

But then Toru meets Midori, a fellow university student: vivacious, wild-mouth and vibrant, Midori is the type of character who says things like “The saddest thing in the world is wearing a damp bra. I’d walk around with tears pouring from my eyes.” (90) Intense and vibrant, the contrast between the two is pretty clear: Midori = life, Naoko = death.

And so the main decision for Toru is set up. And in the background to all this is Toru’s flat, tasteless, and solitary life in university, in which he describes getting up every morning as “winding up a spring.” I found these descriptions of his struggle to get through the day-to-day motions of “normal” living very affecting: “How many Sundays – how many hundreds of Sundays like this – lay ahead of me?” (262)

I also found how Murakami depicted the culture of the 60’s (in terms of its daily protests and obsession with revolution) very interesting, via the lens of Toru’s disillusioned perspective. Watching the everyday scenes of his university campus, Toru experiences severe dislocation: “The more I watched, the more confused I became. What the hell was this all about? I wondered. What could it possibly mean?” (218) KEY QUESTIONS FOR US ALL. “Hey, Kizuki,” Toru thinks at another point, mentally addressing his dead friend, “you’re not missing a damn thing. This world is a piece of shit. The arseholes are getting good marks and helping to create a society in their own disgusting image.” (62)

What doe Toru want from society? What does Toru want from life? What kind of person does he want to be? These are clearly the more important questions that propel the narrative in the book, rather than the question of whether he will choose This Girl or That Girl. Early on, he warns Naoko, “You’re letting yourself be scared by too many things. The dark, bad dreams, the power of the dead,” (193) and this perhaps is the best articulation of the danger he faces. Will he let himself be consumed by the darkness? How does he want to see the world? In another passage I found extremely moving, Naoko says to him (speaking of Kizuki): “We had to pay the world back what we owed it… The pain of growing up. We didn’t pay when we should have, so now the bills are due… We were like kids who grew up naked on a desert island. If we got hungry, we’d just pick a banana; if we got lonely, we’d go to sleep in each other’s arms. But that kind of thing doesn’t last forever. We grew up fast and had to enter society.” (169)

But does it always have to be like that? Is Toru going to adopt a similar view, in which “entering society” leads to a sacrifice of something you’ll never recuperate? Can you ever get back what you think you’ve lost? In contrast to Naoko’s somewhat glum view, there are also perspectives like Reiko’s, who perhaps more than anyone else in the novel tries her hardest to see the best in things: “So what if I had spent time in mental hospitals? My life hadn’t ended. Life was still full of wonderful things I hadn’t experienced.” (156-157) However, she also goes on to pointedly say, “I sure don’t wish I was younger again… Because it’s such a pain in the neck!” (178)

In the end, Toru has to learn to live with himself and his memories, and by the end of the book, when he’s able to say, “Every once in a while, I think about myself, ‘What the hell, I’ll do,'” (301) it feels like a tremendous victory–the biggest one possible, to be able to look at yourself and say, “I’ll do.”

I highly recommend this book, due to its poignant and painfully sad examination of what it means to grow up, particularly in terms of the consequences of deciding how you want to view the world.

Things like that happen all the time in this great big world of ours. It’s like taking a boat out on a beautiful lake on a beautiful day and thinking both the sky and the lake are beautiful. So stop eating yourself up. Things will go where they’re supposed to go if you just let them take their natural course. Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt. (355)

Sometimes I feel like the caretaker of a museum–a huge, empty museum where no one ever comes, and I’m watching over it for no one but myself. (364)

 

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

What an enjoyable read! Such a tightly plotted, expertly crafted book. It sounds so cliché and redundant to even say this at this point, but Murakami is truly a fiction master. From a writer’s perspective, this is the kind of book that makes you shake your head and silently mouth the words Damn. He makes it look SO easy… but it is so not.

This book draws you in a with a simple mystery that in typical Murakami style gets more and more layered and complex as the book progresses. We meet our titular hero, Tsukuru Tazaki, during a time in his life when he is experiencing profound melancholy, almost to the point of suicidal depression (this was a part of the book I really enjoyed–it’s strange that I can’t think of more examples in fiction where authors try to depict melancholy… I guess because it’s very difficult to capture… so static and numbing). We then jump into the future, when he’s on a date with a woman, and via his conversations with her we learn that this intense period of melancholy was due to him being abruptly cut off by his four best friends from high school. These four friends each had different names that mean different colors in Japanese: red, blue, white, black (colors that are all opposite from each other–this theme of balance & contrast comes up repeatedly throughout the book). Tsukuru’s name means “builder,” or “he who makes things” (something like that; I’m too lazy to flip through the novel and check right now). This is where the “Colorless Tsukuru” of the title comes from–not only does his name lack color, but he is constantly questioning his lack of color as a person… seeing himself as uninteresting and empty, a vessel who is constantly abandoned.

