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Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World

March 23, 2011

Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World was the next book  we read in the Haruki Murakami class I’m taking this semester. I’d already read the book but decided to reread it since I had liked it so much the first time around and since it had been quite a while since I’d finished it.

It sounds a little obvious but there are two parts to this novel – the Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. In alternating chapters, we see both worlds. In the Hardboiled Wonderland we meet an unnamed narrator who is a “Calcutec,” a person whose job is to encrypt information for clients by running it through his subconscious. He starts out on a job for the Professor and his granddaughter, who is always dressed in a pink suit. Their laboratories are underground Tokyo, in a world surrounding the subway system which houses fierce creatures called INKlings.

In the End of the World, we see a world where people live peacefully, but an unemotional, bland existence. Beautiful unicorns are the only things allowed to leave the walled community. We soon realize that the two worlds are closely connected and many parts of one of the worlds mirror or parallel the other.

In true Murakami fashion, this book is bizarre – underground worlds, subconscious interventions, rare animals. But also in true Murakami fashion there are themes of loneliness and isolation.

One of the fascinating things my professor talked about was the differences in translation between the Japanese and English versions. My professor reads Japanese so he would translate passages that were completely cut from the English version and would point out places were the language had been mistranslated in our editions. It made me wonder who decides that pieces of a novel should be cut in versions in other languages? Is the author consulted? Why would you choose to leave a whole passage while translating? I just don’t get it…

In the novel, the people who live in the End of the World have had their shadows taken away from them. In the English version, this results in them also having their minds taken from them – they have no memories, opinions, or emotions. My professor let us know that in the original work, the word for mind is “kokoro,” which means more like a combination of mind, heart and soul. I kept that in mind while reading this novel and it really does change how you see the End of the World and the people who live there.

I loved this book, but I love most Murakami works. Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World is just crazy enough to be different and entertaining, but not loony enough to be unreadable. The characters are lovable and fun, even at their worst. If you haven’t already, give this book a read.

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