from Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

“My head is like some ridiculous barn packed full of stuff I want to write about,” Sumire said. “Images, scenes, snatches of words. . . in my mind they’re all glowing, all alive. Write! they shout at me. A great story is about to be born–I can feel it. It’ll transport me to some brand-new place. Problem is, once I sit at my desk and put all these down on paper, I realize something vital is missing. It doesn’t crystallize–no crystals, just pebbles. And I’m not transported anywhere.”
With a frown, Sumire picked up her two-hundred-and-fiftieth stone and tossed it into the pond.
“Maybe I’m lacking something. Something you absolutely must have to be a writer.”
A deep silence ensued. It seemed she was seeking my run-of-the-mill opinion.
After a while I started to speak. “A long time ago in China there were cities with high walls surrounding them, with huge, magnificent gates. The gates weren’t just doors for letting people in or out but had greater significance. People believed the city’s soul resided in the gates. Or at least that it should reside there. It’s like in Europe in the Middle Ages when people felt a city’s heart lay in its cathedral and central square. Which is why even today in China there are lots of wonderful gates still standing. Do you know how the Chinese built these gates?”
“I have no idea,” Sumire answered.
“People would take carts out to old battlefields and gather the bleached bones that were buried there or that lay scattered about. China’s a pretty ancient country–lots of old battlegrounds–so they never had to search far. At the entrance to the city they’d construct a huge gate and seal the bones inside. They hoped that by commemorating them this way the dead soldiers would continue to guard their town. There’s more. When the gate was finished they’d bring several dogs over to it, slit their throats, and sprinkle their blood on the gate. Only by mixing the fresh blood with the dried out bones would the ancient souls of the dead magically revive. At least that was the idea.”
Sumire waited silently for me to go on.
“Writing novels is much the same. You gather up bones and make your gate, but no matter how wonderful the gate might be, that alone doesn’t make it a living, breathing novel. A story is not something of this world. A real story requires a kind of magical baptism to link the world on this side with the world on the other side.”
“So what you’re saying is that I go out on my own and find my own dog.”
I nodded.
“And shed fresh blood?”
Sumire bit her lip and thought about this. She tossed another hapless stone into the pond. “I really don’t want to kill an animal if I can help it.”
“It’s a metaphor,” I said. “You don’t actually have to kill anything.”

translated by Philip Gabriel

9 thoughts on “from Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

  1. I love Murakami but this one I haven’t read yet — after this excellent excerpt, I’m going right to the library! πŸ™‚

    • He is truly worth reading. Pound once said to really appreciate literature, you should be able to read work in the original language. Not many people can do that so we must rely on those who do translate to get the sense of the original in another language. Hopefully we find those that can.

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