Apr 28, 2007

Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Title: After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Paperback: 256 pages; Kindle; Audiobook
Publisher: Vintage (April 29, 2008)

Haruki Murakami's latest novel, After Dark, begins just before midnight in Tokyo and ends just before 7 a.m. The focus is Tokyo in the dead of night, after the trains have stopped running and the only public transportation out of the city is by cab.

Some of the people left in the city are college students and office workers. They are in the bars, hanging out in all night restaurants, in game parlors, or working late in the office.

The book follows a young college student, Mari, who decides to stay reading in a Denny's restaurant rather than go home. She meets another college student there, a musician who is in the city to practice with his band. At his suggestion, Mari leaves the restaurant to help a foreign woman who has been injured, and in the course of events, comes across unusual situations and makes some unlikely friends, including the manager and maid of an all night hotel. Long conversations during the night with the musician, who has met her older sister, help her come to terms with the reason she has avoided going home.

When morning arrives and the trains are running, Mari goes home to the suburbs, where she knows she will find her older sister, Eri Asai, still in a deep sleep. A beautiful and well-known model, Eri Asai has been sleeping steadily the past three weeks, getting up occasionally to eat, though no one has seen her when she is up.

Remembering how protective Eri Asai had been of her when they had been trapped in an elevator as children, Mari tries to empathize with her sister, in tears hugging her as if willing her to wake up out of her long dream. There is a glimmer of a response. Mari finally goes to sleep.

The novel only hints at the reason for Eri Asi's withdrawal. There is a suggestion that it involves the sinister office worker Shirakawa, whom Mari is unaware of though their paths overlap during the night in the city.

The novel has many levels of meaning. Murakami reveals the flip side of the city, after dark, at times with humor. The city at night also reveals the dark aspect of some of the characters he explores. Mari and the musician walk about the city and among these people but remain unscathed.

Submitted for the Lost in Translation Reading Challenge. and resubmitted for the 2012 Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge.

© Harvee Lau of Book Dilettante. Please do not reprint without permission.


Apr 11, 2007

Food of the Emperors

I dined this weekend like an emperor, or just about. If it hadn't been for my allergy to fish, oysters and clams and some other kinds of seafood, and my sensitivity to tree nuts, I would have truly dined like an emperor. And if I had been able to speak fluent Cantonese, that would have clinched it.

As it was, I had a fine Sunday dinner with my relatives, enjoying steamed chicken in a ginger, garlic, and green onion sauce; a chicken and mango fusion dish; beef slices with broccoli; squid and shrimp (which I can eat) over dry noodles, deep fried seasoned pork slices, and corn soup with shrimp.

Being allergic, I had to bypass the fresh black cod steamed in garlic and ginger that the rest of my non-allergic family enjoyed. That was not too much to bear given the other dishes on the menu, however.

For lunch every day, I had the same type of little dishes that were originally made for emperors. Today of course, the masses can enjoy the varied culinary delights we now know as dim sum. And I wasn't even in China, but in Markham, Ontario, part of the sprawling cosmopolitan city of Toronto, Canada. (Lest you think Toronto must be all Chinese, because of the food, let me assure you there is a Greektown, a Little Italy, and numerous other ethnic enclaves there).

At dinner on another day, while my mother had a rice congee soup made with barbecue pork and oysters, I tried a chicken rice soup which was a little bitter because of the fruit, longan. The fragrant and sweet flesh of the longan surrounds a tree nut and has the same properties of the nut. In other words, I can't eat it. It also seemed to turn bitter when cooked.

Another type of congee at a different restaurant had me pulling up short too, in a culinary sense. The chicken congee had two unusual ingredients added, one a white spongy fungus that I could eat, the other a long yellow noodle-like food that the waitress said came from the bottom of the ocean. As neither our waitress nor any of the restaurant staff could tell us in English what the food was, whether it was animal, plant, or fish, I put down my spoon once again.

A final dim sum lunch the day before we left Toronto had me once again facing the seafood problem, of whether to eat or simply just taste the food.

We were sharing a large table with a young man and some elderly Chinese who were companionably eating and chatting away in Cantonese. When the dim sum cart passed by with delicious looking black shitake mushrooms on a bed of greens, I was tempted to take a dish until I spotted what looked like nice fat grubs mixed in with the mushrooms.

As I contemplated whether they were meat or fish, the younger gentleman at the table informed me that they were sea cucumbers and, as I hesitated to order them, he added, "Very good for lowering cholesterol." I was chicken however, and only watched as the elders at the table enjoyed the delicacy while I ate the everyday cholesterol-packed pork sui mai and my favorite, tripe in garlic.

I confess I would have tried the healthier sea cucumbers, which only looked like oversized peanut shells after all, but they came from the ocean, so....

While I didn't eat everything there was to eat, I did taste most of it. And that is good enough for me, for now anyway.