Anyway, so that’s one of the first things to respect about this novel: how the plot is kicked into high-gear in a classic, verging on detective fiction style. We have a mystery (why did Tsukuru’s friends cut him off?) and a motivation (the woman Tsukuru is on a date with tells him he needs to find out what happened, or else she won’t be able to date him since she senses there is a part of him that is closed-off and emotionless due to this incident). This is such a great way to make the reader want to keep reading–you want to find out the answer. I loved how I felt consistently surprised while reading this book, as though Murakami himself was discovering the story as he went along, as opposed to being heavy-handed about it.

The other thing I really respect about this book is the subplot that occurs early on, right before Tsukuru begins his quest to track down his four friends in their current day lives. I can see how some people might read this subplot and go WTF, but it reminded me of that part in Fargo when Frances McDormand goes out with that old friend of hers, who turns out to be a compulsive liar. It may initially seem to be a TOTALLY random divergence, like it has nothing to do with the main thread of the story, but then it actually provides essential knowledge and experience for the main character later on.

The seemingly random sub-plot I’m referring to deals with a friendship that Tsukuru forms with another guy, shortly after his friends abandon him. I can’t speak highly enough about the way this friendship is handled, and the way it foreshadows and hints at what becomes the biggest, most important question in the book (I won’t give away any spoilers, but the question has to do with one of the four friends in the group, in terms of her motivation and her ultimate fate). We aren’t given many definitive answers in this novel, but I definitely feel like Murakami gave me enough information to be able to draw my own (supernaturally-influenced) conclusions. It also helped that I was reminded of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and its theme of people’s subconscious emotional selves being projected as actual physical beings, running around and doing crazy-ass things (and now I really will say no more!).

The final chapter of this book dragged a little for me, as if Murakami couldn’t figure out how to end it. There are only so many pages of Tsukuru reflecting about his father in the train station that I was willing to read at that point. But on the whole I felt extremely satisfied but this novel, and really enjoyed reading it. I haven’t even gotten into the theme of balance that keeps popping up (the five friends are frequently compared to the five fingers on a hand, which is interesting since a lot of them end up in jobs that involve working with their hands–as a potter and pianist respectively). The theme of creation, or making things, was one I found really interesting. In a way this book reminded me most of Murakami’s running memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I also love how mysteries are left unanswered (what’s with the theme polydactylism, or people with six fingers?! What was in the jar on top of the piano?!).

I highly recommend this book. A lot more enjoyable for me than 1Q84, which was respectably ambitious but if I’m honest I can barely remember anything about it now.

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1Q84

Well, this is a bit of an intense book. It’s a long read (925 pages). It’s definitely not perfect and leaves a lot of really big questions unanswered. Still, it’s very ambitious, kind of like Murakami’s version of 2666 (a vastly better novel). In the end, it’s difficult for me to criticize a book for flying and failing, as opposed to not even attempting to fly at all. I’d rather that there be imperfect yet ambitious books like this one in the world, as opposed to only ones with really perfectly developed plotlines that are boring and trite.

I like Murakami. I have fond memories of A Wild Sheep Chase and I really enjoyed The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle when I read it, though to be honest if you were to ask me to summarize anything about it right now I’d be hard-pressed to say what it is, if anything, that I remember about it. I remember the going down into the well scene, of course, (talk about a Jungian encounter with darkness!) or all the moments of the narrator cooking in the kitchen. IQ84 has similar scenes of characters descending; for example, the main female character enters into the titular “IQ84” parallel universe by going down a staircase by a Tokyo highway. IQ84 also has some cooking scenes that are so detailed that I’m going to replicate one of the recipes, a shrimp and ginger stirfry, tonight in my own kitchen.

