In attesa dell'ultima opera di Haruki Murakami (1Q84), una sua recente intervista in lingua inglese apparsa sulla rivista THE NEW YORKER.
Posted by Deborah Treisman
The author of this week’s story, “Town of Cats,” chats with the magazine’s fiction editor.
The story “Town of Cats” is excerpted from your three-part novel, “1Q84” (which will be published by Knopf in the U.S. and Harvill Secker in the U.K. in late October. In the book, Tengo is one of two main characters who pass between two distinct worlds, one of which has supernatural elements. But this story deals mainly with the real world—and the relationship between a boy and the man who raises him. Was this portrait of Tengo’s background—the disappearance of his mother, the difficult relationship with his father—part of your conception of the book and the character from the beginning?
“1Q84” is a long novel with a complex storyline that is crammed with many different novelistic elements. Tengo’s history is one of those elements, and the secret of his birth plays an important role in the story. Just as the events of the novel are strongly influenced by things that happened before it started, Tengo is strongly influenced by several aspects of his history that happened before he was born. Like DNA, memory is both individual and collective. One of the novel’s themes is the deliberate blurring of the boundary line between the individual and the collective, the conscious and the unconscious.
The German story “Town of Cats” that forms the center of this piece—is it based on an actual story or is it your invention? The hero of the story within the story becomes a kind of ghost in a world where he doesn’t belong. Is that what is happening to Tengo’s father, too, as he withdraws into his dementia?
“Town of Cats” is a story that I made up. I think I probably read something like it a long time ago, but I don’t have a very precise recollection of whatever it was that I read. In any case, this episode performs a symbolic function in the novel in many different senses—the way a person wanders into a world from which he can never escape, the question of who it is that fills up the empty spaces, the inevitability with which night follows day. Perhaps each of us has his or her own “town of cats” somewhere deep inside—or so I feel.
Why do you think Tengo’s father sheds a tear at the end of their conversation at the sanatorium? Is he feeling sorry for himself, for the bleakness of the life he has lived? Does he have regrets for the way he has treated Tengo?
It is probably not the function of the author to answer a question like that. I don’t think anyone can fully comprehend it without reading the entire “1Q84.” What we have in the magazine is strictly an excerpt, after all.
The basic role played by Tengo’s father in the novel is to manifest ill will. No one can say, precisely, where that ill will comes from or what its fundamental nature is. He is an enigmatic character. The riddle of exactly what gave rise to a personality like his is what propels the story along.
Do you feel that the book is a departure, in any way, from your earlier novels?
Whenever I write a novel, I have a strong sense that I am doing something I was unable to do before. With each new work, I move up a step and discover something new inside me. I don’t see this novel as a departure, but I do think it has been a major step in my career. Formally speaking, this is the first full-length novel I have written from beginning to end in the third person.
The title of the novel is a nod of sorts to George Orwell’s “1984.” Orwell was writing about 1984 from the perspective of 1948. You wrote about it from the perspective of the twenty-first century. Was it difficult to throw yourself backward in time?
For Orwell, 1984 was the unknown future. For us, it is a time that is over and done with, part of our known past. By setting the actual past beside a past that might have been, exchanging certain elements of each with the other, and blurring the boundary line between the two, we can transform memory into something that is more collective. In that sense, I am more strongly drawn to depicting the recent past than the near future.
By setting the story in 1984, before cell phones and e-mail and the Internet had become common, I made it impossible for my characters to use such tools. This in turn was frustrating for me. I felt their absence slowing down the speed of the novel. When I thought about it, though, not having such devices at the time—both in daily life and in the story—ceased to be an inconvenience. If you wanted to make a phone call, you just found a public telephone; if you had to look something up, you went to the library; if you wanted to contact somebody, you put a stamp on a letter and mailed it. Those were the normal ways to do those things. While writing the novel (and experiencing a kind of time slip), I had a strong feeling of what the intervening twenty-seven years had meant. Sorry to state the obvious, but maybe there’s not much connection between the convenience of people’s surroundings and the degree of happiness they feel.
Do you think that there will be a fourth volume?
Not even I know the answer to that. There are stories that precede what I have written in the novel and stories that come after what I have written in the novel. These stories exist inside me, but I still don’t know whether it would be appropriate for me to give them form or, if I did, precisely what shape they should take. In any case, it will be some time before a conclusion emerges.
(Answers translated, from the Japanese, by Jay Rubin.)