Posted on | June 22, 2011 | 9 Comments
The vibrant cover of this book caught my attention while I was drifting through eighteen miles of books in New York a couple of months ago, and I ended up purchasing it. In The Miso Soup and Piercing have been on my radar for a few months, but considering that this is semi-autobiographical, I thought that it’s a good place to start.
This coming-of-age story starts in 1969 when the narrator, Ken, is a lazy selfish self-satisfied adolescent living in a small town in Japan (in westerrn Kyushu), with just one objective in life: getting attention from the fairer sex, and he is ready to go to some pretty extreme lengths, dragging his friends with him.
Inspired by the political movements around him, the Beatles and the Stones, Rimbauld and Camus, Hendrix and Simon & Garfunkel (god, don’t you love the sixties?), Kensuke “Ken” Yazaki, aspires to be a rebel, to stand out, and win the affections of his Lady Jane.
This is a light-hearted fun book, filled with moments of hilarity, and occasional moments of utter disbelief. Much like the song (Summer of ’69), the book does seem to recount some of the “best days” of Ken’s life. One of those people who manages to influence those around him very easily, in the span of a year, Ken organises a rock festival to blow away the minds of the girls, barricades the school under the pretext of political ideals and communism (when he doesn’t really care either way), gets suspended from school for over a hundred days, films a movie for the festival on an 8mm camera, and manages to get on the wrong side of the yakuzas. All to impress Lady Jane.
Adama and I looked at each other. I can’t stand myself. That was one line a seventeen-year-old must never, ever let himself say — unless he was trying to make it with some chick. [...] But certain phrases were taboo, and you cast a shadow on the rest of your life if you uttered them.
So while I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I couldn’t help but dislike the narrator. Yes, I know he’s a seventeen year old, who probably doesn’t know better, but he just came across as a pretentious selfish jerk, who probably deserved a tight slap. Quoting books he hadn’t read, sitting in a cafe sipping tomato juice just for effects, stereotyping those around him, and using his influential skills to get up to no good, dragging others down with him… those are just some of the issues I had with him. The blurb likened this book to Catcher in the Rye, and unsurprisingly, I disagree. Holden Caulfield was a hypocrite, but he was not pretentious nor was he affected. One empathised and sympathised with Caulfield. Can’t say the same about Kensuke.
That said, I look forward to reading more books by Ryu Murakami (and yes, by Haruki Murakami – no relation – as well). His other books are meant to be dark and surreal. How can one back away from that?! Which would you recommend?
I read this as part of Japanese Literature Challenge V hosted by the lovely Belleza. Pop over to read more reviews on books by Japanese authors, and do join in! The more Japanese authors I read, the more I want to read, so… this is great! Also, obviously, if you have any recommendations, please do let me know. I feel some Ogawa and Mishima coming up…