Imagine having a cake – one that looks ordinary from the outside, but on the inside, has different layers, each with a distinct ﬂavour. Every flavour invokes different taste buds, making you want to indulge, taking you on a wondrous journey.
A Wild Sheep Chase is a simple read, ﬁlled with such layers of tasteful meanings, making it both intriguing and absorbing.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, though. It is, after all, a Murakami book; and Murakami is known for revealing deep meanings to his readers as they journey through his books.
A Wild Sheep Chase is one of Murakami’s earlier works, the critical acclaim of which introduced him to the Western audience. Written in Japanese like all of Murakami’s work, this book is an English translation by Alfred Birnbaum.
I love how Murakami has not given a name to the protagonist. The sum effect of a nameless hero and the ﬁrst-person-narrative storytelling (the best trait of Birnbaum’s translation) is that the book pulls you right in. Soon after entering the hero’s world, you ﬁnd yourself in his shoes – his experiences become yours: I was not just reading about a successful thirty-year-old advertiser in 1970s Japan; I was actually living him. I felt it when his wife left him, and he tried to find traces of her as he looked around his ‘wifeless’ house.
“She probably even wiped off her ﬁngerprints. A third of the books and records was gone too—anything she’d bought herself or I’d given her.”
Murakami is very thorough with his details; environments are laid out beautifully, while emotions, thoughts and actions are vivid. He makes you see and feel through his words.
A Wild Sheep Chase is part of the Trilogy of the Rat, but is a complete, holistic read on its own. It is also the most well-know and acclaimed in the series.
Observing an old house, our hero reflects, “Layers of ﬁne sand had accumulated on the wooden shutters of the (…) windows. Rain had ﬁxed the sand into conﬁgurations onto which another layer of sand had been blown, to be ﬁxed in place by yet new rain.”
Can you not actually smell the rain ﬁxing sand in place here?
Following his divorce, the hero soon ﬁnds himself a girlfriend – one with special powers – and the two are hooked in a good equation. She is simply referred to as ‘girlfriend’ in the story.
Things take an interesting turn when the hero’s business partner is approached by a mysterious but well-groomed man in a black suit. He asks to meet the person responsible for a particular picture featured on the cover of a magazine. Our hero. Things unfold, and it becomes crucial that a particular sheep from the picture is found. While failing to do so could ruin our hero’s life, success, could bring great opportunities and rewards. Our hero, more curious than intimidated, takes on the challenge.
As such begins the wild sheep chase!
Trailing the breadcrumbs that the hero could link, he embarks on an unprecedented journey with his girlfriend, one which takes readers through beautiful places, giving a glimpse into post-war Japan. The characters they meet, and the stories they discover, are thrilling.
Our hero is a curious character; he does not seem aloof like ﬁction heroes often do. Instead, I see myself in his shortcomings and weaknesses. The way he observes things and ﬁnds himself challenged and confused at times; the way he reacts to people and situations – it is all so life-like. He seems to evolve as his journey unfolds, discovering himself. As did I. As will you.
At times the details can feel a little draggy, and one can get put off by them. It is interesting, though, that the draggy bits are reminiscent of actual journeys. Don’t we all come across both exciting and dull experiences while having adventures in unseen lands? I found all troughs of A Wild Sheep Chase beautifully complimented with crests. You are bored one moment, and the next, you are sitting up straight.
A Wild Sheep Chase is the perfect Murakami recipe of history, self-discovery, mythology, mystery, all blended in beautifully, creating an organic experience. If you are looking for a book to start off on Murakami, or if you are a reader who loves connecting with strong characters, then, trust me, you shouldn’t hold back – you should let the chase begin!