Japanese Book Review: アフターダーク- 村上 春樹

afterdark( afutadaku – Murakami Haruki)

Murakami Haruki may be the most popular Japanese author in English translation, so there is a lot of information in English on the internet about English translations of his works. This post is about the Japanese edition, but if you are interested in reading it in English, this review may still be partially relevant.

It really is a challenge finding English reviews of Japanese books in Japanese, because there aren’t any clear keywords to differentiate from reviews of translations when you’re searching in Google. Also, I guess it is a pretty small niche.

This is a short novel, so it may be a good one to read if you don’t want to commit to one of Murakami’s longer novels. It has a creepy atmosphere and takes place in some of the seedier areas of a large city. It’s told linearly from just before midnight to right after the sun comes up, with clock images showing the time at the beginning of each chapter. Some of the narrative is literal and some parts are surreal or dreamlike.

One compelling aspect of Murakami’s style is his choice to describe things that normally wouldn’t be significant. One example in this novel is the description of Takahashi choosing an apple at the convenience store.

次に果物ケースに移り、りんごを手に取る。照明の下でそのりんごをいろんな角度から点検する。もうひとつ気に入らない。もとに戻し、べつのりんごを手にとって、また同じように精査する。それを何度か繰り返し、まずまず許容をできるものをーー決して納得したわけではないがーーひとつ選ぶ。

He moved to the fruit case and picked up an apple. He inspects it at various angles under the lights.  Not quite. He puts it back and grabs another and repeats the same kind of inspection. After several iterations he chooses one that will more or less work, but definitely not at the level he was hoping for.

On one side these kinds of descriptions draw me into the book and make it enjoyable because I have the shared experience of picking out fruit, which has never been put into words. On the other side, for me, the style can glorify the small details of life to the point that they seem more important than interacting with other humans. To me it glamorizes loneliness and isolation, which isn’t a pattern of thinking I want to indulge in. I’m sure not everyone would react this way to Murakami’s style, but for me it’s something to be wary of.

If you like the loose ends to be tied up, then you won’t want to read this book. There is a lot to think about concerning how all the characters are really connected together, but Murakami won’t give you all the answers. This doesn’t bother me, and I’m happy to consider different interpretations after finishing the book.

The writing makes it hard to put down, and many readers may already be familiar with this or other Murakami books since the English translations are so popular. This may be a good book to read if you are interested in reading something by Murakami in Japanese.

6 thoughts on “Japanese Book Review: アフターダーク- 村上 春樹”

  1. Thanks for the review (:

    I’ve read alot of Murakami books (a few in English and more in Japanese), and this was the worst for me, I got bored/frustrated partway through and stopped after ~50 pages or so. It might have partially been my mood, but after reading your review I don’t think I missed much.

    I’d recommend “海辺のカフカ” for people looking to get into Murakami’s novels.

    By the way, I was surprised by the sentence “もうひとつ気に入らない”. I am not saying it is definitely wrong (grammatically is seem correct), but in context it caught me off guard because it means “He didn’t like *another* one”. I don’t know where my book is offhand so I can’t check easily, but I guess depending on the previous paragraph maybe this makes more sense.

    1. Thanks for reading! I read mostly Murakami Haruki books when I started reading novels, and I did read 海辺のカフカ a long time ago. I remember it being very engaging and I can’t forget Johnnie Walker and the cats. 海辺のカフカ would probably be more interesting than アフターダーク for someone getting into Murakami, but it is also quite a long book. Even reading just parts of it may be pretty rewarding though.

      Out of the ones I’ve read, I think I liked 羊をめぐる冒険. It had an interesting mix of travelling around really laid back parts of Hokkaido and the dread of the mysterious organization that sent the narrator on his quest. I wasn’t a fan of 1Q84 and dropped that one before finishing book 1.

      As for the grammar point, I had trouble with that phrase as well. From the context, that sentence is the first apple he picks up. Before this, he just found a carton of milk that he’s happy with. I think “もうひとつ” is used like the second definition from dictionary.goo.ne.jp

      2 (副詞的に用いて)さらに少し。もう少し。あとちょっと。「迫力が―だ」

      It still doesn’t quite make sense to me either though. It seems to be used like “いまいち”, which I also find hard to use. I wouldn’t think that, except that’s where the context lead me. I often run into sentences like this, which I wouldn’t be able to come up with on my own, but I have to make my best guess based on the context. Also, now that I think of it, if it meant “one more apple”, the author would probably use 一個 instead of ひとつ.

      I know you have quite a bit more practice translating than I have. What would you do for this phrase?

  2. Actually, I read “A Wild Sheep Chase” in English, but I forgot most of it so maybe I should re-read it in Japanese.

    I felt similar to you about 1Q84. There was some parts I really liked, but some that were major turn offs. I’m guessing maybe you had some issues with some of the same ones.

    Sorry, I should have checked the dictionary before I mentioned もうひとつ。However, you are right that it still doesn’t fit based on those definitions.

    I asked a Japanese person who said this means “a little bit”, and they said いまいち isn’t that far off sa having similar meaning.

    Regarding your translation question, I didn’t want to translate just one line, so I thought I’d do the whole paragraph. It’s a quick one, so not what I would call perfect (just like the apple (: )

    I did this first without re-reading to yours (for the most part).

    I think your translation overall, but the change of tenses between the 1st and 2nd sentence (‘moved’ – past, ‘inspects’ – present). Also ‘iterations’, while literally fitting, sounds a bit too stiff for the tone here, in my opinion.

    ===

    Next he went to the fruit case and took out an apple. He inspected it from various angles under the lighting. There was just something about it he didn’t like. He returned it and picked up another one, examining it in the same way. He repeated this process again and again, finally choosing an apple that was acceptable–though by no means was it ideal.

    ===

  3. Thanks for mentioning my blog in your post and giving translating the passage a shot. Also, thanks for pointing out the problem with changing tense and word usage in my attempt. I guess it bleeds through a bit that I spend a lot of time thinking about software development when I chose words like “iterations”.

    I like your version of the phrase in question. It’s really an art balancing words in a way where you don’t lose or gain any meaning, but still end up with something that sounds natural.

    1. Recently I got an email from a fellow blogger who pointed out the “もう” in question actually seems to refer to the previous paragraph (about searching for milk).

      I updated my blog post to discuss this in more detail, check it out if you are interested.

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