Tag: murakami

“Town of Cats”: un lungo estratto tradotto in inglese da “1q84” di Murakami

I fan di Murakami attendono con impazienza da più di un anno la traduzione italiana del suo ultimo grande romanzo, 1q84, che dovrebbe teoricamente uscire in autunno per i tipi dell’Einaudi. Per placare momentaneamente la loro fame,  propongo oggi un lungo brano pubblicato in inglese da <<The New Yorker>>, tratto proprio da 1q84, e intitolato Town of Cats. Buona lettura.

At Koenji Station, Tengo boarded the Chuo Line inbound rapid-service train. The car was empty. He had nothing planned that day. Wherever he went and whatever he did (or didn’t do) was entirely up to him. It was ten o’clock on a windless summer morning, and the sun was beating down. The train passed Shinjuku, Yotsuya, Ochanomizu, and arrived at Tokyo Central Station, the end of the line. Everyone got off, and Tengo followed suit. Then he sat on a bench and gave some thought to where he should go. “I can go anywhere I decide to,” he told himself. “It looks as if it’s going to be a hot day. I could go to the seashore.” He raised his head and studied the platform guide.

At that point, he realized what he had been doing all along.

He tried shaking his head a few times, but the idea that had struck him would not go away. He had probably made up his mind unconsciously the moment he boarded the Chuo Line train in Koenji. He heaved a sigh, stood up from the bench, and asked a station employee for the fastest connection to Chikura. The man flipped through the pages of a thick volume of train schedules. He should take the 11:30 special express train to Tateyama, the man said, and transfer there to a local; he would arrive at Chikura shortly after two o’clock. Tengo bought a Tokyo-Chikura round-trip ticket. Then he went to a restaurant in the station and ordered rice and curry and a salad.

Going to see his father was a depressing prospect. He had never much liked the man, and his father had no special love for him, either. He had retired four years earlier and, soon afterward, entered a sanatorium in Chikura that specialized in patients with cognitive disorders. Tengo had visited him there no more than twice—the first time just after he had entered the facility, when a procedural problem required Tengo, as the only relative, to be there. The second visit had also involved an administrative matter. Two times: that was it.

The sanatorium stood on a large plot of land by the coast. It was an odd combination of elegant old wooden buildings and new three-story reinforced-concrete buildings. The air was fresh, however, and, aside from the roar of the surf, it was always quiet. An imposing pine grove formed a windbreak along the edge of the garden. And the medical facilities were excellent. With his health insurance, retirement bonus, savings, and pension, Tengo’s father could probably spend the rest of his life there quite comfortably. He might not leave behind any sizable inheritance, but at least he would be taken care of, for which Tengo was tremendously grateful. Tengo had no intention of taking anything from him or giving anything to him. They were two separate human beings who had come from—and were heading toward—entirely different places. By chance, they had spent some years of life together—that was all. It was a shame that it had come to that, but there was absolutely nothing that Tengo could do about it.

Tengo paid his check and went to the platform to wait for the Tateyama train. His only fellow-passengers were happy-looking families heading out for a few days at the beach.

Most people think of Sunday as a day of rest. Throughout his childhood, however, Tengo had never once viewed Sunday as a day to enjoy. For him, Sunday was like a misshapen moon that showed only its dark side. When the weekend came, his whole body began to feel sluggish and achy, and his appetite would disappear. He had even prayed for Sunday not to come, though his prayers were never answered.

When Tengo was a boy, his father was a collector of subscription fees for NHK—Japan’s quasi-governmental radio and television network—and, every Sunday, he would take Tengo with him as he went door to door soliciting payment. Tengo had started going on these rounds before he entered kindergarten and continued through fifth grade without a single weekend off. He had no idea whether other NHK fee collectors worked on Sundays, but, for as long as he could remember, his father always had. If anything, his father worked with even more enthusiasm than usual, because on Sundays he could catch the people who were usually out during the week.

Tengo’s father had several reasons for taking him along on his rounds. One reason was that he could not leave the boy at home alone. On weekdays and Saturdays, Tengo could go to school or to day care, but these institutions were closed on Sundays. Another reason, Tengo’s father said, was that it was important for a father to show his son what kind of work he did. A child should learn early on what activity was supporting him, and he should appreciate the importance of labor. Tengo’s father had been sent out to work in the fields on his father’s farm, on Sunday like any other day, from the time he was old enough to understand anything. He had even been kept out of school during the busiest seasons. To him, such a life was a given.

Tengo’s father’s third and final reason was a more calculating one, which was why it had left the deepest scars on his son’s heart. Tengo’s father was well aware that having a small child with him made his job easier. Even people who were determined not to pay often ended up forking over the money when a little boy was staring up at them, which was why Tengo’s father saved his most difficult routes for Sunday. Tengo sensed from the beginning that this was the role he was expected to play, and he absolutely hated it. But he also felt that he had to perform it as cleverly as he could in order to please his father. If he pleased his father, he would be treated kindly that day. He might as well have been a trained monkey.

Tengo’s one consolation was that his father’s beat was fairly far from home. They lived in a suburban residential district outside the city of Ichikawa, and his father’s rounds were in the center of the city. At least he was able to avoid doing collections at the homes of his classmates. Occasionally, though, while walking in the downtown shopping area, he would spot a classmate on the street. When this happened, he ducked behind his father to keep from being noticed.

On Monday mornings, his school friends would talk excitedly about where they had gone and what they had done the day before. They went to amusement parks and zoos and baseball games. In the summer, they went swimming, in the winter skiing. But Tengo had nothing to talk about. From morning to evening on Sundays, he and his father rang the doorbells of strangers’ houses, bowed their heads, and took money from whoever came to the door. If people didn’t want to pay, his father would threaten or cajole them. If they tried to talk their way out of paying, his father would raise his voice. Sometimes he would curse at them like stray dogs. Such experiences were not the sort of thing that Tengo could share with friends. He could not help feeling like a kind of alien in the society of middle-class children of white-collar workers. He lived a different kind of life in a different world. Luckily, his grades were outstanding, as was his athletic ability. So even though he was an alien he was never an outcast. In most circumstances, he was treated with respect. But whenever the other boys invited him to go somewhere or to visit their homes on a Sunday he had to turn them down. Soon, they stopped asking.

Born the third son of a farming family in the hardscrabble Tohoku region, Tengo’s father had left home as soon as he could, joining a homesteaders’ group and crossing over to Manchuria in the nineteen-thirties. He had not believed the government’s claims that Manchuria was a paradise where the land was vast and rich. He knew enough to realize that “paradise” was not to be found anywhere. He was simply poor and hungry. The best he could hope for if he stayed at home was a life on the brink of starvation. In Manchuria, he and the other homesteaders were given some farming implements and small arms, and together they started cultivating the land. The soil was poor and rocky, and in winter everything froze. Sometimes stray dogs were all they had to eat. Even so, with government support for the first few years they managed to get by. Their lives were finally becoming more stable when, in August, 1945, the Soviet Union launched a full-scale invasion of Manchuria. Tengo’s father had been expecting this to happen, having been secretly informed of the impending situation by a certain official, a man he had become friendly with. The minute he heard the news that the Soviets had violated the border, he mounted his horse, galloped to the local train station, and boarded the second-to-last train for Da-lien. He was the only one among his farming companions to make it back to Japan before the end of the year.

After the war, Tengo’s father went to Tokyo and tried to make a living as a black marketeer and as a carpenter’s apprentice, but he could barely keep himself alive. He was working as a liquor-store deliveryman in Asakusa when he bumped into his old friend the official he had known in Manchuria. When the man learned that Tengo’s father was having a hard time finding a decent job, he offered to recommend him to a friend in the subscription department of NHK, and Tengo’s father gladly accepted. He knew almost nothing about NHK, but he was willing to try anything that promised a steady income.

At NHK, Tengo’s father carried out his duties with great gusto. His foremost strength was his perseverance in the face of adversity. To someone who had barely eaten a filling meal since birth, collecting NHK fees was not excruciating work. The most hostile curses hurled at him were nothing. Moreover, he felt satisfaction at belonging to an important organization, even as one of its lowest-ranking members. His performance and attitude were so outstanding that, after a year as a commissioned collector, he was taken directly into the ranks of the full-fledged employees, an almost unheard-of achievement at NHK. Soon, he was able to move into a corporation-owned apartment and join the company’s health-care plan. It was the greatest stroke of good fortune he had ever had in his life.

Young Tengo’s father never sang him lullabies, never read books to him at bedtime. Instead, he told the boy stories of his actual experiences. He was a good storyteller. His accounts of his childhood and youth were not exactly pregnant with meaning, but the details were lively. There were funny stories, moving stories, and violent stories. If a life can be measured by the color and variety of its episodes, Tengo’s father’s life had been rich in its own way, perhaps. But when his stories touched on the period after he became an NHK employee they suddenly lost all vitality. He had met a woman, married her, and had a child—Tengo. A few months after Tengo was born, his mother had fallen ill and died. His father had raised him alone after that, while working hard for NHK. The End. How he happened to meet Tengo’s mother and marry her, what kind of woman she was, what had caused her death, whether her death had been an easy one or she had suffered greatly—Tengo’s father told him almost nothing about such matters. If he tried asking, his father just evaded the questions. Most of the time, such questions put him in a foul mood. Not a single photograph of Tengo’s mother had survived.

Tengo fundamentally disbelieved his father’s story. He knew that his mother hadn’t died a few months after he was born. In his only memory of her, he was a year and a half old and she was standing by his crib in the arms of a man other than his father. His mother took off her blouse, dropped the straps of her slip, and let the man who was not his father suck on her breasts. Tengo slept beside them, his breathing audible. But, at the same time, he was not asleep. He was watching his mother.

This was Tengo’s photograph of his mother. The ten-second scene was burned into his brain with perfect clarity. It was the only concrete information he had about her, the one tenuous connection his mind could make with her. He and she were linked by this hypothetical umbilical cord. His father, however, had no idea that this vivid scene existed in Tengo’s memory, or that, like a cow in a meadow, Tengo was endlessly regurgitating fragments of it to chew on, a cud from which he obtained essential nutrients. Father and son: each was locked in a deep, dark embrace with his own secrets.

As an adult, Tengo often wondered if the young man sucking on his mother’s breasts in his vision was his biological father. This was because Tengo in no way resembled his father, the stellar NHK collections agent. Tengo was a tall, strapping man with a broad forehead, a narrow nose, and tightly balled ears. His father was short and squat and utterly unimpressive. He had a small forehead, a flat nose, and pointed ears like a horse’s. Where Tengo had a relaxed and generous look, his father appeared nervous and tightfisted. Comparing the two of them, people often openly remarked on their dissimilarity.

Still, it was not their physical features that made it difficult for Tengo to identify with his father but their psychological makeup. His father showed no sign at all of what might be called intellectual curiosity. True, having been born in poverty he had not had a decent education. Tengo felt a degree of pity for his father’s circumstances. But a basic desire to obtain knowledge—which Tengo assumed to be a more or less natural urge in people—was lacking in the man. He had a certain practical wisdom that enabled him to survive, but Tengo could discern no hint of a willingness in his father to deepen himself, to view a wider, larger world. Tengo’s father never seemed to suffer discomfort from the stagnant air of his cramped little life. Tengo never once saw him pick up a book. He had no interest in music or movies, and he never took a trip. The only thing that seemed to interest him was his collection route. He would make a map of the area, mark it with colored pens, and examine it whenever he had a spare moment, the way a biologist might study chromosomes.

Tengo, by contrast, was curious about everything. He absorbed knowledge from a broad range of fields with the efficiency of a power shovel scooping earth. He had been regarded as a math prodigy from early childhood, and he could solve high-school math problems by the time he was in third grade. Math was, for young Tengo, an effective means of retreat from his life with his father. In the mathematical world, he would walk down a long corridor, opening one numbered door after another. Each time a new spectacle unfolded before him, the ugly traces of the real world would simply disappear. As long as he was actively exploring that realm of infinite consistency, he was free.

While math was like a magnificent imaginary building for Tengo, literature was a vast magical forest. Math stretched infinitely upward toward the heavens, but stories spread out before him, their sturdy roots stretching deep into the earth. In this forest there were no maps, no doorways. As Tengo got older, the forest of story began to exert an even stronger pull on his heart than the world of math. Of course, reading novels was just another form of escape—as soon as he closed the book, he had to come back to the real world. But at some point he noticed that returning to reality from the world of a novel was not as devastating a blow as returning from the world of math. Why was that? After much thought, he reached a conclusion. No matter how clear things might become in the forest of story, there was never a clear-cut solution, as there was in math. The role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a problem into another form. Depending on the nature and the direction of the problem, a solution might be suggested in the narrative. Tengo would return to the real world with that suggestion in hand. It was like a piece of paper bearing the indecipherable text of a magic spell. It served no immediate practical purpose, but it contained a possibility.

The one possible solution that Tengo was able to decipher from his readings was this one: My real father must be somewhere else. Like an unfortunate child in a Dickens novel, Tengo had perhaps been led by strange circumstances to be raised by this impostor. Such a possibility was both a nightmare and a great hope. After reading “Oliver Twist,” Tengo plowed through every Dickens volume in the library. As he travelled through Dickens’s stories, he steeped himself in reimagined versions of his own life. These fantasies grew ever longer and more complex. They followed a single pattern, but with infinite variations. In all of them, Tengo would tell himself that his father’s home was not where he belonged. He had been mistakenly locked in this cage, and someday his real parents would find him and rescue him. Then he would have the most beautiful, peaceful, and free Sundays imaginable.

Tengo’s father prided himself on his son’s excellent grades, and boasted of them to people in the neighborhood. At the same time, however, he showed a certain displeasure with Tengo’s brightness and talent. Often when Tengo was at his desk, studying, his father would interrupt him, ordering the boy to do chores or nagging him about his supposedly offensive behavior. The content of his father’s nagging was always the same: here he was, running himself ragged every day, covering huge distances and enduring people’s curses, while Tengo did nothing but take it easy all the time, living in comfort. “They had me working my tail off when I was your age, and my father and older brothers would beat me black and blue for anything at all. They never gave me enough food. They treated me like an animal. I don’t want you thinking you’re so special just because you got a few good grades.”

This man is envious of me, Tengo began to think at a certain point. He’s jealous, either of me as a person or of the life I’m leading. But would a father really feel jealousy toward his son? Tengo did not judge his father, but he could not help sensing a pathetic kind of meanness emanating from his words and deeds. It was not that Tengo’s father hated him as a person but, rather, that he hated something inside Tengo, something that he could not forgive.

When the train left Tokyo Station, Tengo took out the paperback that he had brought along. It was an anthology of short stories on the theme of travel and it included a tale called “Town of Cats,” a fantastical piece by a German writer with whom Tengo was not familiar. According to the book’s foreword, the story had been written in the period between the two World Wars.

In the story, a young man is travelling alone with no particular destination in mind. He rides the train and gets off at any stop that arouses his interest. He takes a room, sees the sights, and stays for as long as he likes. When he has had enough, he boards another train. He spends every vacation this way.

One day, he sees a lovely river from the train window. Gentle green hills line the meandering stream, and below them lies a pretty little town with an old stone bridge. The train stops at the town’s station, and the young man steps down with his bag. No one else gets off, and, as soon as he alights, the train departs.

No workers man the station, which must see very little activity. The young man crosses the bridge and walks into the town. All the shops are shuttered, the town hall deserted. No one occupies the desk at the town’s only hotel. The place seems totally uninhabited. Perhaps all the people are off napping somewhere. But it is only ten-thirty in the morning, far too early for that. Perhaps something has caused all the people to abandon the town. In any case, the next train will not come until the following morning, so he has no choice but to spend the night here. He wanders around the town to kill time.

In fact, this is a town of cats. When the sun starts to go down, many cats come trooping across the bridge—cats of all different kinds and colors. They are much larger than ordinary cats, but they are still cats. The young man is shocked by this sight. He rushes into the bell tower in the center of town and climbs to the top to hide. The cats go about their business, raising the shop shutters or seating themselves at their desks to start their day’s work. Soon, more cats come, crossing the bridge into town like the others. They enter the shops to buy things or go to the town hall to handle administrative matters or eat a meal at the hotel restaurant or drink beer at the tavern and sing lively cat songs. Because cats can see in the dark, they need almost no lights, but that particular night the glow of the full moon floods the town, enabling the young man to see every detail from his perch in the bell tower. When dawn approaches, the cats finish their work, close up the shops, and swarm back across the bridge.

By the time the sun comes up, the cats are gone, and the town is deserted again. The young man climbs down, picks one of the hotel beds for himself, and goes to sleep. When he gets hungry, he eats some bread and fish that have been left in the hotel kitchen. When darkness approaches, he hides in the bell tower again and observes the cats’ activities until dawn. Trains stop at the station before noon and in the late afternoon. No passengers alight, and no one boards, either. Still, the trains stop at the station for exactly one minute, then pull out again. He could take one of these trains and leave the creepy cat town behind. But he doesn’t. Being young, he has a lively curiosity and is ready for adventure. He wants to see more of this strange spectacle. If possible, he wants to find out when and how this place became a town of cats.

On his third night, a hubbub breaks out in the square below the bell tower. “Hey, do you smell something human?” one of the cats says. “Now that you mention it, I thought there was a funny smell the past few days,” another chimes in, twitching his nose. “Me, too,” yet another cat says. “That’s weird. There shouldn’t be any humans here,” someone adds. “No, of course not. There’s no way a human could get into this town of cats.” “But that smell is definitely here.”

The cats form groups and begin to search the town like bands of vigilantes. It takes them very little time to discover that the bell tower is the source of the smell. The young man hears their soft paws padding up the stairs. That’s it, they’ve got me! he thinks. His smell seems to have roused the cats to anger. Humans are not supposed to set foot in this town. The cats have big, sharp claws and white fangs. He has no idea what terrible fate awaits him if he is discovered, but he is sure that they will not let him leave the town alive.

Three cats climb to the top of the bell tower and sniff the air. “Strange,” one cat says, twitching his whiskers, “I smell a human, but there’s no one here.”

“It is strange,” a second cat says. “But there really isn’t anyone here. Let’s go and look somewhere else.”

