A controversial book | Sunday Observer

A controversial book

World renowned post modern writer Haruki Murakami’s 14th novel, ‘Killing Commendatore’ was published recently after a lapse of four years. It was first released in Japanese as ‘Kishidancho Goroshi’ with two volumes in 2017. The first English translation was launched in 2018 as? a 704 pages hardcover book by Alfred A. Knopf publishing house in the US. This paperback edition by Vintage comprises 681 pages.

Though there are two volumes in the Japanese book, this one has two parts.? The first part starts with the title of The Idea Made Visible and the second part starts with The Shifting Metaphor. In the first part, you encounter the prologue at the outset? and it is not a conventional prologue, but a part of the novel. It starts like this:

“Today when I awoke from a nap the faceless man was there before me. He was seated on the chair across from the sofa I’d been sleeping on, staring at me with a pair of imaginary eyes in a face that wasn’t.

“The man was ill, and he was dressed the same as when I had seen him last. His face – that – wasn’t – a – face was half hidden by a wide brimmed black hat, and he had on a long, equally dark coat.”

In this way, the book grasps the reader and depicts a surrealistic picture. As its title suggests it is about The Idea Made Visible. The protagonist of the novel is an unnamed portrait painter whose wife leaves him at the start of the book. Then he quits portrait painting and goes on a long road trip. In the middle of the trip he encounters a nervous woman in a diner who seems to be running away from someone, and they end up going to a love hotel and having violent sex. The next day, when he wakes up, she is not there.? The protagonist’s road trip comes to an end when his car breaks down. He then moves into the remote house of his friend’s father, Tomohiko, a renowned painter who has been moved to a nursing home. There in the attic he discovers an unknown painting by Tomohiko, ‘Killing Commendatore’, depicting a scene from the opera Don Giovanni. He starts working as an art teacher in the village? to make ends meet. Meanwhile, a wealthy neighbour, Wataru Menshiki, offers him a very large sum of money to paint his portrait which he eventually agrees to do. He ends up creating a portrait unlike anything he has done before.?

Murakami tries to confront with the given history in a surrealistic way in this novel. When we analyse the book as a literary work,? the first problem is authenticity of it. It is difficult to read the book on national - cultural terms. When you start to read it in a general realistic way, it is hard to believe the events in it. However, novel is very easy to read as there is a very simple writing style or its low key or low tone. Some critics point out this is because his passion for American jazz. And you can experience some kind of playfulness and an absurdity in the book too as always.

Meanwhile, some websites around the world have collected some reviews of the book. For instance, Book Marks website reports that 36 per cent of critics gave the book a ‘rave’ review, whilst 14 per cent? of the critics ‘panned’ the book.? Fifty per cent of the critics expressed either ‘positive’? (27 per cent ) or ‘mixed’ (23 per cent ) impressions, based on a sample of 22 reviews. Kirkus Reviews website called the novel “altogether bizarre—and pleasingly beguiling, if demanding” and included it in its ‘Best Fiction of 2018’ list.

Bradley Babendir from The A.V. Club criticised the book for lacking the “particular energy” that is seen through Murakami’s other impressive stories, and that his “attempt to explore the artistic process, unfortunately, lacks insight.”?

Hari Kunzru from The New York Times notes that the story offered “promising mysteries”, but there was a “sense of a writer throwing a lot of ideas against the wall in the hope that something will stick” and ultimately calling Killing Commendatore a “baggy monster” and a “disappointment from a writer who has made much better work.” And Randy Rosenthal praised the book in his review for the Los Angeles Review of Books? stating , “By writing about metaphors and ideas, by ringing bells underground and animating two-foot-tall men, by having the desperate desires of others intrude on the simplest of plans and a whole lot else, Murakami is reminding us that the world is more enchanted than we might think.”?

However, according to some foreign reports the issues around the book go beyond the normal speculations. For instance,in Hong Kong, the book is classified by the Obscene Articles Tribunal of Hong Kong under ‘Class II – indecent’.

Under such classification, the publisher must not distribute the book to people under the age of 18, and it must be sealed with printed warnings on the front and back covers. And the public libraries are not allowed to lend the book to anyone under 18. Following the classification, the book was also removed from the shelves of the Hong Kong Book Fair.

?That’s how foreign media reports it.? Japan, which? is the author’s native country and has the setting of the novel, deals with a different issue altogether. Most of the Japanese critics say that through this novel Murakami gives a wrong picture about the Nanjing Incident or Nanjing massacre in 1937 which occurred under the Japanese military’s occupation of China during the Fifteen-Year War.

Menshiki, a character in novel, explains to the protagonist that among other things, the Japanese military massacred most of the citizens of Nanjing, along with most of the soldiers there who had already surrendered:? “A staggering number of citizens were caught up in the fighting and killed…This is an ineradicable fact. Some people say that as many as 400,000 Chinese died in the massacre, while others say it was 100,000.” ?

This told by a character caused a huge uproar among the Japanese people and its critics. Though the book sold 1.38 million copies in the first few weeks, critics started to? speak out against it. Japanese author Naoki Hyakuta? tweeted that “[The parts about Nanjing] will make Murakami’s book a bestseller in China.

The Chinese are likely to champion Murakami for a Nobel Prize if for no other reason than that they can now tell the world that even Japan’s most popular contemporary novelist is admitting to the ‘Nanjing Massacre’.”?

There has also been no end to the comments online: “Murakami’s number is bigger even than China’s 300,000.” “Show us the evidence.” Conversely, not a few were taking a wait-and-see approach, saying, “We shouldn’t conflate a novel with a work of historical investigation,” and “This is about nothing more than lines spoken by a fictional character.”

The outcry over the dialogue has spread to China as well. On March 4, the Japanese-language version of the Renmin Ribao website reported that the blog run by the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall praised Murakami for squarely confronting history: “There are more people agreeing with Murakami than criticizing him… for facing up directly to history.”

Ritsumeikan University’s? Emeritus Professor Minoru Kitamura, a scholar of modern Chinese political history, expressed his anxiety about the incident: “It is unknown what the evidence could be for the claim of 400,000 victims.

The figure is given by a character in a novel, to be sure. But simply by dint of Murakami’s authority as a world-renowned writer, there is the possibility that the Chinese will henceforth turn this tiny molehill into a gigantic mountain for political purposes.”? In this way, ‘Killing Commendatore’ by Murakami, is taken as an abusive political writing in Japan while it is taken as a serious novel in other parts of the world.??