Book review: “Blind willow, sleeping woman” by Haruki Murakami

To put it in the simplest possible terms, I find writing novels a challenge, writing short stories a joy. Haruki Murakami

Murakami readers are typically divided into 2 camps: those who love Murakami and those who do not understand Murakami. I belong to the first camp and I’ve been reading his novels for more than a decade. In the COVID-19 times, it is a good idea to come back to the amazing work of Murakami. Since I’ve already read most of his work, it was a challenge to find a book I haven’t read yet. So, this time it is “Blind willow, sleeping woman” – a collection of 26 short stories. I was reading one story before going to bed and every day I had a great sleep. Most of you already know that Murakami is not a mainstream writer, his books are mysterious, haunting, melancholic and thought provoking.

What is the connection between the stories in the book? For me, it is a lot about feeling, the strange enlightenment that the world is different from what it seems. While reading Murakami, it is important to relax and switch off your logical mind. Otherwise, your mind will be constantly telling you that the book doesn’t make sense. Your mind constantly demands logical arguments, clear story endings and solid plots. When you switch off your common sense, reading Murakami becomes a journey to the new realities. I certainly enjoy this feeling when my common sense world is being turned upside down (How about a talking monkey or the Ice Man?).

I must admit, that I love Murakami novels more than his short stories. Yet, this beautiful book has done its job. I feel that the world is way more interesting and colourful than it seems (it is so hard to stay at home all the time due to COVID lockdown). Murakami’s stories are great at leaving space for imagination and creativity. I especially like the surrealist details. What was so unique about the bus in “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”? “What was the present in the “Birthday girl” story? What has happened to the man in “Where I’m likely to find it?” What is the business of “Dabchik?” Why did Miss Matsunaka kill herself in “The Shinagawa Monkey?”

Once again Murakami helps me to come back home. Murakami reading is a form of meditation. It is so weird, I am not Japanese but these stories seem so familiar to me. Maybe because we both like Dostoyevsky and Kafka?

My 3 favorite short story writers and why I love them

Julio Cortázar, – Julio Cortázar is an Argentine novelist representing magical realism and surrealism styles of fiction. I read my first Cortázar’s short story for my class of the Spanish language literature almost a decade ago and I still remember how fascinated I was then with this author. We had a discussion in class about our interpretation of the story and almost all the students understood the short story differently. This is why I love Cortazar: his stories are open to the reader’s imagination and interpretation. Reality is not solid in Cortázar’s writing, it is always controversial, multifaceted and surreal. Cortázar’s writing shows the absurdity and nonsense of our lives and bizarre personalities. Cortázar’s stories do not deliver concrete conclusions instead they make you think about existential issues. What is the meaning of life? What is love?

Anton Chekhov – Anton Chekhov is a 19th-century Russian writer famous for short stories and plays. Chekhov’s writing is eloquent and ironic. Chekhov’s characters are inconsistent, controversial and lively. Chekhov’s stories make you laugh, cry, worry and contemplate. Chekhov’s stories will never lose relevance because they touch upon deep layers of human consciousness. His style and language are so Russian and authentic. When I miss Russia, I tend to read a short story of Chekhov as a way to remind myself of the culture, language and traditions. Chekhov’s use of idioms, colloquial terms, and metaphors is simply stunning.

Haruki Murakami – Haruki Murakami is a contemporary Japanese writer representing magical realism and the surrealism style of fiction. His short stories are always about the inner lives of characters. It is almost as if the whole story is about consciousness and self-reflexivity of the main hero. Haruki Murakami always manages to present somewhat whimsy introverted main heroes. I love Murakami’s stories because they make me feel that I am not alone in my self-reflexivity and non-mainstream conception of the world. Surprisingly, I frequently relate to some of the characters in Murakami’s stories and these stories make me question my beliefs and habits. Murakami novels show that he is a great listener and observer of the world around him. His stories always leave a piece of tasty cake to the reader to contemplate and figure out. What is the birthday wish of a woman in the “Birthday girl” story? Is it to become happy or to find meaning in life? What do you think?