The cats cock their heads, puzzled, then retreat down the stairs. The young man hears their footsteps fading into the dark of night. He breathes a sigh of relief, but he doesn’t understand what just happened. There was no way they could have missed him. But for some reason they didn’t see him. In any case, he decides that when morning comes he will go to the station and take the train out of this town. His luck can’t last forever.

The next morning, however, the train does not stop at the station. He watches it pass by without slowing down. The afternoon train does the same. He can see the engineer seated at the controls. But the train shows no sign of stopping. It is as though no one can see the young man waiting for a train—or even see the station itself. Once the afternoon train disappears down the track, the place grows quieter than ever. The sun begins to sink. It is time for the cats to come. The young man knows that he is irretrievably lost. This is no town of cats, he finally realizes. It is the place where he is meant to be lost. It is another world, which has been prepared especially for him. And never again, for all eternity, will the train stop at this station to take him back to the world he came from.

Tengo read the story twice. The phrase “the place where he is meant to be lost” attracted his attention. He closed the book and let his eyes wander across the drab industrial scene passing by the train window. Soon afterward, he drifted off to sleep—not a long nap but a deep one. He woke covered in sweat. The train was moving along the southern coastline of the Boso Peninsula in midsummer.

One morning when he was in fifth grade, after much careful thinking, Tengo declared that he was going to stop making the rounds with his father on Sundays. He told his father that he wanted to use the time for studying and reading books and playing with other kids. He wanted to live a normal life like everybody else.

Tengo said what he needed to say, concisely and coherently.

His father, of course, blew up. He didn’t give a damn what other families did, he said. “We have our own way of doing things. And don’t you dare talk to me about a ‘normal life,’ Mr. Know-It-All. What do you know about a ‘normal life’?” Tengo did not try to argue with him. He merely stared back in silence, knowing that nothing he said would get through to his father. Finally, his father told him that if he wouldn’t listen then he couldn’t go on feeding him. Tengo should get the hell out.

Tengo did as he was told. He had made up his mind. He was not going to be afraid. Now that he had been given permission to leave his cage, he was more relieved than anything else. But there was no way that a ten-year-old boy could live on his own. When his class was dismissed at the end of the day, he confessed his predicament to his teacher. The teacher was a single woman in her mid-thirties, a fair-minded, warmhearted person. She heard Tengo out with sympathy, and that evening she took him back to his father’s place for a long talk.

Tengo was told to leave the room, so he was not sure what they said to each other, but finally his father had to sheathe his sword. However extreme his anger might be, he could not leave a ten-year-old boy to wander the streets alone. The duty of a parent to support his child was a matter of law.

As a result of the teacher’s talk with his father, Tengo was free to spend Sundays as he pleased. This was the first tangible right that he had ever won from his father. He had taken his first step toward freedom and independence.

At the reception desk of the sanatorium, Tengo gave his name and his father’s name.

The nurse asked, “Have you by any chance notified us of your intention to visit today?” There was a hard edge to her voice. A small woman, she wore metal-framed glasses, and her short hair had a touch of gray.

“No, it just occurred to me to come this morning and I hopped on a train,” Tengo answered honestly.

The nurse gave him a look of mild disgust. Then she said, “Visitors are supposed to notify us before they arrive to see a patient. We have our schedules to meet, and the wishes of the patient must also be taken into account.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“When was your last visit?”

“Two years ago.”

“Two years ago,” she said as she checked the list of visitors with a ballpoint pen in hand. “You mean to say that you have not made a single visit in two years?”

“That’s right,” Tengo said.

“According to our records, you are Mr. Kawana’s only relative.”

“That is correct.”

She glanced at Tengo, but she said nothing. Her eyes were not blaming him, just checking the facts. Apparently, Tengo’s case was not exceptional.

“At the moment, your father is in group rehabilitation. That will end in half an hour. You can see him then.”

“How is he doing?”

“Physically, he’s healthy. It’s in the other area that he has his ups and downs,” she said, tapping her temple with an index finger.

Tengo thanked her and went to wait in the lounge by the entrance, reading more of his book. A breeze passed through now and then, carrying the scent of the sea and the cooling sound of the pine windbreak outside. Cicadas clung to the branches of the trees, screeching their hearts out. Summer was at its height, but the cicadas seemed to know that it would not last long.

Eventually, the bespectacled nurse came to tell Tengo that he could see his father now. “I’ll show you to his room,” she said. Tengo got up from the sofa and, passing by a large mirror on the wall, realized for the first time what a sloppy outfit he was wearing: a Jeff Beck Japan Tour T-shirt under a faded dungaree shirt with mismatched buttons, chinos with specks of pizza sauce near one knee, a baseball cap—no way for a thirty-year-old son to dress on his first hospital visit to his father in two years. Nor did he have anything with him that might serve as a gift on such an occasion. No wonder the nurse had given him that look of disgust.

Tengo’s father was in his room, sitting in a chair by the open window, his hands on his knees. A nearby table held a potted plant with several delicate yellow flowers. The floor was made of some soft material to prevent injury in case of a fall. Tengo did not realize at first that the old man seated by the window was his father. He had shrunk—“shrivelled up” might be more accurate. His hair was shorter and as white as a frost-covered lawn. His cheeks were sunken, which may have been why the hollows of his eyes looked much bigger than they had before. Three deep creases marked his forehead. His eyebrows were extremely long and thick, and his pointed ears were larger than ever; they looked like bat wings. From a distance, he seemed less like a human being than like some kind of creature, a rat or a squirrel—a creature with some cunning. He was, however, Tengo’s father—or, rather, the wreckage of Tengo’s father. The father that Tengo remembered was a tough, hardworking man. Introspection and imagination might have been foreign to him, but he had his own moral code and a strong sense of purpose. The man Tengo saw before him was nothing but an empty shell.

“Mr. Kawana!” the nurse said to Tengo’s father in the crisp, clear tone she must have been trained to use when addressing patients. “Mr. Kawana! Look who’s here! It’s your son, here from Tokyo!”

Tengo’s father turned in his direction. His expressionless eyes made Tengo think of two empty swallow’s nests hanging from the eaves.

“Hello,” Tengo said.

His father said nothing. Instead, he looked straight at Tengo as if he were reading a bulletin written in a foreign language.

“Dinner starts at six-thirty,” the nurse said to Tengo. “Please feel free to stay until then.”

Tengo hesitated for a moment after the nurse left, and then approached his father, sitting down in the chair opposite his—a faded, cloth-covered chair, its wooden parts scarred from long use. His father’s eyes followed his movements.

“How are you?” Tengo asked.

“Fine, thank you,” his father said formally.

Tengo did not know what to say after that. Toying with the third button of his dungaree shirt, he turned his gaze toward the pine trees outside and then back again to his father.

“You have come from Tokyo, is it?” his father asked.

“Yes, from Tokyo.”

“You must have come by express train.”

“That’s right,” Tengo said. “As far as Tateyama. Then I transferred to a local for the trip here to Chikura.”

“You’ve come to swim?” his father asked.

“I’m Tengo. Tengo Kawana. Your son.”

The wrinkles in his father’s forehead deepened. “A lot of people tell lies because they don’t want to pay their NHK subscription fee.”

“Father!” Tengo called out to him. He had not spoken the word in a very long time. “I’m Tengo. Your son.”

“I don’t have a son,” his father declared.

“You don’t have a son,” Tengo repeated mechanically.

His father nodded.

“So what am I?” Tengo asked.

“You’re nothing,” his father said with two short shakes of the head.

Tengo caught his breath. He could find no words. Nor did his father have any more to say. Each sat in silence, searching through his own tangled thoughts. Only the cicadas sang without confusion, at top volume.

He may be speaking the truth, Tengo thought. His memory may have been destroyed, but his words are probably true.

“What do you mean?” Tengo asked.

“You are nothing,” his father repeated, his voice devoid of emotion. “You were nothing, you are nothing, and you will be nothing.”

Tengo wanted to get up from his chair, walk to the station, and go back to Tokyo then and there. But he could not stand up. He was like the young man who travelled to the town of cats. He had curiosity. He wanted a clearer answer. There was danger lurking, of course. But if he let this opportunity escape he would have no chance to learn the secret about himself. Tengo arranged and rearranged words in his head until at last he was ready to speak them. This was the question he had wanted to ask since childhood but could never quite manage to get out: “What you’re saying, then, is that you are not my biological father, correct? You are telling me that there is no blood connection between us, is that it?”

“Stealing radio waves is an unlawful act,” his father said, looking into Tengo’s eyes. “It is no different from stealing money or valuables, don’t you think?”

“You’re probably right.” Tengo decided to agree for now.

“Radio waves don’t come falling out of the sky for free like rain or snow,” his father said.

Tengo stared at his father’s hands. They were lined up neatly on his knees. Small, dark hands, they looked tanned to the bone by long years of outdoor work.

“My mother didn’t really die of an illness when I was little, did she?” Tengo asked slowly.

His father did not answer. His expression did not change, and his hands did not move. His eyes focussed on Tengo as if they were observing something unfamiliar.

“My mother left you. She left you and me behind. She went off with another man. Am I wrong?”

His father nodded. “It is not good to steal radio waves. You can’t get away with it, just doing whatever you want.”

This man understands my questions perfectly well. He just doesn’t want to answer them directly, Tengo thought.

“Father,” Tengo addressed him. “You may not actually be my father, but I’ll call you that for now because I don’t know what else to call you. To tell you the truth, I’ve never liked you. Maybe I’ve even hated you most of the time. You know that, don’t you? But, even supposing that there is no blood connection between us, I no longer have any reason to hate you. I don’t know if I can go so far as to be fond of you, but I think that at least I should be able to understand you better than I do now. I have always wanted to know the truth about who I am and where I came from. That’s all. If you will tell me the truth here and now, I won’t hate you anymore. In fact, I would welcome the opportunity not to have to hate you any longer.”

Tengo’s father went on staring at him with expressionless eyes, but Tengo felt that he might be seeing the tiniest gleam of light somewhere deep within those empty swallow’s nests.

“I am nothing,” Tengo said. “You are right. I’m like someone who’s been thrown into the ocean at night, floating all alone. I reach out, but no one is there. I have no connection to anything. The closest thing I have to a family is you, but you hold on to the secret. Meanwhile, your memory deteriorates day by day. Along with your memory, the truth about me is being lost. Without the aid of truth, I am nothing, and I can never be anything. You are right about that, too.”

“Knowledge is a precious social asset,” his father said in a monotone, though his voice was somewhat quieter than before, as if someone had reached over and turned down the volume. “It is an asset that must be amassed in abundant stockpiles and utilized with the utmost care. It must be handed down to the next generation in fruitful forms. For that reason, too, NHK needs to have all your subscription fees and—”

He cut his father short. “What kind of person was my mother? Where did she go? What happened to her?”

His father brought his incantation to a halt, his lips shut tight.

His voice softer now, Tengo went on, “A vision often comes to me—the same one, over and over. I suspect it’s not so much a vision as a memory of something that actually happened. I’m one and a half years old, and my mother is next to me. She and a young man are holding each other. The man is not you. Who he is I have no idea, but he is definitely not you.”

His father said nothing, but his eyes were clearly seeing something else—something not there.

“I wonder if I might ask you to read me something,” Tengo’s father said in formal tones after a long pause. “My eyesight has deteriorated to the point where I can’t read books anymore. That bookcase has some books. Choose any one you like.”

Tengo got up to scan the spines of the volumes in the bookcase. Most of them were historical novels set in ancient times when samurai roamed the land. Tengo couldn’t bring himself to read his father some musty old book full of archaic language.

“If you don’t mind, I’d rather read a story about a town of cats,” Tengo said. “It’s in a book that I brought to read myself.”

“A story about a town of cats,” his father said, savoring the words. “Please read that to me, if it is not too much trouble.”

Tengo looked at his watch. “It’s no trouble at all. I have plenty of time before my train leaves. It’s an odd story. I don’t know if you’ll like it.”

Tengo pulled out his paperback and started reading slowly, in a clear, audible voice, taking two or three breaks along the way to catch his breath. He glanced at his father whenever he stopped reading but saw no discernible reaction on his face. Was he enjoying the story? He could not tell.

“Does that town of cats have television?” his father asked when Tengo had finished.

“The story was written in Germany in the nineteen-thirties. They didn’t have television yet back then. They did have radio, though.”

“Did the cats build the town? Or did people build it before the cats came to live there?” his father asked, speaking as if to himself.

“I don’t know,” Tengo said. “But it does seem to have been built by human beings. Maybe the people left for some reason—say, they all died in an epidemic of some sort—and the cats came to live there.”

His father nodded. “When a vacuum forms, something has to come along to fill it. That’s what everybody does.”

“That’s what everybody does?”


“What kind of vacuum are you filling?”

His father scowled. Then he said with a touch of sarcasm in his voice, “Don’t you know?”

“I don’t know,” Tengo said.

His father’s nostrils flared. One eyebrow rose slightly. “If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”

Tengo narrowed his eyes, trying to read the man’s expression. Never once had his father employed such odd, suggestive language. He always spoke in concrete, practical terms.

“I see. So you are filling some kind of vacuum,” Tengo said. “All right, then, who is going to fill the vacuum that you have left behind?”

“You,” his father declared, raising an index finger and thrusting it straight at Tengo. “Isn’t it obvious? I have been filling the vacuum that somebody else made, so you will fill the vacuum that I have made.”

“The way the cats filled the town after the people were gone.”

“Right,” his father said. Then he stared vacantly at his own outstretched index finger as if at some mysterious, misplaced object.

Tengo sighed. “So, then, who is my father?”

“Just a vacuum. Your mother joined her body with a vacuum and gave birth to you. I filled that vacuum.”

Having said that much, his father closed his eyes and closed his mouth.

“And you raised me after she left. Is that what you’re saying?”

After a ceremonious clearing of his throat, his father said, as if trying to explain a simple truth to a slow-witted child, “That is why I said, ‘If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.’ ”

Tengo folded his hands in his lap and looked straight into his father’s face. This man is no empty shell, he thought. He is a flesh-and-blood human being with a narrow, stubborn soul, surviving in fits and starts on this patch of land by the sea. He has no choice but to coexist with the vacuum that is slowly spreading inside him. Eventually, that vacuum will swallow up whatever memories are left. It is only a matter of time.

Tengo said goodbye to his father just before 6 P.M. While he waited for the taxi to come, they sat across from each other by the window, saying nothing. Tengo had many more questions he wanted to ask, but he knew that he would get no answers. The sight of his father’s tightly clenched lips told him that. If you couldn’t understand something without an explanation, you couldn’t understand it with an explanation. As his father had said.

When the time for him to leave drew near, Tengo said, “You told me a lot today. It was indirect and often hard to grasp, but it was probably as honest and open as you could make it. I should be grateful for that.”

Still his father said nothing, his eyes fixed on the view like a soldier on guard duty, determined not to miss the signal flare sent up by a savage tribe on a distant hill. Tengo tried looking out along his father’s line of vision, but all that was out there was the pine grove, tinted by the coming sunset.

“I’m sorry to say it, but there is virtually nothing I can do for you—other than to hope that the process forming a vacuum inside you is a painless one. I’m sure you have suffered a lot. You loved my mother as deeply as you knew how. I do get that sense. But she left, and that must have been hard on you—like living in an empty town. Still, you raised me in that empty town.”

A pack of crows cut across the sky, cawing. Tengo stood up, went over to his father, and put his hand on his shoulder. “Goodbye, Father. I’ll come again soon.”

With his hand on the doorknob, Tengo turned around one last time and was shocked to see a single tear escaping his father’s eye. It shone a dull silver color under the ceiling’s fluorescent light. The tear crept slowly down his cheek and fell onto his lap. Tengo opened the door and left the room. He took a cab to the station and reboarded the train that had brought him here.

(Translated, from the Japanese, by Jay Rubin.)

“Tony Takitani”: un racconto completo di Murakami in inglese e il trailer dell’omonimo film

Tony Takitani. Probabilmente questo nome non vi dirà nulla; eppure, si tratta di un film pluripremiato del regista Ichikawa Jun, tratto da un racconto di Murakami Haruki, con musiche di Sakamoto Ryūichi (autore delle colonne sonore de L’ultimo imperatore e Il piccolo Buddha, tanto per menzionare due celebri titoli).
La pellicola, uscita nel 2004, racconta la vita amara e schiva di Tony;  riuscirà l’amore di Eiko, ossessionata dall’abbigliamento, a scalfire la solitudine del marito? La profonda malinconia dei personaggi si riflette con un’eco sapiente nelle scelte del regista, come si evince dal trailer:

Qui potete trovare l’intero racconto in inglese, così come è stato pubblicato nel New Yorker Magazine (aprile 2002), tratto da qui:

Tony Takitani’s real name was really that: Tony Takitani.

Because of his name and his curly hair and his deeply sculpted features, he was often assumed to be a mixed-blood child. This was just after the war, when there were lots of children around whose blood was half American G.I. But Tony Takitani’s mother and father were both one-hundred-per-cent genuine Japanese. His father, Shozaburo Takitani, had been a fairly successful jazz trombonist, but four years before the Second World War broke out he was forced to leave Tokyo because of a problem involving a woman. If he had to leave town, he figured, he might as well really leave, so he crossed over to China with nothing but his trombone in hand. In those days, Shanghai was just a day’s boat ride from Nagasaki. Shozaburo owned nothing in Tokyo – or anywhere else in Japan – that he would hate to lose. He left without regrets. If anything, he suspected, Shanghai, with its well-crafted enticements, would be better suited to his personality than Tokyo was. He was standing on the deck of a boat plowing its way up the Yangtze River the first time he saw Shanghai’s elegant avenues glowing in the morning sun, and that did it. The light seemed to promise him a future of tremendous brightness. He was twenty-one years old.

And so he took it easy through the upheaval of the war – from the Japanese invasion of China to the attack on Pearl Harbor to the dropping of two atomic bombs. He played his trombone in Shanghai night clubs as the struggles took place somewhere far away. Shozaburo Takitani was a man who possessed not the slightest inclination to influence – or even to reflect upon – history. He wanted nothing more than to be able to play his trombone, eat three meals a day, and have a few women nearby. He was simultaneously modest and arrogant. Deeply self-centered, he nevertheless treated those around him with kindness and good feeling, which is why most people liked him. Young, handsome, and a talented musician, he stood out wherever he went like a crow on a snowy day. He slept with more women than he could count. Japanese, Chinese, White Russians, whores, married women, gorgeous girls, and girls who were not so gorgeous: he did it with anyone he could get his hands on. Before long, his super-sweet trombone and his super-active giant penis had made him a Shanghai sensation.

