Book Review: Kino by Murakami Haruki
One of the sweetest moments during the hot summer quarantine is to read the short fiction of Murakami Haruki with my friend Vicki. Fiction take us to the other realm, even just for a moment. Over the internet, we are sounding boards for each other to dissect what “Kino” means for us. The story is published by The New Yorker in February, 2015. Here are some of our observations.
The names of characters in the fiction offer riveting insights. The titular protagonist's name shares the same pronunciation as “yesterday” in Japanese. Kino tries to leave his past scars behind by switching job, filng a divorce, and starting a new life. None of which is successful in dissipating the influence of past trauma.
In the Japanese Kanji, Kino is written as “木野“. The two characters symbolize wood and open country.Wood symbolizes being grounded to Earth, a return to nature and unadorned self. Indeed, the fiction is Kino's own quest to face his emotions.
His mysterious customer, Kamita (神田) also has name toned with elements of nature. The name is “written with the characters for ‘god’...and ‘field,“ says Kamita in the story. The first half of the novel mainly takes place in Aoyama district, home for the largest cemetery in Tokyo. It is the most desirable neighbourhood in the city. Many are drawn to the unobscured skyline and tranquillity offered by cemeteries. Kamita may be a divine being who looks after the neighbourhood. This speculation is confirmed later in the story when Kamita discloses that Kino’s aunt has asked him “to keep an eye on [Kamita], to make sure that nothing bad happened.” Kamita brushes off unruly customers and guides Kino on a whirlwind journey.
The story touches upon the fluidity of right and wrong. From a Judeo Christian perspective, the snake is the epitome of evil. The story offers a different definition. The reptiles are “a combination of good and evil.” Their three appearance upends Kino's new life but also nudges Kino to take on a spontaneous road trip that leads to healing.
Like the snake, Kino’s morality is constantly in flux. He is the victim in his marriage but an intruder in the relationship between his customers.
The woman sharing illicit ties with Kino has a body marked by grotesque burns. This woman may be a projection of Kino’s vengeance towards his unfaithful wife. During his wife’s visit to the bar, he imagines “countless dark-brown burn marks wriggling on [his wife’s] pure-white back, like a swarm of worms.”
Personifying abstract thoughts is Murakami signature. In “the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”, the protagonist of the novel goes on a journey to find his missing wife. Two of the four supporting female characters he encounters are later revealed to be his wife’s alter egos.
Kino's apathy towards his wife's betrayal contrasts with his honest confrontation of trauma upon him. This change in sentiments parallels his imagination of dark marks on his now ex-wife and his kind wishes for her happiness.
Kino’s belated melancholy is an embodiment of the Japanese social norm. In the Japanese Buddhist funeral, attendants are often expressionless and in silence. While in some East Asian countries, outward display of grief is encouraged. Family of the deceased even hire profession mourners to wail in public.
Japanese may seem apathetic and indifferent in comparison. However, Japanese Buddhist tradition denotes silence as respect towards the deceased. Crying irritates the departed. Like Kino, many Japanese shelve their raw emotion in public and appeared untroubled by calamity. However, the scar is present as ever.
Photo 1: The Infinite Crystal Universe of TeamLab
Photo 2 to 4: Aoyama, where the story takes place