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Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

If you were going off to war (or some other similarly horrific situation) and could only take one book with you, which literary book would you take and why?

This is an interesting twist on the classic “desert island” question which sees people bringing their favourite longest book.  Here, we are going to war and the question consequently becomes more interestingly personal and psychological.

Would I want to bring a light book to uplift my spirits?  Or a book that gives me hope despite the terrible state of human condition?  Maybe I would prefer a philosophical book that would help me rationalise the incomprehensible human nature?

I think my choice would go for a book that gives me hope, hope that all is not lost, hope that there is still some good somewhere in the world, hope that maybe one day human beings will be able to live in peace.  The problem is that I do not believe this is possible, so I might have to choose a book that gives me hope that I will once more be able to enjoy the little pleasures of life and human encounters that make me smile.

To be honest, I find it difficult to find the book that would satisfy what I would be looking for in such a situation.  I am thinking about the books I have recently read, and the one coming closer is After Dark by Haruki Murakami.  As it happens, I have been meant to review this book for a few months, but have not come around to doing it.  Now is as good a time as any.

I had heard a lot about Murakami, about After Dark in particular, and had always thought I should read something by him.  When I went to Milan, I quickly realised that I had not brought enough books with me.  I was only in London airport, waiting for my second flight to get to Milan, and had already nearly finished one of the two books that were to be my companions during this trip, the second one being a novella.  I decided to visit the airport bookshop.  I was looking for a book that would not be to heavy, in weight and content, but not a plain holiday read either – I wanted a bit of substance.  Then, my eyes caught sight of a few books by Murakami and I thought that at last I was getting the occasion to read something by him!

I think I can safely say that it was my revelation of the year 2010.  I loved After Dark!  It made me feel good.  I find it difficult to explain why I felt that way.  After all, it is not the most uplifting book: a prostitute gets beaten up, the women working in the hotel have a secret past they are trying to leave behind and Eri, Mari’s sister, has been asleep for months and some obscure supernatural things happen to her.  However, I think that for me the relationships between the characters took precedence over everything else and gave me hope, hope that it is possible to find comfort and happiness in a world where the majority of people are twisted. 

The story takes place in the interval of a night.  During this night, a few characters’ paths meet.  They are strangers who become acquainted for the time of a few hours.  Amongst them are Mari, an avid reader whose sister’s beauty has always overshadowed her, and Takahashi, a musician on his way to a rehearsal.  They are both out for the night and will meet a few times through it.  We leave them at dawn when they separate at the subway station and the story is left hanging but is also full of possibilities for the future.

I thought Murakami utilises interesting narrative techniques.  I was especially intrigued by the “we” point of view he uses.  I do not think it is something I had encountered before, or at least not in the same way.  It includes us in the story as viewers and gives a cinematic dimension to the narrative.  I also liked the way there were a few storylines running in parallel to each other and sometimes intersecting.  Characters might be present in a few of the narratives, but we are never actually told if they are the same people and are left supposing, which gives an air of mystery to the story.  I also found the open-endedness of this story deeply satisfying and more realistic than a nicely tied-up closure.  It is open to the future and its potential; even if life is far from being an ideal situation, there is still some comfort and happy moments to be found.

Here are a few of the reasons why I would choose After Dark.  It is a substantial literary work, which, it seems to me, represents the complexity of human nature and life with a certain simplicity that gives me hope and would actually make me struggle to keep alive.