Shozaburo was also blessed – though he did not realize it – with a talent for making “useful” friends. He was on good terms with high-ranking Army officers, millionaires, and various influential types who were reaping gigantic profits from the war through obscure channels. A lot of them carried pistols under their jackets and never exited a building without giving the street a quick scan right and left. For some reason, Shozaburo Takitani and they just “clicked.” And they took special care of him whenever problems came up.

But talent can sometimes work against you. When the war ended, Shozaburo’s connections won him the attention of the Chinese Army, and he was locked up for a long time. Day after day, others who had been imprisoned for similar reasons were taken out of their cells and executed without a trial. Guards would just appear, drag them into the prison yard, and blow their brains out with automatic pistols. Shozaburo assumed that he would die in prison. But the prospect of death did not frighten him greatly. They would put a bullet through his brain, and it would be all over. A split second of pain. I’ve lived the way I wanted to all these years, he thought. I’ve slept with tons of women. I’ve eaten a lot of good food, and had a lot of good times. There isn’t so much in life that I’m sorry I missed. Besides, I’m not in any position to complain about being killed. It’s just the way it goes. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese have died in this war, and many of them in far more terrible ways.

As he waited, Shozaburo watched the clouds drift by the bars of his tiny window and painted mental pictures on his cell’s filthy walls of the faces and bodies of the women he had slept with. In the end, though, he turned out to be one of only two Japanese prisoners to leave the prison alive and go home to Japan. By that time, the other man, a high-ranking officer, had nearly lost his mind. Shozaburo stood on the deck of the boat, and as he watched the avenues of Shanghai shrinking away in the distance he thought, Life: I’ll never understand it.

Emaciated, with no possessions to speak of, Shozaburo Takitani came back to Japan in the spring of 1946, nine months after the war had ended. He discovered that his parents’ house had burned down in the great Tokyo air raid of March, 1945, and they were dead. His only brother had disappeared without a trace on the Burmese front. In other words, Shozaburo was now alone in the world. This was not a great shock to him, however; nor did it make him feel particularly sad. He did, of course, experience some sense of absence, but he was convinced that everyone ended up alone sooner or later. He was in his thirties, and beyond the age for complaining about loneliness. He felt as if he had suddenly aged several years at once. But that was all. No further emotion welled up inside him.

One way or another, Shozaburo had managed to survive, and he would have to start thinking of ways to go on living.

Because he knew only one line of work, he hunted up some of his old buddies and put together a little jazz band that started playing at the American military bases. His talent for making contacts won him the friendship of a jazz-loving American Army major, an Italian-American from New Jersey who played a mean clarinet himself. The two of them often jammed together in their spare time. An officer in the Quartermaster Corps, the major could get all the records he wanted, straight from the United States, and Shozaburo would go to the major’s quarters and listen to the happy jazz of Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, and Benny Goodman, teaching himself as many of their licks as he could. The major supplied him with all kinds of food and milk and liquor, which were difficult to get ahold of in those days. Not bad, Shozaburo thought, not a bad time to be alive.

In 1947, he married a distant cousin on his mother’s side. They happened to run into each other one day on the street and, over tea, shared news of their relatives and talked about the old days. Before long they ended up living together – probably because she had become pregnant. At least, that was the way that Tony Takitani heard it from his father. His mother was a pretty girl, and quiet, but not very healthy. She gave birth to Tony the year after she was married, and three days later she died. Just like that. And just like that she was cremated, quickly and quietly. She had experienced no great complications and no suffering to speak of. She just faded into nothingness, as if someone had gone backstage and flicked a switch.

Shozaburo Takitani had no idea how he was supposed to feel about this. He was a stranger to such emotions. He could not seem to grasp with any precision what death was all about, nor could he come to any conclusion regarding what this particular death meant for him. All he could do was swallow it whole, as a fait accompli. And so he came to feel that some kind of flat, disklike thing had lodged itself in his chest. What it was, or why it was there, he couldn’t say. The object simply stayed in place and blocked him from thinking any more about what had happened. He thought about nothing at all for a full week after his wife died. He even forgot about the baby that he had left in the hospital.

The major took Shozaburo under his wing and did all he could to console him. They drank together at the base nearly every day. “You’ve got to get ahold of yourself,” the major would tell Shozaburo. “The one thing you absolutely have to do is bring that boy up right.” The words meant nothing to Shozaburo, who merely nodded in silence. “Hey, I know,” the major added suddenly one day. “Why don’t you let me be the boy’s godfather? I’ll give him a name.” Oh, Shozaburo thought, he had forgotten to give the baby a name.

The major suggested his own first name – Tony. Tony was no name for a Japanese child, of course, but such a thought never crossed the major’s mind. When Shozaburo got home, he wrote the name Tony Takitani on a piece of paper and stuck it to the wall. He stared at it for the next several days. Tony Takitani. Not bad. Not bad. The American occupation of Japan was probably going to last awhile, he thought, and an American-style name just might come in handy for the kid at some point.

For the child himself, though, living with a name like that was not much fun. The other kids at school called him a “half-breed,” and whenever he told people his name they responded with a look of puzzlement or distaste. Some people thought it was a bad joke, and others reacted with anger. For certain people, coming face to face with a child called Tony Takitani was all it took to reopen old wounds.

Such experiences served only to close the boy off from the world. He never made any close friends, but this did not cause him pain. He found it natural to be by himself: it was a kind of premise for living. His father was always travelling with the band, and when Tony was little a housekeeper had come to take care of him during the day. But by the time he was in his last years at elementary school, he could manage without her. He cooked for himself, locked up at night, and slept alone. This seemed preferable to having someone fussing over him all the time.

Shozaburo Takitani never married again. He had plenty of girlfriends, of course, but he didn’t bring any of them to the house. Like his son, he was used to taking care of himself. Father and son were not as different from each other as one might imagine. But, being the kind of people they were, imbued to an equal degree with a habitual solitude, neither took the initiative to open his heart to the other. Neither felt a need to do so. Shozaburo Takitani was not well suited to being a father, and Tony Takitani was not well suited to being a son.

Tony Takitani loved to draw, and he spent hours every day shut up in his room, doing just that. He especially loved to draw pictures of machines. Keeping his pencil needle-sharp, he would produce clear, accurate, and highly detailed drawings of bicycles, radios, engines, and the like. If he drew a plant, he would capture every vein in every leaf. It was the only way he knew how to draw. His grades in art, unlike those in other subjects, were always outstanding, and he usually won first prize in school art contests.

So it was perfectly natural for Tony Takitani to go from high school to art school to a career as an illustrator. There was never any need for him to consider other possibilities. While the young people around him were agonizing over the paths they should follow in life, he went on doing his mechanical drawings without a thought for anything else. And, because it was a time when most young people were acting out against the establishment with passion and violence, none of his contemporaries saw anything of value in his utilitarian art. His art-school professors viewed his work with twisted smiles. His classmates criticized it as lacking in ideological content. Tony himself could not see what was so great about their work, with its ideological content. To him it looked immature, ugly, and inaccurate.

Once he graduated from college, though, everything changed for him. Thanks to the extreme practicality of his realistic technique, Tony Takitani never had a problem finding work. No one could match the precision with which he drew complicated machines and architecture. “They look realer than the real thing,” everyone said. His sketches were more detailed than photographs, and they had a clarity that made any explanation a waste of words. All of a sudden, he was the one illustrator everybody had to have. And he took on everything – from the covers of automobile magazines to advertising illustrations. He enjoyed the work, and he made good money. Without any hobbies to drain his resources, he managed by the time he was thirty-five to amass a small fortune. He bought a big house in Setagaya, an affluent Tokyo suburb, and he owned several apartments that brought him rental income. His accountant took care of all the details.

By this point in his life, Tony had been involved with several different women. He had even lived with one of them, for a short time. But he had never considered marriage, had never seen a need for it. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry he could manage for himself, and when his work interfered with those things he hired a housekeeper. He never felt a desire to have children. He lacked his father’s special charm, and he had no real friends of the kind who would come to him for advice or to confess secrets, not even one to drink with. But he had perfectly normal relationships with people he saw on a daily basis. There was nothing arrogant or boastful about him. He never made excuses for himself or spoke slightingly of others, and just about everybody who knew him liked him. He saw his father no more than once every two or three years, on some matter of business. When the business was over, neither man had much to say to the other. Thus, Tony Takitani’s life went by, quietly and calmly.

Then one day, without the slightest warning, Tony Takitani fell in love. She worked part time for a publishing company, and she came to his office to pick up an illustration. Twenty-two years old, she was a demure girl with a gentle smile. Her features were pleasant enough but, objectively speaking, she was no great beauty. Still, there was something about her that gave Tony Takitani’s heart a violent punch. The moment he first saw her, his chest tightened, and he could hardly breathe. Not even he could say what it was about her that had struck him with such force.

