Victoria Lu

I first began to realize the power of writing during a summer program I attended after my junior year of high school, where I was allowed to write about whatever I wanted. Free from MLA formatting and the Five Paragraph Essay, I saw writing in an entirely new way. But as I learned more about language and myself, I had a few ideas clawing at the back of my mind. School had taught me that writing was about content and ideas — that writing was simply a means to get information across. During the program, I learned how limited this view was, and I started to wonder just how far the written word could be stretched in the opposite direction. 

Jackson Pollock and the abstract expressionist movement flipped the art world on its collective head through profound and eclectic paintings. By painting with no clear subject in mind, Pollock and others let the paint speak for itself, highlighting color and pattern in a new light. I began to wonder if the same could be done with writing — if a piece could have zero substance yet effusive and thought-provoking prose. Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s “Hear the Wind Sing” is the closest novel I’ve read to that philosophy. There is not really any conflict, no grand overarching plot, and it’s not very informative. If your favorite book is a “Game of Thrones” novel you might not like “Hear the Wind Sing. It’s almost exactly 100 pages, printed with a big font. The loose plot follows a Japanese biology student with a drinking problem in the summer of 1970. He has a couple friends and meets a girl over the summer, but the story starts and ends without much happening. There is no grand romance, nor is there redemption. The only romantic intimacy we see flutters and dies without culminating into anything grand, defying the traditional novel. 

Some of the most interesting bits from the book come from brief flashbacks or tangents almost unrelated to the story itself. Like the fictitious yet captivating retelling of the life of Derek Hartfield, a science fiction writer who inspires the main character. Despite Murakami giving detailed summaries of some of Derek’s writing however, Mr. Hartfield was never a real writer, and his prolific science fiction work doesn’t exist in real life. I find it interesting how Murakami manages to work in a brief summary of a grand science-fiction epic into a calm slice-of-life novella. To me, it seems to be highlighting just how removed Hear the Wind Sing is from a standard novel. The page-to-page of the actual characters is taken up by eating, drinking,  and succinct dialogue. Yet one can’t help but feel a smooth sense of calm while reading, with line after line either coaxing out a chuckle or a thoughtful sigh. The author’s stream of consciousness style gives the book authenticity and heart; oftentimes it feels like you’re spying on the characters. As Murakami explains in the preface, he first wrote the novel in English, before translating it back into Japanese. He says that though his English composition skills were limited, it freed him from the obstacles and looming pressure of creating something worthy of the title of “literature,” which could be why the very first sentence in the book is “There is no such thing as a perfect piece of writing.”

Ironic, because that sentence seems rather perfect to me.

This book has been especially cathartic for me the last few weeks. (Yes, it took me an embarrassingly long time to read it.) I am separated from most of my friends. I cannot return to the university I dreamed of attending for so long. I cannot return to the place I called home so many months ago. But Murakami’s novel is like a weighted blanket over my worries. I become entangled in a world that doesn’t force me to decipher a convoluted plot or character motive. To me, Hear the Wind Sing asks the reader to slow down and take in the beauty of not just Murakami’s realm, but the outside world as well.  The book starts with a commentary on the process of writing, so it’s only logical that it ends with a quote from a prolific writer, Frederick Nietzche. In a time of unthinkable strife, I will leave you, kind reader, with the same quote: “How can those who live in the light of day possibly comprehend the depths of night?”

Addison Beer | addison.beer@yale.edu