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28.8.13

À mon chevet: 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
"Do you know the story of the monkeys of the shitty island?" I asked Noboru Wataya.

He shook his head, with no sign of interest. "Never heard of it."

"Somewhere, far, far away, there's a shitty island. An island without a name. An island not worth giving a name. A shitty island with a shitty shape. On this shitty island grow palm trees that also have shitty shapes. And the palm trees produce coconuts that give off a shitty smell. Shitty monkeys live in the trees, and they love to eat these shitty-smelling coconuts, after which they shit the world's foulest shit. The shit falls on the ground and builds up shitty mounds, making the shitty palm trees that grown on them even shittier. It's an endless cycle."

I drank the rest of my coffee.

"As I sat here looking at you," I continued, "I suddenly remembered the story of this shitty island. What I'm trying to say is this: A certain kind of shittiness, a certain kind of stagnation, a certain kind of darkness, goes on propagating itself with its own power in its own self-contained cycle. And once it passes a certain point, no one can stop it -- even if the person himself wants to stop it."

Noboru Wataya's face wore no expression of any kind. The smile was gone, but neither was there any shadow of annoyance. All I could see was one small wrinkle between his eyebrows, and I could not recall if it was something that had been there before.

"Are you catching my drift, Mr. Wataya?" I went on. "I know exactly the sort of man you are. You say I'm like garbage or rocks. And you think you could smash me to bits anytime you felt like it. But things are not that simple. To you, with your values, I may well be nothing but garbage and rocks. But I'm not as stupid as you think I am. I know exactly what you've got under that smooth, made-for-TV mask of yours. I know your secret. Kumiko knows and I know: we both know what's under there. If I wanted to, I could tell it to the world. I could bring it out into the light. It might take time, but I could do it. I may be a nobody, but at least I'm not a sandbag. I'm a living, breathing human being. If somebody hits me, I hit back. Make sure you keep that in mind."

-- Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, pp. 202-203 (translation by Jay Rubin)
This is a rather strange book, in which Murakami weaves together some rather different, seemingly unrelated narratives: the ups and downs of the narrator's marriage, the horrors of the Japanese war in China and Manchuria (including one image that will haunt my nightmares forevermore), and mysterious occurrences that seem possible only in a world beyond reality. In particular, the enmity between the narrator and his wife's brother, Noboru Wataya, rang so true, and this passage was the most entertaining example of that.

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