A Book Recommendation: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Note: Originally written as a book recommendation for a friend.

When I was to pick a book for you, I had a few candidates in mind.

Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game; I loved the way it described the loneliness of a boy who was the only one who could save the world.

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray could have been another one; I was captivated reading it, observing a transformation of a bit self-absorbed young man into a selfish monster, curious for the whole time what comes next.

But for some reason I did not exactly know one week a go – as it has been a long time since I read the book – I knew I wanted to pick After Dark.

I think I’m really a simple person when it comes to consuming books. For as long as it is possible, I remain un-critical, open to everything the book has to offer. Something really stupid has to happen in the book that would make me lose my trust – and then, there’s no turning back and I never regain my interest.

I guess that is what makes reading Murakami’s books so interesting for me. I’m aware that there are many scenes that are too abstract, surreal and absurd. But because Murakami (at least for me) never goes that far so that I would say to myself “this is stupid”, it actually makes my mind work a lot more.

A sleeping girl is moved from one side of the TV screen to another; a man who looks like wearing a mask hiding his facial features is motionlessly staring at her; she appears in the same office room as the one of a man who has beaten up a Chinese prostitute. When she is in that room, it’s not real, because it has no doors or windows.

Surreal? Certainly. Absurd? Maybe. But because since I started reading on the first page I agreed to play the author’s game, I don’t doubt its legitimacy. And under the assumption that all that is written there is legitimate, one question keeps coming up in my mind. At times it is just whispered quietly; at times it’s as if I heard someone screaming:

“What does this all mean?”

Why did Shirikawa do what he did? Does Eri actually have to do something with all that, was she involved with him, as a lover, as a prostitute? Could that be the explanation for her disconnection with this world? What happens with that phone?

Hundred questions more…

It was as if the author tossed at me a handful of puzzle pieces… And made me work to figure out the rest of the image myself.

Of course it’s not that simple; the initial assumption is that the book grabs my attention so well that I’m interested in creating the image in the first place. But Murakami does that for me. I love his descriptions: Confidence: “He raises his arm and looks at his watch. He performs each movement with unnatural slowness. He is clearly in no hurry.” Helplessness: “All we can do, it seems, is defer judgement and accept the situation as it is. We shall call him the Man with No Face.” Or focus: “There is no wasted motion, just the meticulous eighteenth-century music, the man, and the technical problems he has been given to solve.”

He is amazing at painting the feeling of a moment; even more now when I can grab his music on Spotify the very minute I’m reading the scene for the first time.

When I add to the mix the development of the relationship between main two characters; and my personal affection for Tokyo and curiosity about Japanese way of thinking; I had no choice but to fall in love with this book.

A feeling that remained years after I read it, even after forgetting what caused it.

And something that, thanks to sharing it with you, I had a chance to re-discover.

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

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