Travel Diaries: Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings

Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings, written in Japanese by Matsuo Basho and translated by Sam Hamill, is published by Shambala Classics. Matsuo Basho is famous for reinventing the haiku and imbuing it with true qualities of simplicity and natural beauty. This book is a beautiful haibun that chronicles Basho’s travels to the northern parts of Japan in late 17th century. Haibun is a form of writing that combines haiku and prose. Essentially, Narrow Road to the Interior or Oku no Hosomichi is a travelogue wherein Basho beautifully pens down his thoughts and journeys using both prose and haiku. The haikus often remark on particular incidents or scenes that Basho found memorable.

Read more about haibun here.

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The travelogue begins with these inviting lines,

The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

Such an alluring beginning immediately pulls the reader in and reflect on the idea of journey itself.

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Kafka on the Shore

I am sure many hardcore Murakami fans will swear by the magic realism and surreal feel of his novel, Kafka on the Shore.

And it sure has a touch of the bizarre and the other worldly.

Kafka on the Shore starts with a 15 year old boy deciding to runaway from his father to live on his own under the pseudonym, Kafka Tamura. The novel than traces his journey where he meets other characters such as Sakura who is a hair dresser and who he thinks might be his sister. Then he stumbles on a job in the library that he had visited and finds a home there. At the library, he meets Oshima, who is the assistant, and the owner, Miss Saeki, who has her own melancholic back story.

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Parallelly, the novel touches upon a curious incident that happened in the Yamanashi Prefecture where a group of children suddenly became unconsciously. It then focuses on one of those students, Mr. Nakata, who after the accident lost the ability to read and write but could mysteriously talk to cats. Consequently, he was the cat finder of his area in Nakano where he stayed.

Talking to cats is just one in the series of bizarre things to pop up in the novel.

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Musically Yours: After Dark

I am slowly starting to read some Murakami. The first book of his that I read was Strange Library which was indeed strange and had such a beautiful cover featuring a library card!

Next I read Desire, part of the Vintage Mini Series, which had five of his short stories. I absolutely adored that book! Read my review here!

Next up was After Dark, which one of my colleagues gave me. I did not mind reading it since she said it was only 200 pages long. I am going through a phase where I somehow cannot commit to books that are too long because I do not get time to read them!

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Vintage Minis: Desire by Murakami

Vintage Minis is a series launched in 2017 by Penguin that is characterised by its brevity and universal themes of what makes us human.

Desire is the theme the publishing house chose for Haruki Murakami’s five short stories that are taken from three of his following short story collections:

  • Elephant Vanishes
  • Blind Willows, Sleeping Women
  • Men Without Women

While I did not really go looking for the theme of desire in each short story, I did enjoy all five of them since each had its own unique tale to tell.

Starting with The Second Bakery Attack that is narrated as an anecdote of the past of how a newly married couple found itself gnawed by a hunger that they had never known before and which they could only satisfy through a curious robbery!

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Of Dogs and Walls

The Penguin Modern series presents a brilliant collection of stories from authors which you might not encounter in your everyday bestseller list. Plus it is super cheap! What more could you want?

One title from the series that I recently bought was two short stories by Yuko Tshuhima. I have never read this author before. I have heard of Yukio Mishima, but yet to read him as his books are so hard to get here! So I was excited to find this gem on an online website and its price was hard to resist even with the delivery charge!

The book uses the title of the second short story as its main title: Of Dogs and Walls.

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The Guest Cat

Fed up of dog related books? Are you a cat lover who is not appreciated because the world is gaga over dogs and their loyalty whereas cats are consigned to a manipulative caricature?

Well I am!!

I am a default cat lover since the time we got a pet cat quite out of pity. From then on, I have loved my own cat and cats in general to death. So when I came across the novel, The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide on Amazon at a decent rate, I instantly bought it since it fed my two interests: cats and my nascent interest in Japanese literature.

Translated into English by Eric Selland, the story is a simple one about a couple who sort of adopt a cat but do not own her. It traces their relation with the cat while also commenting on other aspects of Japan.

Chibi, the cat, comes into their lives unexpectedly when they move into a small guestroom next to a bungalow in Tokyo in 1988. Chibi has her own quirky characteristics that the narrator describes at length. Chibi comes and goes freely into their modest abode, sets up a routine of staying in their house at night and leaving in the mornings to accompany her actual owners’ son to say goodbye.

Against this backdrop, the couple themselves go through their own daily lives and jobs. The woman works at a publishing house and the man quits his job at a publishing agency to write his own stories.

What stands out however is how the main focus is the cat’s quiet relationship with the couple and the house they live in. The descriptions of both Chibi and their house is poetic and academic perhaps keeping in mind the profession of the narrator.

Through these descriptions the narrator also conveys information and comments on the goings on in Japan and Tokyo, most prominently the real estate and the Emperor’s sickness and subsequent death. It is accompanied by a glossary at the end which gives good information on the Japanese references in the novel.

Another, truly unique aspect that stands out are the comparisons and references between the different emotions and moods of the narrator whether it is comparing a house hunt with Machiavelli or triangular surveying to measure distance to avoid grief!

All in all, the novel, The Guest Cat shines because of its talent to convey profound musings through the everyday. And whether you are a cat lover or not, this is a must read since the style and the writing is unique, sparse and down to earth.

Here is a link of the book on Amazon: