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“Cream” by Haruki Murakami

I am doing a creative writing course and thinking now of an idea for a short story. Looking for inspiration, tips and writing style ideas I decided to re-read the short story “Cream” from the latest collection of stories by Haruki Murakami “First person singular”. It is my favourite story from this short story collection. My intention of reading the story for a second time was to read as a writer (not as a reader) and notice minor details and Murakami’s secrets of magic prose.

I guess, the reason that I like Murakami’s writing in the first place is that he assumes a smart reader, a reader who is knowledgeable and willing to go an extra step. The meanings of the story emerge on multiple layers, and we (readers) need to peel these layers in order to get to the juicy revelations.

I love the beautiful symbolism of the story. References to travel, trains, buses are not novel for Murakami and here again Murakami uses the metaphor of a road to represent the journey of life. Symbolic references to trains, roads and cars have been used by writers previously, for instance by Leo Tolstoy in “Anna Karenina” and by Vladimir Nabokov (in several of his works). The Japanese town Kobe symbolises the identity of the hero of the story. The hero travels to the top of the mountain in search of a concert hall. He asks:

“Why in the world am I here?” I asked myself, as I sat hunched over in my seat, cooling my flushed cheeks with my palms

Of course, we understand that the question symbolises a search for meaning of life. Here again, we can see a reference to the “Castle” by Kafka, where the mountain symbolises spiritual growth. Murakami is skilful in demonstrating how geography and landscape represent the inner feelings of the hero. The idea of loneliness is not novel for Murakami and once again it is presented beautifully.

Further development of the story confirms the idea of spiritual search. The hero sits on a bench in the park and listens to the Christian message from the loudspeaker of an invisible car:

“But all those who seek salvation in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins will have their sins forgiven by the Lord. They will escape the fires of Hell. Believe in God, for only those who believe in Him will reach salvation after death and receive eternal life.”

The loudspeaker seems to be answering the question posed by the hero of the story. The question was answered in an unexpected and somewhat magical way. In one of his interviews, Murakami outlined the importance of asking the right questions in life. This story shows that once you ask the right question, you will get an answer back in some unexpected way. The next hint is the conversation with the old man:

“Listen, you’ve got to imagine it with your own power. Use all the wisdom you have and picture it. A circle that has many centers but no circumference. If you put in such an intense effort that it’s as if you were sweating blood—that’s when it gradually becomes clear what the circle is”

This discussion relates to the search for meaning beyond our normal logic and reason. To find meaning, we have to open up, expand our thinking beyond conventional ideas. Spirituality is something that you can’t explain like circles that have many centres with no circumference. It is a constant process of searching for truth and answers within yourself. I appreciate the boldness of Murakami discussing the unexplainable or ephemeral. Usually, writers do not dare to talk about something that they cannot clearly explain and argue for.

The beauty of the story is that there could be multiple interpretations. How did you understand this story?

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