by Haruki Murakami; Alfred T. Birnbaum, translator
Knopf Doubleday; 3/28/1993
Trade Paperback, 416 pages
A narrative particle accelerator that zooms between Wild Turkey Whiskey and Bob Dylan, unicorn skulls and voracious librarians, John Coltrane and Lord Jim. Science fiction, detective story and post-modern manifesto all rolled into one rip-roaring novel, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is the tour de force that expanded Haruki Murakami's international following. Tracking one man's descent into the Kafkaesque underworld of contemporary Tokyo, Murakami unites East and West, tragedy and farce, compassion and detachment, slang and philosophy.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, translated by Alfred T. Birnbaum, is one hard novel to describe. Kirkus Reviews calls it an elegiac allegory, which barely touches on it's attributes. It is an elaborate post-modern novel that is part cyberpunk science fiction and part film noir crime novel.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World follows two stories, told in altering chapters which are seemingly alternate universes. Eventually the two alternating universes connect.
One part is set in Tokyo sometime in the future where the narrator is a Calcutec, who works for The System. He launders and shuffles data. He's been hired to do a top secret job for a professor whose lab is underground where he has to hide from the carnivorous INKlings, not to mention the competing info organization, the Semiotecs. These chapters feature references to whiskey, pop-culture, old American movies, music, as well as lots of astute comments and nimble wordplay.
The alternate chapters feature a dreamreader who is living in a walled city surrounded by grazing unicorns. He has been separated from his shadow which is not allowed in the city. Attended to by the librarian, his job is to read dreams found in unicorn skulls in the library, but he can't help but wonder about his disconnect to his emotions and memory since he came to this town.
Murakami won the Tanizaki Literary prize (the Japanese equivalent of the Pulitzer) for Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. This is a well written novel teeming with ideas and styles that seem incongruent at first (crime novel vs. fantasy) but eventually it all begins to makes some sense. It has an underlying complexity, which makes it one of those novels that requires some time to process all the ideas.
The first Murakami novel I read, 1Q84, also had an alternate reality.
Once again, life had a lesson to teach me: It takes years to build up, it takes moments to destroy. pg. 187
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