Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: After Dark

I picked up After Dark after I finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle which was a truly intoxicating read. It took a few days for the after-effects of The Wind-Up Bird to wear off. While Wind-Up Bird came out in the 90s, After Dark is the most recent novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Unlike The Wind-Up Bird which was a thick volume, After Dark is a slim one almost like a novella. The book is an easy and lucid read translated into English form the original Japanese. The language is poetic, the story is told in third person and the events happen in real-time. Each chapter displays the time elapsed since the story began (It reminds one of the popular TV series 24.) The third-person viewpoint might feel detached and indifferent but the characters are not and more than make up for it. As the title suggests, the story begins at night and ends when darkness slowly gives way to the break of the dawn.

Mari Asai is a 20-year-old girl and is sitting in a coffee shop, whiling away her time in downtown Tokyo, all by herself, trying to concentrate on a book. It’s close to midnight and she should be home but she doesn’t feel like going home for no particular reason. A young man named Takahashi comes in after a while and introduces himself to Mari. After little initial hiccups, the two get on talking. Meanwhile, Mari’s sister Eri Asai is lying asleep in a room, the location of the room unknown. Her sleep is abnormally deep and frighteningly perfect. We can’t tell if she’s alive if not for her pulse. We don’t know for how long she’s been sleeping and when she would wake up, if she would at all. As darkness takes the city in its grip, routine normalcy of the day gives way to the eerie and the ominous of the night. After Mari and Takahashi make some talk, Takahashi takes leave and Mari is again all by herself till she is called by a nearby hotel owner – a retired female wrestler – to help her out with a Chinese girl who’s been attacked by a stranger and who doesn’t know Japanese. There’s a third storyline involving seemingly the stranger who attacked the Chinese girl. His world is equally bizarre and he seems to be an embodiment of evil. The three different stories run parallel and converge in the end at the break of the dawn.

It feels strange thinking of the contrast between the night and the day, between the dark and the light; not just the absolute difference but also the foreboding, the ominous, the apprehension, the uncertainties they entail. Outside and inside of our psyche. The story tells of the modern-age decay, the alienation, the melancholy of loss, the evil and the bizarre. The ending is vague and it feels like the story was left in halfway but it’s a Murakami book and he never gives you the conclusion. May be there isn’t one or may be he wants to you to find it out by yourself. If you’ve read Murakami before or if you like the bizarre and the strange and can take in the surrealism, then this is a book for you. Others can read this for the lucidity of the language and some wonderful lines.

About the author:

Haruki Murakami is a popular Japanese writer. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages. His most famous works are The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka On the Shore, Norwegian Wood among others. His fascination with surrealism and looking for the ominous and unsettling in the seemingly mundane events is thrilling. His most recent work IQ84 would come out in English in 2011

(This book is reviewed by Ajay Kumar. Ajay, is pursuing engineering and is in the fourth year at IIT, Kharagpur .He blogs at http://ajaykgp.wordpress.com)

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