The next thing that caught his attention was her clothes. He generally took no particular interest in what people wore, but there was something so wonderful about the way this girl dressed that it made a deep impression on him; indeed, one could even say it moved him. There were plenty of women around who dressed elegantly, and plenty more who dressed to impress, but this girl was different. Utterly different. She wore her clothes with such naturalness and grace that she could have been a bird that had enveloped itself in a special wind as it prepared to fly off to another world. He had never seen a woman wear her clothes with such apparent joy.

After she left, he sat at his desk, dazed, doing nothing until evening came and the room turned completely dark.

The next day, he phoned the publisher and found some pretext to have her come to his office again. When their business was finished, he invited her to lunch. They made small talk as they ate. Though they were fifteen years apart in age, they found they had much in common, almost strangely so. They agreed on every topic. He had never had such an experience before, and neither had she. She was a little nervous at first, but she gradually relaxed, until she was laughing and talking freely.

“You really know how to dress,” Tony said when they parted.

“I like clothes,” she answered, with a bashful smile. “Most of my money goes on clothing.”

They went on a few dates after that. They didn’t go anywhere in particular, just found quiet places to sit and talk for hours – about their pasts, about their work, about the way they thought or felt about this or that. They never seemed to tire of talking. It was as if they were filling up each other’s emptiness.

The fifth time they met, he asked her to marry him. But she had a boyfriend she had been seeing since high school. The relationship had become less than ideal with the passage of time, she admitted, and now they seemed to fight about the stupidest things whenever they met. In fact, seeing him was nowhere near as free and fun as seeing Tony Takitani, but, still, that didn’t mean that she could simply break it off. She had her reasons, whatever they were. And, besides, there was that fifteen-year difference in age. She was still young and inexperienced. She wondered what that age gap might mean to them in the future. She said she wanted time to think.

Each day that she spent thinking was another day in hell for Tony Takitani. He couldn’t work. He drank, alone. Suddenly, his solitude became a crushing weight, a source of agony, a prison. I just never noticed it before, he thought. With despairing eyes, he stared at the thick, cold walls surrounding him and thought, If she says she doesn’t want to marry me, I might just kill myself.

He went to see her and told her exactly how he felt. How lonely his life had been until then. How much he had lost over the years. How she had made him realize all that.

She was an intelligent young woman. She had come to like this Tony Takitani. She had thought well of him from the start, and each meeting had only made her like him more. Whether she could call this “love” she didn’t know. But she felt that he had something wonderful inside, and that she would be happy if she made her life with him. And so they married.

By marrying her, Tony Takitani brought the lonely period of his life to an end. When he awoke in the morning, the first thing he did was look for her. When he found her sleeping next to him, he felt relief. When she wasn’t there, he felt anxious and searched the house for her. There was something odd for him about not feeling lonely. The very fact that he had ceased to be lonely caused him to fear the possibility of becoming lonely again. The question haunted him: What would he do? Sometimes this fear would make him break out in a cold sweat. As he became used to his new life, though, and the possibility of his wife’s suddenly disappearing seemed to lessen, the anxiety gradually eased. In the end, he settled down and wrapped himself in his new and peaceful happiness.

One day, she said that she wanted to hear what kind of music her father-in-law was making. “Do you think he would mind if we went to hear him?” she asked.

“Probably not,” Tony said.

They went to a Ginza night club where Shozaburo Takitani was performing. This was the first time that Tony Takitani had gone to hear his father play since childhood. Shozaburo was playing exactly the same music he had played in the old days, the same songs that Tony had heard so often on records when he was a boy. Shozaburo’s style was smooth, elegant, sweet. It was not art, but it was music made by the skillful hand of a professional, and it could put a crowd in a good mood.

Soon, however, something began to constrict Tony Takitani’s breathing, as though he were a narrow pipe that was filling quietly, but inexorably, with sludge, and he found it difficult to remain seated. He couldn’t help feeling that the music he was hearing now was just slightly different from the music he remembered his father playing. He had heard it years ago, of course, and he had been listening with a child’s ears, after all, but the difference, it seemed to him, was terribly important. It was infinitesimal but crucial. He wanted to go up onto the stage, take his father by the arm, and ask, “What is it, Father? What has changed?” But he did nothing of the sort. He would never have been able to explain what was in his mind. Instead, he stayed at his table until the end of his father’s set, drinking much more than he usually did. When it was over, he and his wife applauded and went home.

The couple’s married life was free of shadows. They never fought, and they spent many happy hours together, taking walks, going to movies, travelling. Tony Takitani’s work continued as successfully as ever, and, for someone so young, his wife was remarkably capable at running their home. There was, however, one thing that did concern him somewhat, and that was her tendency to buy too many clothes. Confronted with a piece of clothing, she seemed incapable of restraint. A strange look would come over her, and even her voice would change. The first time he saw this happen, Tony Takitani thought that she had suddenly taken ill. He had noticed it before their marriage, but it wasn’t until their honeymoon that it began to seem serious. She bought a shocking number of items during their travels around Europe. In Milan and Paris, she went from boutique to boutique, morning to night, like one possessed. They did no sightseeing at all. Instead of the Duomo or the Louvre, they saw Valentino, Missoni, Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Ferragamo, Armani, Cerutti, Gianfranco Ferrè. Mesmerized, she swept up everything she could get her hands on, and he followed behind her, paying the bills. He almost worried that the raised digits on his credit card might wear down.

Her fever did not abate after they returned to Japan. She continued to buy new clothes nearly every day. The number of articles of clothing in her possession skyrocketed. To store them, Tony had several large armoires custom made. He also had a cabinet built for her shoes. Even so, there was not enough space for everything. In the end, he had an entire room redesigned as a walk-in closet. They had rooms to spare in their large house, and money was not a problem. Besides, she did such a marvellous job of wearing what she bought, and she looked so happy whenever she had new clothes, that Tony decided not to complain. Nobody’s perfect, he told himself.

When the volume of her clothing became too great to fit into the special room, however, even Tony Takitani began to have some misgivings. Once, when she was out, he counted her dresses. He calculated that she could change outfits twice a day and still not repeat herself for almost two years. She was so busy buying them that she had no time to wear them. He wondered if she might have a psychological problem. If so, he might need to apply the brakes to her habit at some point.

He took the plunge one night after dinner. “I wish you would consider cutting back a little on the way you buy clothes,” he said. “It’s not a question of money. I’m not talking about that. I have no objection to your buying what you need, and it makes me happy to see you looking so pretty, but do you really need so many expensive dresses?”

His wife lowered her gaze and thought about this for a time. Then she looked at him and said, “You’re right, of course. I don’t need so many dresses. I know that. But, even though I know it, I can’t help myself. When I see a beautiful dress, I have to buy it. Whether I need it, or whether I have too many, is beside the point. I just can’t stop myself.” She promised to try to hold back. “If I keep on going this way, the whole house is going to fill up with my clothes before too long.”

And so she locked herself inside for a week, and managed to stay away from clothing stores. This was a time of great suffering for her. She felt as if she were walking on the surface of a planet with little air. She spent every day in her room full of clothing, taking down one piece after another to gaze at it. She would caress the material, inhale its fragrance, slip the clothes on, and look at herself in the mirror. But the more she looked the more she wanted something new. The desire for new clothing became unbearable. She simply couldn’t stand it.

She did, however, love her husband deeply. And she respected him. She knew that he was right. She called one of her favorite boutiques and asked the proprietor if she might be allowed to return a coat and dress that she had bought ten days earlier but had never worn. “Certainly, Madam,” she was told. She was one of the store’s best customers; they could do that much for her. She put the coat and dress in her blue Renault Cinque and drove to the fashionable Aoyama district. There she returned the clothes and received a credit. She hurried back to her car, trying not to look at anything else, then drove straight home. She had a certain feeling of lightness at having returned the clothes. Yes, she told herself, it was true: I did not need those things. I have enough coats and dresses to last the rest of my life. But, as she waited for a red light to change, the coat and dress were all she could think about. Colors, cut, and texture: she remembered them in vivid detail. She could picture them as clearly as if they were in front of her. A film of sweat broke out on her forehead. With her forearms pressed against the steering wheel, she drew in a long, deep breath and closed her eyes. At the very moment that she opened them again, she saw the light change to green. Instinctively, she stepped down on the accelerator.

A large truck that was trying to make it across the intersection on a yellow light slammed into the side of her Renault at full speed. She never felt a thing.

Tony Takitani was left with a roomful of size-2 dresses and a hundred and twelve pairs of shoes. He had no idea what to do with them. He was not going to keep all his wife’s clothes for the rest of his life, so he called a dealer and agreed to sell the hats and accessories for the first price the man offered. Stockings and underthings he bunched together and burned in the garden incinerator. There were simply too many dresses and shoes to deal with, so he left them where they were. After the funeral, he shut himself in the walk-in closet, and spent the day staring at the rows of clothes.

Ten days later, Tony Takitani put an ad in the newspaper for a female assistant, dress size 2, height approximately five feet three, shoe size 6, good pay, favorable working conditions. Because the salary he quoted was abnormally high, thirteen women showed up at his studio in Minami-Aoyama to be interviewed. Five of them were obviously lying about their dress size. From the remaining eight, he chose the one whose build was closest to his wife’s, a woman in her mid-twenties with an unremarkable face. She wore a plain white blouse and a tight blue skirt. Her clothes and shoes were neat and clean but worn.