This book is divided into three sections and I really enjoyed reading the first two. The basic plot is the following: Aomame, the main female character, escapes a traffic jam via a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion that she go down the aforementioned staircase, and ends up in a parallel universe she calls “1Q84” (instead of 1984, get it? Q stands for Question). The key distinguishing characteristic of this parallel universe is that there are two moons in the sky as opposed to one, the second one smaller and mossy-looking. Every other chapter is narrated by Tengo, the main male character, who helps ghost-write a novel written by a dyslexic seventeen-year-old girl, and needless to say (in classic Murakami fashion) from that very simple initial situation a lot of very complicated ones arise, making a detailed plot summary impossible. There’s this religious cult, for one, and these scary critters called “the Little People” that crawl out of the mouths of dead bodies, and people in comas who send out their unconscious selves to go knocking on people’s doors demanding that they pay their overdue cable television fees, and I better stop there, because I could just go on and on.

There were a lot of big ideas in this book that I really enjoyed. I liked the parallels that Murakami attempts to draw with Orwell. I really liked all the parts in the narrative that talked about Jung, and the idea that we all have these shadow selves that we have to accept. Duality is a big theme in the novel (the two moons in the sky, for example) and the one that I found most interesting. At the heart of this book, I think, is the idea of being okay with yourself, despite all the dark, yucky or nasty stuff you might find within you.

There are a lot of yummy treats in IQ84. As readers we are treated to discussions about a book Chekhov wrote about indigenous tribes in Russia, classical symphonies and jazz records, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the house Jung built with his own hands in Switzerland, and other seemingly random anecdotes that nevertheless end up holding a lot of important symbolism for the characters. IQ84 a very rich book that tries to talk about really big, important things, such as how to deal with being alone, death and darkness (“irretrievably lost” is one phrase Murakami likes to employ a lot). The plot, though, is super dee dooper simple, basically a continuation of this short story: if you fail to talk to the 100% perfect girl the first time, how do you ever find her again?

It’s hard for me to find fault with this novel or to criticize it, because as with Terrence Malick movies, even though they’re not perfect and can be overblown and (yes) even pretentious at times, I still have a lot of respect for art that tries to do something ambitious and new. Yes, at its heart the plot is very simple, but there are so many other things that are complex about this book that in a way it’s really good that the main plot is basically girl-seeks-boy (and vice versa). I really loved reading the first two sections of IQ84, because it was classic, vintage Murakami at his best: I never knew what was going to happen next, and it made me want to keep reading. Even though I didn’t have all the answers and didn’t know how everything was going to fit together, the narrative seemed to hint that everything would eventually connect in a way that felt really rich and delicious. It’s the kind of writing that makes me wonder if Murakami know at the very beginning of the book that it was all going to end up this way, or did he just figure it out via writing (I feel like it’s the latter, but who knows–I ask the same thing about Game of Thrones, constantly.)

The last section of the book really stalled for me for two reasons. One, the main characters didn’t really do anything. Aomame is in hiding, holed up in an apartment that she can never leave and spends her time reading Proust and watching a playground, hoping that Tengo will appear. It’s hard to make a narrative be super exciting or engaging if one of your main characters basically isn’t doing anything. Two, in this section Murakami introduces a new POV character, a hideously ugly private investigator. While I wasn’t totally opposed to reading these chapters and I enjoyed the extra dimensions to the detective that these chapters provided, I couldn’t figure out what was the point of having them in the novel. I guess it’s through this detective’s investigations that Aomame and Tengo’s storylines are eventually able to connect, but the actual act of reading his chapters got to be a bit tedious at times. The detective is basically spending all his time finding out information that we readers already know, and in a book that’s 900+ pages, I don’t really understand why this info needed to be rehashed. I mean, I guess it’s interesting that we got to spend some time in the so-called villain’s head: I can see how that ties into other themes in the book, about things not always being what they seem, and the necessity of our shadow, darker selves.

Murakami leaves a lot of questions unanswered at the end of this book. In some ways, I am OK with that. I don’t need to be hit over the hammer with the full story behind the ultra creepy Little People, for example (are they the Devil? God? Big Brother? Or mix of all three?). I really would have liked to know how the heck the taxi driver knew about the gateway entrance, though: I was irked that detail was never even mentioned.

Still, that being said, I would still recommend this book. I just wouldn’t recommend it super enthusiastically, like “OMG it is sooooo amazing you absolutely have to read it.” The first two sections are really engaging and interesting, and the last one sputters, but there is still enough good material in the first two to make it well worth your while. Maybe it’s like eating a stir fry in which you don’t really like all the ingredients, so you just pick your way through it and eat the parts you like, and whatever you don’t, just leave it there on your plate. No big deal.

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Reading Murakami and Steinbeck in Nuevo LaredoReading


This novel begins with such a normal scene: the narrator in the kitchen, boiling spaghetti and listening to an opera, “which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.”(5) There’s absolutely no indication in the first 100+ pages that the story is going to end as weirdly as it does.

This was absolutely the most perfect book in the world for me to read at this particular point in my life. The friend who gave it to me told me he’d read it during a time in which his “flow was obstructed,” and I guess the same goes for me. There was just something so warm and reassuring about reading this book. I would be in the office or in the field all day in Nuevo Laredo, learning all these new concepts and absorbing all these incredibly draining, intense experiences, and yet, at the end of the day it would all be okay, because I knew I could come home to my little apartment, sit on my beat-up couch, eat my cornflakes and yogurt and read another 100 pages of Wind-Up Bird. It was like coming home to cuddle a stuffed animal, albeit one that talked a lot about the Japanese military efforts in Manchukuo.

I loved reading this book. *Loved* it. I wanted to hug it to the chest and clap my hands gleefully with happiness, like a happy seal. I love all the different Joycean techniques Murakami employs to tell his tale: computer chats, letters, newspapers, hallucinatory dream sequences. It feels important that the story begins with a very straightforward, realistic narrative that is almost boring in its simplicity: a man begins searching for his wife’s missing cat. In the last couple of chapters, you’re no longer sure if what’s going on is happenning in this world, a parallel universe, inside somebody’s head, or inside several people’s heads (that’s about as spoiler free as I can be). Also, as a history geek, I loved reading the parts about the Japanese army in Mongolia or the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the prison camps in Siberia. There’s so many parts of the world and of history that I have yet to learn about…

My absolutely favorite thing in the world about Murakami is all his descriptions of what the characters eat. A ham, tomato and cheese sandwich. Stir fried green peppers. Coffee, constantly. These little details sounds so simple, and yet they add so much to the story: it grounds it in something that’s so real and very much every day. The literary cliche gods help me, but I have to call it Kafkaesque: we believe all the crazy things that happen later, because everything that happens early on is so credible, to the point of being monotonous almost. It really is clever technique.

This is a very postmodern novel in the sense that it deals a lot with the question of the self. As in, do we actually have one? Can you ever actually “know” yourself, let alone another person? More than anything else, I think this is the central question of the novel. It reminded me a lot of Tori Amos’ concept album, American Doll Posse, in which she assumes the persona of five different female archetypes, each representing a different side to the female personality. This idea of having several different selves, as opposed to one that is already neatly, conveniently formed, is a theme I believe I’ve already brought up in this blog. I really like the idea of having this “wise self” inside of me, this very pure, intuitive wisdom that I can turn to, time and time again, in order to reassure myself and calm myself down, make myself feel like everything is going to be all right. What about all my other selves? Is complete integration an illusion? Is being mildly fragmented the best that any of us can ever hope for? The question feels even more relevant if you consider victims of trauma like war (as in Wind-Up Bird) or rape (as in American Doll Posse). Trauma can shatter you, splinter you apart. How do you go about rebuilding yourself, making yourself whole again?


This idea of rebuilding and coming together appears in a very different form of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the other book I looked forward to coming home and reading these past few weeks. Steinbeck is about as straightforward as narrative realism gets, not much I can call postmodern here (though please feel free to correct me!). I liked how this book made me want to listen to Bruce Springsteen (which makes sense, since Bruce Springsteen has obviously read Steinbeck. I was surprised by how easily you could update The Grapes of Wrath to a 21st-century tale of immigration to the U.S., if you just substituted the Joads for a Mexican family, changed Okies to mojados, throw in a scene of crossing the Rio Grande.

Oh, it just makes me sad, it makes me angry, it makes me want to—I don’t know, I was going to write “run into the street, burn something, write to a Congressman,” but to be completely honest, what it makes me want to do is read more. I want to read more about the history of labor movements in the early 20th century, I want to read more about the development of 21st-century immigration policy, I want to read more about socialism. I want to sit up late reading drinking my carrot juice, underlining passages in pencil and maybe even scrawling a note to myself in the side margins (yes, I am thus revealing myself to be a book vandal!). I want to read and think and write my thoughts down and them talk about them, late into the night with other people. And then I want them to give me more books to read and tell me, “I think that you would like these ones.” More than anything else it makes me feel hopeful and happy to think that there are other people like this in the world, other people who can relate to the feeling of your heart beating as you hand a book over to another person, the words in your throat bursting with eagerness as you say “oh! This one—you really need to read this one!” What would the world be like, after all, without all these people who want to read great books and think silly thoughts about them and then go out and do completely random-seeming things like intern for a microfinance institution in a border city?

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