Saturday, September 3, 2011
Murakami's 'Town of Cats'
"Town of Cats", an excerpt from Haruki Murakami's upcoming 1Q84 published in The New Yorker's Sept 5 issue, is a lovely example of the world envisioned by this writer of sweet, strange and oddly comforting tales. Tengo, a young man apparently adrift in the world, decides to take a train ride to see his father for the first time in two years.
The elderly man is suffering from dementia and is esconsed in a comfortable care facility by the sea. He raised Tengo on his own, forcing the child to accompany him all day each Sunday as he collected subscription fees for the state-operated radio and television from those most reluctant to pay. Tengo is deeply ashamed.
His father sees things differently. He came from an impoverished family in the country, homesteaded in Manchuria and was the only one in his group to make it back to Japan before the Soviet invasion. His fee-collecting job came from the only person he ever knew with any influence, and he excelled at it. The job is the only thing he excelled at in life.
On the train ride, Tengo reads a fairy tale about a man on a train who stops at an apparently abandoned town where cats come out at night, running the place the way humans would in the daytime. The tale has a Twilight Zone aspect to it, one that Tengo applies to his own life when he tries to talk to his taciturn father.
The conversation between this estranged father and son is vintage Murakami. There are no surprises as Tengo voices what he has long suspected about the meaning of the one memory he has of his mother. It is in the character voicing what he has long suspected that the heart of Murakami's philosophy comes out.
In distilled form, that philosophy is knowing life is in control, not you, but that doesn't mean you can't give up heart. And, oh yes, there will be cats.
While 1Q84 won't be published in English until October, the story is online at The New Yorker site.