Monday, September 7, 2015

Murakami Haruki: Pan'ya o osou

I've been on a Murakami Haruki kick last couple of weeks.  Catching up with a couple of recent things I hadn't read yet, and delving into some of his older stuff that I hadn't yet touched.

One of these was a curious publication from 2013 called Pan'ya o osou パン屋を襲う (To Raid a Bakery).  Murakami fans reading English will know of his short story "The Second Bakery Attack" (Pan'ya saishūgeki パン屋再襲撃), translated in The Elephant Vanishes.  They may also know, because it's mentioned in Rubin's book, that there actually was an earlier story called "The Bakery Attack" (Pan'ya shūgeki パン屋襲撃), which hasn't been translated into English.  As Rubin notes, the second story summarizes the first story as part of its plot, so if you've read the later one you more or less know the earlier one - but still, I'd like to see it translated someday, for reasons that will become clear below.

In German, both stories have been published together as a book entitled Die bäckerieūberfälle, with illustrations by Kat Menschik.  Since the Japanese Murakami industry loves to keep track of his international reception, this book was recreated in Japanese in 2013.  That is, the two stories were published as a single book with Menschik's illustrations.  At the same time Murakami decided to revise the two stories slightly, changing the titles (thus "To Raid a Bakery" instead of "The Bakery Attack").  (Menschik has illustrated other Murakami, which you can read about here.)

The illustrations are nice.  Beautiful, even, all in forest green, gold, and white.  Not necessarily the way I imagine the stories, but they add a real stylishness that complements the stories' inventiveness without disrupting them with a contradictory aesthetic (which is the problem with the English version of The Strange Library, which I'll get around to discussing soon, hopefully).

Murakami's revisions are fairly minor, to the point that if I hadn't been going back and forth between the new versions and the originals I only would have noticed a couple.  He adds a descriptive phrase here and subtracts one there, but not really the kind of thing that makes much difference.  The substantive changes I noticed seemed to be geared toward (a) making the two stories work together as if the second one was a sequel to the first, and (b) making the second one feel as if it's taking place in the present, rather than in the early '80s. 

The latter is accomplished by changing a few cultural references.  The famous Betamax ad at the end of the second story is now an ad for Blu-Ray - a canny change.  A Bluebird in the original is now an Accord.  Did he have to make the second story take place in the present?  Well, sort of.  Given that it's supposed to be taking place over a decade after the first bakery attack, and that the first bakery attack is taking place at a moment when "God, Karl Marx, and John Lennon are all dead," the second bakery attack couldn't be taking place in the early '80s.

Which leads us to the former goal, making the two stories work together as if the second one was a sequel to the first.  Because, when you read the originals, you realize that this is not the relationship between them.  The time scheme doesn't work, but there are other inconsistent details.  In the first bakery attack story we're very specifically told that the baker is listening to Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" on a radio cassette player, while in the second story we're told that he had been listening to Wagner overtures (including Tannhauser) on lp.  A small inconsistency, but one that tells us that the second story, as originally written, was less a sequel to the first than a rewriting of it, one that moved the events of the first into the past and thereby recontextualized them against the end of the '60s counterculture rather than early '80s malaise.

Murakami resolves that inconsistency in the new versions of the stories.  In both references the baker is listening to "Tristan and Isolde."  Which means that this book gets to read like a book, a kind of double coming of age story, the imposition of a curse and its resolution, a comparison of friendship to marriage, and a whole lot of other things.  But it also means that the critique of the boomer generation that had been implicit in the original "Second Bakery Attack" ('60s radical compromises his ideals, goes straight, tries to recover some of his outlaw essence with his new wife) is gone, or at least muted, here.  An interesting change.

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