"Ryu" IS NARRATOR at the orgy, a somewhat younger version of 25-year-old Murakami, whose first novel this is. Almost Transparent Blue sold more than a million copies in Japan in its first six months, and also won the coveted Akutagawa Prize (squeaking through by a 4-3 vote). Thus, a litery and popular success, hare it is un English, edgily rendered by a woman, Nancy Andrew, about whom one would like to know more.
Ryu is one of a group of young Japanese ?studenes, supposedly, although there is no sign of campus or classroom) who do all drugs know to the West and a number that aren't, who fornicate interminably and deafen themselves with rock music, who commit random violaene on strangers and on each other, and who leave rotten food in the sink. One of them dyes her pubic hair, several wear Afros. A contigent of American blacks, soldier from the nearby base, wanders in and out, supplying pills, introducing new odors, and performing prodigies of bisexuality, but they are even more shadowy than the dozen or so Japanese at the center of things, who rarely become much more than their names - Keiko and Reiko, Okinawa and KYoshiyama, Moko, Kazuko,Lilly, etc. Murakami brothers even less with plot than character. Incident follows rauchy incident, with nothing altered, nothing learned. In a fit of insanity brought on in part by boredom. Ryu tries to kill himself with a fragment of a brandy glass which is "almost transparent blue." But the survives to write the book, and so to assure us at the colse: "Just Because I've written this kind of novel, don't think I've changed, I'm just like I was back them."
Bugs and mucus, cheescake and semen, rain and runaways - all these are lovingly described. Insects, symbols of the fleetingness of life, are particularly abundant.("The juice from the roach was yellow. Smashed on the edge of the table, it stuck there, the antennae stirring slightly. Lilly slid off her panti=s, called me again. The Carterhouse of Parma had been tossed on the rug.") Murakami has a painterly and photographics eye for objects and detail. The spirit of the haiku - short poems, quick, vivid juxtapositions of the transitory and the permanent - pervades many of the descriptions; also what the Japanesed call mono no aware, an exquisite sense of the world's sadness. Movies are mentioned often, dreams detailed, long anecdotal speches are frequent. Obeisance is paid to Fellini, and to a rash of authors ("Like the splendid men in Genet's novel, I rolled saliva around in my monuth and put it on my tougue")
Almost Transparent Blue is a talented young man's self-conscious first novel; interesting to read, unfortunately weighted down by its phenomental success. But if it were not burdened, it would not, in all likehood, have been tanslated at all.
The problems it posed for the translator are not always happily resolved. The hip, druggy slang, cribbed from English (one imagines) in the first place, comes back dated, awkward: "I hate you, Ryu, you bring me down . . . That's a real bummer," etc. Keiko talks like Scarlett O'Hara; is this because she come form southern Japan? Yet much is redeemed by scenes like one in which Ryu is raped by a huge black woman (if one - particullarly one so passive - can be raped at an orgy), and the one where Lilly and Ryu strip and couple on runway, having just been narrowly missed by a jet taking off.
Murakami, himself, is casual and candid about the book abnd its aims: "There were many things I wanted to write about, such as the U.S. base, prostitution and my association with blacks. But I tried not to write something I don't understand.The time we live in is hard to understand. When I had removed all the factors which are beyond my comprehension, the only things left are my sense and feelings.%
This sound modest enough; but he struck a nerve in the Japanese public by his combination of exotica, erotica, and indegenous literary technique.
There are not that many women translating few books by Japanese women writers being translated. (Personally, I know of none.) Perphaps it's time for some publisher, feminist or other, to take a flyer on one of the highly regarded female noivelists, and for Nancy Andrew to be involved in the project. Maybe that's already happening.