Meta literary critique

2018-07-03 @Literature

A character in a Haruki Murakami novel inspired me to read a memoir of Karen Blixen’s time period on a coffee plantation in Kenya somewhere at the beginning of the 20th century.

There likely is a better way to structure the above sentence. One reason I enjoy reading Murakami-san (whether I enjoy reading Karen Blixen and why, I’ll arrive at later) is for his simplicity in structuring sentences simply, yet rich in texture. More precisely, I defer to the Russian translations of the Murakami novels I have read until now, and will assume the original Japanese versions maintain a similar spirit, but this matter treads on subjectivity for lack of context.

With regard to restructuring the introductory sentence, I find it necessary, as someone not acquainted with the context, and especially a less than proficient second-language speaker, would have difficulty decomposing the sentence into proper components. In all fairness, I would struggle to follow the scenario.

Without some context, intuition, and common sense, there is no reason why the above structure could not suggest that the character inspired me (to read the memoir) in Kenya, or inspired me at the beginning of the 20th century, or both. Perhaps some reader may find my presence in Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century (or presently) more likely than the coffee plantation’s or Karen Blixen’s. Incidentally, the particular coffee plantation was situated at too high an altitude for long term success, but that’s nor here nor there. Of course I can presuppose a rational and educated reader, but good writing need not necessarily heed these assumptions.

The specific Haruki Murakami novel containing the inspiration was 1Q84. I had read the novel some time ago, but the passage in question stuck in memory. Later, I returned to the novel and identified the passage and the author. I find it remarkable that Murakami-san frequently incorporates references to other novels and authors through his characters, providing indirect literary critique in a sense.

More recently I read Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. The latter work, albeit less ambitious than the former, tied more loose ends and presented another in the series of what I classify as “solitude manifestos”, with absolutely astounding characters, settings, and plot development.

So what of Karen Blixen and her memoir titled Out of Africa?

First off, it was the first literary work in over six years that I had read in English, and required some time to get accustomed to her writing style. She was Dutch, English not her first language, but she crafted the initial version in English. Many a time I questioned proper grammar usage in the way she structured some sentences, but deferred to the benefit of the doubt, given the publishing date 90 years in the past and arguably multiple editorial revisions. However, I definitely would not categorize her sentences as simple.

Rather, I found challenging maintaining attention span while following the memoir, but the fault lies with me. Certain authors demand much energy and focus from the content consumer, and I probably did not pay the author the due diligence she deserves. I can claim having read the memoir three times, as that’s how many times I reread many passages, although still lacking certain investment in the content.

It astonishes me how someone might choose a particular book. In my case, I yielded bias to authority in the context of the “meta-recommendation” in a novel. I had also volunteered in a Thai coffee plantation in my days in Asia, and wanted to relive a similar, although richer and longer experience described in a literary memoir. Lastly, I had acquired curiosity for something Danish, be it a work 100 years in the past and spanning the first World War even.

Questions, comments? Connect.