Tony Takitani told the woman, “The work itself is not very difficult. You just come to the office every day from nine to five, answer the telephone, deliver illustrations, pick up materials for me, make copies – that sort of thing. There is only one condition attached. I’ve recently lost my wife, and I have a huge amount of her clothing at home. Most of what she left is new or almost new. I would like you to wear her things as a kind of uniform while you work here. I know this must sound strange to you but, believe me, I have no ulterior motive. It’s just to give me time to get used to the idea that my wife is gone. If you are nearby wearing her clothing, I’m pretty sure, it will finally come home to me that she is dead.”

Biting her lip, the young woman considered the proposal. It was, as he said, a strange request – so strange, in fact, that she could not fully comprehend it. She understood the part about his wife’s having died. And she understood the part about the wife’s having left behind a lot of clothing. But she could not quite grasp why she should have to work in the wife’s clothes. Normally, she would have had to assume that there was more to it than met the eye. But, she thought, this man did not seem to be a bad person. You had only to listen to the way he talked to know that. Maybe the loss of his wife had done something to his mind, but he didn’t look like the type of man who would let that kind of thing cause him to harm another person. And, in any case, she needed work. She had been looking for a job for a very long time, her unemployment insurance was about to run out, and she would probably never find a job that paid as well as this one did.

“I think I understand,” she said. “And I think I can do what you are asking me to do. But, first, I wonder if you can show me the clothes I will have to wear. I had better check to see if they really are my size.”

“Of course,” Tony Takitani said, and he took the woman to his house and showed her the room. She had never seen so many dresses gathered together in a single place except in a department store. Each dress was obviously expensive and of high quality. The taste, too, was flawless. The sight was almost blinding. The woman could hardly catch her breath. Her heart started pounding. It felt like sexual arousal, she realized.

Tony Takitani left the woman alone in the room. She pulled herself together and tried on a few of the dresses. She tried on some shoes as well. Everything fit as though it had been made for her. She looked at one dress after another. She ran her fingertips over the material and breathed in the fragrance. Hundreds of beautiful dresses were hanging there in rows. Before long, tears welled up in her eyes and began to pour out of her. There was no way she could hold them back. Her body swathed in a dress of the woman who had died, she stood utterly still, sobbing, struggling to keep the sound from escaping her throat. Soon Tony Takitani came to see how she was doing.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve never seen so many beautiful dresses before. I think it must have upset me. I’m sorry.” She dried her tears with a handkerchief.

“If it’s all right with you, I’d like to have you start at the office tomorrow,” Tony said in a businesslike manner. “Pick out a week’s worth of dresses and shoes and take them home with you.”

The woman devoted a lot of time to choosing six days’ worth of dresses. Then she chose shoes to match. She packed everything into a suitcase.

“Take a coat, too,” Tony Takitani said. “You don’t want to be cold.”

She chose a warm-looking gray cashmere coat. It was so light that it could have been made of feathers. She had never held such a lightweight coat in her life.

When the woman was gone, Tony Takitani went back into his wife’s closet, shut the door, and let his eyes wander vacantly over her dresses. He could not understand why the woman had cried when she saw them. To him, they looked like shadows that his wife had left behind. Size-2 shadows of his wife hung there in long rows, layer upon layer, as if someone had gathered and hung up samples of the infinite possibilities (or at least the theoretically infinite possibilities) implied in the existence of a human being.

These dresses had once clung to his wife’s body, which had endowed them with the warm breath of life and made them move. Now, however, what hung before him were mere scruffy shadows, cut off from the roots of life and steadily withering away, devoid of any meaning whatsoever. Their rich colors danced in space like pollen rising from flowers, lodging in his eyes and ears and nostrils. The frills and buttons and lace and epaulets and pockets and belts sucked greedily at the room’s air, thinning it out until he could hardly breathe. Liberal numbers of mothballs gave off a smell that might as well have been the sound of a million tiny winged insects. He hated these dresses now, it suddenly occurred to him. Slumping against the wall, he folded his arms and closed his eyes. Loneliness seeped into him once again, like a lukewarm broth. It’s all over now, he told himself. No matter what I do, it’s over.

He called the woman and told her to forget about the job. There was no longer any work for her to do, he said, apologizing.

“But how can that be?” the woman asked, stunned.

“I’m sorry, but the situation has changed,” he said. “You can have the clothes and shoes you took home, and the suitcase, too. I just want you to forget that this ever happened, and please don’t tell anyone about it.”

The woman could make nothing of this, and the more she pressed for answers the more pointless it seemed.

“I see,” she said finally, and hung up.

For a few minutes, she felt angry at Tony Takitani. But soon she came to feel that things had probably worked out for the best. The whole business had been peculiar from the beginning. She was sorry to have lost the job but she figured she would manage somehow or other.

She unpacked the dresses she had brought home from Tony Takitani’s house, smoothed them out, and hung them in her wardrobe. The shoes she put into the shoe cabinet by her front door. Compared with these new arrivals, her own clothes and shoes looked horrendously shabby. She felt as if they were a completely different type of matter, fashioned of materials from another dimension. She took off the blouse and skirt she had worn to the interview, hung them up, and changed into jeans and a sweatshirt. Then she sat on the floor, drinking a cold beer. Recalling the room full of clothes she had seen at Tony Takitani’s house, she heaved a sigh. So many beautiful dresses, she thought. And that “closet”: it was bigger than my whole apartment. Imagine the time and money that must have gone into buying all those clothes! And now the woman who did it is dead. I wonder what it must feel like to die and leave so many beautiful dresses behind.

The woman’s friends were well aware that she was poor, so they were amazed to see her wearing a new dress every time they got together – each one a sophisticated, expensive brand.

“Where did you ever get a dress like that?” they would ask her.

“I promised not to tell,” she would say, shaking her head. “Besides, even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”

In the end, Tony Takitani had another used-clothing dealer take away everything that his wife had left behind. The dealer gave Tony less than a twentieth of what he had paid for the clothes, but that didn’t matter to him. He would have let them go for nothing, so long as they were going to a place where he would never see them again.

Once in a while, Tony would go to the empty room and stay there for an hour or two, doing nothing in particular, just letting his mind go blank. He would sit on the floor and stare at the bare walls, at the shadows of his dead wife’s shadows. But, as the months went by, he lost the ability to recall the things that had been in the room. The memory of their colors and smells faded away almost before he knew it was gone. Even the vivid emotions he had once cherished fell back, as if retreating from the province of his mind. Like a mist in the breeze, his memories changed shape, and with each change they grew fainter. Each memory was now the shadow of a shadow of a shadow. The only thing that remained tangible to him was the sense of absence.

Sometimes he could barely recall his wife’s face. What he did recall, though, was the woman, a total stranger, shedding tears in the room at the sight of the dresses that his wife had left behind. He recalled her unremarkable face and her worn-out patent-leather shoes. Long after he had forgotten all kinds of things, including the woman’s name, her image remained strangely unforgettable.

Two years after Tony Takitani’s wife died, his father died of liver cancer. Shozaburo Takitani suffered little, and his time in the hospital was short. He died almost as if falling asleep. In that sense, he lived a charmed life to the end. Aside from a little cash and some stock certificates, Shozaburo left nothing that could be called property. There was only his instrument, and a gigantic collection of old jazz records. Tony Takitani left the records in the boxes supplied by the moving company and stacked them up on the floor of the empty room. Because they smelled of mold, he had to open the windows in the room at regular intervals to air it out. Otherwise, he never set foot in the place.

A year went by this way, but having the boxes of records in the house began to bother him more and more. Often, the mere thought of them sitting in there made him feel that he was suffocating. Sometimes, too, he would wake in the middle of the night and be unable to get back to sleep. His memories had grown indistinct, but they were still there, where they had always been, with all the weight that memories can have.

Tony Takitani called a record dealer and had him make an offer for the collection. Because it contained many valuable disks that were long out of print, he received a remarkably high payment – enough to buy a small car. To him, however, the money meant nothing.

Once the records had disappeared from his house, Tony Takitani was really alone.

Translated, from the Japanese, by Jay Rubin.

“Cosa possiamo fare per il Giappone” di A. Pastore

E dopo l’editoriale di Amitrano, oggi vi presento una sorta di lettera aperta di Antonietta Pastore (traduttrice a lungo residente in Giappone), tratta dal sito della casa editrice Einaudi, per cui lei ha curato Leggero il passo sui tatami e Nel Giappone delle donne, nonché alcune opere di Murakami. Ecco il testo:

Voi che vivete sicuri nelle vostre tiepide case, voi che trovate tornando a sera il cibo caldo e visi amici…
Davanti alle immagini del terremoto e dello tsunami più devastanti che la storia del Giappone ricordi, benché il suo popolo non sia stato vittima della follia omicida degli esseri umani, ma della violenza innocente della natura, sono queste parole di Primo Levi a tornarmi in mente con insistenza. Perché per quanto ci si possa sentire partecipi del dolore e dell’angoscia dei giapponesi, resta il fatto che loro sono lì, in uno stato di totale incertezza ed estrema privazione, e noi invece qui, nella confortevolezza delle nostre abitudini quotidiane. Sono immagini difficili da sopportare quelle che vediamo scorrere sugli schermi dei nostri televisori: un uomo che cerca il figlio sepolto sotto macerie irriconoscibili, una mamma che solleva le braccia del suo bambino perché venga controllato dal rilevatore di radioattività, un vecchio – unico sopravvissuro della sua famiglia – che si stringe al petto un cagnolino, una donna che contempla attonita un ammasso surreale di detriti sul luogo dove un tempo sorgeva la sua casa… Di fronte a queste scene e al senso di perdita che ci trasmettono, non possiamo che ammirare il ritegno con cui i giapponesi esprimono il proprio dolore. Ma questo ritegno fa parte della loro cultura e della loro identità: manifestare in modo plateale i propri sentimenti, per queste persone cui non resta quasi nulla, equivarrebbe a smarrire anche il senso di sé, in un momento in cui, per sopravvivere, vi si devono aggrappare con tutte le forze.