“Role of literature at the time of social crisis” – Melbourne Writers Festival 2020

Last week I have attended several insightful online sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival. One of the sessions focused on the role of literature at the time of social crisis, climate change and the roles of literature in the education system in Australia. From this session I have learned that the literature serves an important role in society, it helps us to negotiate and understand societal problems and understand stories of “the other”. For kids, literature serves as a way to understand their identity and their country.

Australian literary landscape includes colonial writings, yet other less prominent streams focus on indigenous writings and writings of recent immigrants. In secondary schools, for example, Australian literature remains a fragile and fragmented area. It is only recently (since 2007) that the Australian literature was mandated within curriculum in schools. Australian schools place way more focus on the world literature as opposed to the Australian literature. This tendency could be explained by the dominant legacies of colonialism and historical traditions.

Literary education within Australian schools is also influenced by the political matters. The neo-liberal government places strong focus on the exams and students scores. It is the content of these exams that drives the curriculum choices and sharpens students’ focus. While teachers get increasingly high workloads and administrative burdens, they should be the cheerleaders of the Australian literature. Australian teachers should balance the need for global education and local knowledge.

After all, our training and education determine how we read and understand books. “You don’t read a text, but a text reads you”. Indeed, I notice myself that my international background shapes my interpretations of Australian books. It is very surprising that Australian schools don’t include much of Australian literature (I haven’t studied myself in Australia). I have to still familiarize myself with Australian literary landscape. My next blog posts will outline this interesting journey.

Alyona

Habit 1: Be proactive

Covey starts his discussion of habits with proactivity. I found that the discussion of proactivity as a habit is deep, very well argued and written. Covey introduces proactivity with the experience of Viktor Frankl in the Nazi concentration camps.  Frankl could survive the terrible experience of a concentration camp because he was proactive and had … Continue reading “Habit 1: Be proactive”

“7 habits” Note 1: personality and character ethic

This is my first reflective note on reading the book “7 habits of highly effective people”. Stephen Covey starts his book with discussing the differences between the personality ethic and the character ethic. While personality ethic is a paradigm that centres around building an image of yourself in the community and quick fixes, character ethic … Continue reading ““7 habits” Note 1: personality and character ethic”

Book review: “7 habits of highly effective people” by Stephen R. Covey

I believe in signs and when I’ve heard from a couple of people about the fascinating book “7 habits of highly effective people”, I thought I would give this book a second chance. I initially read this book around 12 years ago and do not remember much about its contents. I am also not a … Continue reading “Book review: “7 habits of highly effective people” by Stephen R. Covey”

13 facts we don’t know about “Master and Margarita” and Bulgakov

I have just listened to a series of podcasts about “Master and Margarita” on the Russian online resource “Arzamas”. The podcasts are conducted by Marietta Chudakova, Soviet literary critic and historian. I will leave the link to the podcasts below (unfortunately, podcasts are only available in Russian). I have learned so much in these podcasts about the historical context of the novel, publication challenges and Bulgakov’s background.

  1. The novel was initially published in 1966 and was considered very extravagant for the times
  2. The novel was motivated by Goethe’s “Faust”
  3. The author wrote 6 different versions of the novel and the first version’s title was “Consultant’s hoof” (“Копыто консультанта”)
  4. The first versions of the manuscript didn’t have characters of Master and Margarita
  5. Bulgakov was one of the few writers (who did not emigrate) not supportive of the Soviet power and the Russian revolution. He wanted to write about the “Big terror” and Stalinism but could not openly criticise Soviet power and Stalin.
  6. Master is an alter ego of Bulgakov
  7. Bulgakov burnt one of the versions of the novel
  8. Woland is an alter ego of Stalin
  9. Bulgakov was born and raised in a religious family and thus the theme of religion and spirituality are prominent in his novel
  10. Bulgakov wrote a letter to the Soviet government asking for permission to leave the country
  11. Margarita’s character was possibly inspired by the wife of Bulgakov, Elena
  12. Bulgakov didn’t want to have kids because he was sick
  13. Bulgakov didn’t believe that his novel will ever be published (due to strict Soviet censorship)

Arzamas podcasts: https://arzamas.academy/courses/39/1