Il divario fra la tragica situazione delle zone sinistrate e la nostra seppur relativa sicurezza è tale da provocare in noi – impotenti, se non in minima misura, ad alleviare la sofferenza di tanta gente – frustazione e sgomento. In un angolo della nostra coscienza però si acquatta anche, malgrado la tristezza, il sollievo di non essere noi le vittime, di non esserci trovati lì nel momento sbagliato – avrebbe potuto accadere, prima dello tsunami l’incantevole costa di Matsushima era una meta turistica –, di non essere un abitante di Sendai, di non vivere vicino a quelle centrali nucleari che stanno rilasciando il loro micidiale veleno e potrebbero esplodere da un momento all’altro. E questo sollievo per essere sani e salvi, insieme ai nostri cari, nell’ambiente che ci è familiare, a sua volta ingenera sensi di colpa, che cerchiamo di alleviare inviando denaro, versando qualche lacrima, scambiando meste considerazioni con amici e conoscenti, mostrandoci afflitti.
La vita quotidiana però ci impone il suo ritmo, allontanando la nostra attenzione dalla sciagura che ha colpito il popolo giapponese. Nelle prima pagine dei giornali questa ha già lasciato il posto ad eventi più vicini a noi, e gli articoli che ancora ne parlano si occupano più del rischio nucleare e degli spostamenti della nube radioattiva, che dello strazio di decine di migliaia di persone. Tornare alle occupazioni ordinarie è d’altronde un processo inevitabile e necessario. Anche in Giappone, dove la popolazione non direttamente coinvolta nell’emergenza continua a lavorare, a fare acquisti, a studiare, ma anche a svagarsi e a divertirsi: nelle zone lontane dalla costa nord-orientale, cinema, ristoranti e locali notturni, dopo un primo momento di shock, hanno ripreso a funzionare a pieno ritmo.
Col passare dei giorni, il pensiero torna sempre meno a quanto accaduto nelle regioni di Iwate, Miyagi e Fukushima l’11 marzo 2011. E noi occidentali, una volta messa a posto la coscienza con una donazione, o con qualche preghiera se siamo credenti, ci rassegniamo a lasciare che le cose facciano il loro corso, rassicurati dalla convinzione che i giapponesi, con l’efficienza e il coraggio consueti, sapranno tirarsi su e ricostruire ciò che è stato distrutto.
E non ci sbagliamo, perché ci riusciranno. Tuttavia, qualcosa di buono per loro lo possiamo fare anche noi, qualcosa di cui saremo i primi a trarre beneficio.

In questi giorni abbiamo visto, sugli schermi che riempiono le nostre tiepide case, persone che hanno perso tutto, provate dal dolore, dalla fatica, dalle privazioni, dal disagio di stare ammassate a centinaia in ricoveri di fortuna. E abbiamo imparato a riconoscere sui loro volti e nei loro atteggiamenti, al di là della compostezza, i segni della sofferenza; ad apprezzare la loro umanità; a intuire in loro la capacità di soffrire, di gioire e di amare quanto e come noi. Allora cerchiamo di ricordarla, questa verità che abbiamo intravisto nelle lacrime furtivamente asciugate e nei singhiozzi a fatica repressi, cerchiamo di non confinare di nuovo i giapponesi in quell’immagine stereotipata – gentili ma distanti, sorridenti ma inaffettivi – che in modo del tutto arbitrario, per ignoranza, abbiamo creato e a lungo conservato. Continuiamo a sentirci vicini a loro, uniti e solidali nella comune sorte umana.

Foto tratte da qui e qui.

Ad aprile, a Cagliari, incontro sulla letteratura giapponese

Segnalo rapidamente un interessante evento che si terrà il 16 aprile 2011 presso “Il ridotto” (Via Negri 28, Cagliari): “Monogatari – Uno sguardo alla letteratura giapponese, dal Genji monogatari ad Haruki Murakami”, tenuto da Giorgia Zedda, con la collaborazione dell’associazione ViViArt. E’ richiesta la prenotazione e una quota di partecipazione di 10 euro. L’incontro fa parte della rassegna “Nihon bunka – Incontri di cultura giapponese”; il programma delle iniziative è consultabile cliccando qui.
Per informazioni e iscrizioni: viviart@hotmail.it, nihonbunka@hotmail.it.

In vendita t-shirt Uniqlo di “Norwegian wood”

E’ ufficiale: “1Q84” di Murakami esce…

… i primi di novembre 2011 (aggiunta del 20/10/2011; per partecipare al nostro gruppo di lettura virtuale del romanzo, clicca qui).
La notizia viene da una fonte più che sicura: l’Einaudi stessa, a cui avevo scritto un’email per avere notizie riguardanti la pubblicazione di “1Q84”.
Insomma: ai tanti lettori appassionati di Murakami non resta che aspettare con pazienza.

Eventi legati al Giappone al festival “Tradurre (in) Europa” di Napoli

Mi dispiace segnalare ai lettori che – diversamente da quanto indicato tempo fa –  Yoshimoto Banana e Murakami Haruki non saranno presenti al festival <<Tradurre (in) Europa>>, che si terrà a Napoli dal 22 al 29 novembre 2010.
All’interno della rassegna (che vi consiglio di seguire per intero) figureranno comunque eventi legati al Giappone:
–  mercoledì 24 novembre, alle ore 12, presso l’Accademia di Belle Arti – Spazio èkphrasis, III, avrà luogo <<Haiku occidentali-orientali>>, a cura di Maria Rosa Piranio in collaborazione con Edizioni Empiria, con letture di Terri Olivi e Riccardo Duranti, e fotografie di Silvia Stuky. Interverrà anche Carla Vasio (Edizioni Empiria).
Venerdì 26 novembre, presso il Caffé Eva Luna, alle ore 20.30, sarà la volta di <<Dalle nove a mezzanotte: voci dal Novecento>> (a cura di Ilaria Fantappié): Gianluca Coci leggerà Oe Kenzaburo.
Sabato 27 novembre, alle ore 12, presso la fumetteria Alastor – Spazio èkphrasis, V, avrà luogo un incontro dal titolo <<Tradurre fumetti. Dal manga giapponese al graphic novel brasiliano>> (a cura di Daniela Allocca e Gabriella Sgambati), con Manuela Capriati, Clelia Pinto, Marcello Buonomo; moderatore Antonio Iannotta.

Anticipata l'uscita del nuovo libro di Murakami

Qualche post fa, mi sono occupata del nuovo libro di Murakami, previsto per aprile 2011, la cui uscita è stata però anticipata al novembre 2010.  Il titolo ufficiale della raccolta di racconti sarà I salici ciechi e la donna addormentata (Einaudi, pp. 380, € 21).
Questa la presentazione dell’editore:

Un dettaglio banale o un caso fortuito può far precipitare i protagonisti di queste storie in una misteriosa malinconia,  come se in un gesto imprevisto indovinassero il lato oscuro, o forse magico, che la quotidianità nasconde. Alcuni, come il protagonista del Settimo uomo, cercano di superare, dopo molti anni, la perdita del loro migliore amico, altri sentono il bisogno di attraversare il giardino zoologico nei giorni in cui soffia un forte vento. Preparare da mangiare può essere una scusa perfetta per ignorare i problemi degli altri, come nell’Anno degli spaghetti; ma a volte è la dura realtà quella che si impone, è il caso della madre che in Hanalai Bay va a riprendersi il corpo del figlio surfista morto per l’attacco di uno squalo. Maestro nella creazione di atmosfere, Murakami introduce in queste storie non solo elementi fantastici e onirici, nei quali miscela con calcolata ambiguità il sonno e la veglia; ma, soprattutto, dà vita a personaggi indimenticabili, messi di fronte al dolore, all’amore, alla sessualità, vinti dalla bellezza o bisognosi di affetto e che nella loro vulnerabilità riconosciamo come nostri simili, nostri contemporanei.

Murakami tra i possibili vincitori del Nobel 2010

Secondo le ultime stime, rispetto agli anni precedenti, sono aumentate le possibilità per Murakami di poter vincere il Nobel per la letteratura, tanto da piazzarsi sesto in un’ipotetica classifica mondiale, subito dopo il nostro Antonio Tabucchi.
Il nome dello scrittore premiato si saprà solo nelle prossime settimane; secondo alcuni, addirittura il 7 o il 14 ottobre.
Per saperne di più, ecco la notizia riportata sul Mainichi.

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