Wednesday, March 10, 2010

'A Wild Sheep Chase' Discussion (JLit Book Group)

Welcome to the Japanese Literature Book Group discussion of A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami.

About the author

Haruki MurakamiHaruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1949. He grew up in Kobe and graduated from Waseda University in Tokyo. He is the author of several novels, including The Wind-up Bird ChronicleThe Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and Kafka on the Shore, some non-fiction, numerous short stories and essays. He has received many literary awards both in Japan and internationally, and his work has been translated into about forty languages. Murakami has also translated several works by American authors into Japanese, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler and others.
[Information taken from the Random House Murakami site]

For a more detailed biography, check out the following links:
Murakami: Titan of postwar literature (The Japan Times)
Marathon Man (The Guardian)
Jazz Messenger (The New York Times)

About the book


羊をめぐる冒険 (Hitsuji o meguru bōken) was first published in Japan in 1982, and won the Noma Bungei Shinjin Sho (Noma Literary Award for New Writers). It was then published in English in 1989. A Wild Sheep Chase is Murakami's third book and the third book in the Trilogy of the Rat, preceded by Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball, 1973. However, the two earlier books were never officially released in English outside of Japan, although they can be ordered from Amazon Japan, and other places online. A Wild Sheep Chase is also followed by a sequel of sorts, Dance Dance Dance.

Blurb from the Random House Murakami site:
It begins simply enough: A twenty-something advertising executive receives a postcard from a friend, and casually appropriates the image for an insurance company's advertisement. What he doesn't realize is that included in the pastoral scene is a mutant sheep with a star on its back, and in using this photo he has unwittingly captured the attention of a man in black who offers a menacing ultimatum: find the sheep or face dire consequences. Thus begins a surreal and elaborate quest that takes our hero from the urban haunts of Tokyo to the remote and snowy mountains of northern Japan, where he confronts not only the mythological sheep, but the confines of tradition and the demons deep within himself. Quirky and utterly captivating, A Wild Sheep Chase is Murakami at his astounding best.
Other Murakami sources on A Wild Sheep Chase:
Exorcising Ghosts
The New Yorker Book Club

Discussion questions
First a few general questions:

A Wild Sheep Chase (Japanese edition) What did you think of A Wild Sheep Chase
If you've read the first two books in the Trilogy of the Rat, how do they compare?
How does this book compare to other Murakami titles that you've read?
Any favourite scenes?  Or characters?
What do you think of the narrator?  The Rat?
Did you think the characters and their relationships were believable or realistic?
What did you think of Murakami's use of language, and writing style?  Did you make a note of any memorable quotes?
How do you feel about the translation? Did it read smoothly?

And a few more in-depth questions that I found online at Book Rags:

Throughout the novel, the mystical sheep invades several hosts for various purposes, such as building an empire and transportation to a new host. What or who do you think the sheep represents?

There are no proper names used in the entire novel. Why do you think the author chose not to include these names? Do you believe this style helped or harmed the story?

In Chapter 24, the main character, his girlfriend, and the limo driver discuss the naming of things, places, and creatures. The limo driver believes names depend on physical fixation, free will, and an emotional attachment to humans. Why do you believe we name some areas and things, such as ball parks and boats, but not others?

Do you believe the main character was selfish in his behavior when he accepted his girlfriend's assistance on the sheep chase? If not, why do you believe he accepted her assistance, knowing she would be in danger?

The Sheep Man is an interesting character; however, the novel does not clearly explain his origin. Who or what do you believe the Sheep Man represents within the novel?

Do you believe the main character changed over the course of the novel? If so, in what ways? If not, why do you believe he is unable to change, even in the face of his experiences?

The girlfriend as well as the personal secretary appeared to have a sixth sense, in that they were able to sense things about others without prior knowledge of the individual or situation. Where you believe these powers come from for each character?

A Wild Sheep Chase (French) A Wild Sheep Chase (Romanian)

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm nowhere near done A Wild Sheep Chase, due to spending most of my time on the weekend working on the new blog template, when I should have been reading.  However, over the last week I did read both Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball, 1973.  I enjoyed both books and look forward to getting back to A Wild Sheep Chase.  In the meantime, feel free to discuss any of the questions above, or ask any other questions that you may have, and I'll join in once I'm done.  For those that haven't yet read the book, please note that the comments may contain spoilers so please proceed at your own risk!  

A Wild Sheep Chase reviewed by:
Dolce Bellezza
Tony's Reading List
Polishing Mud Balls
Bibliojunkie
If you've posted about A Wild Sheep Chase on your blog, let me know and I'll add the link here.

Thanks for taking part!  I hope you enjoyed our first group read for 'Murakami March'.  I hope you'll also consider joining us for the read-along of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.  We'll be discussing Book One on March 15th, Book Two on April 15th, and Book Three on May 15th.  We'll also be discussing Dance Dance Dance, the sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, on March 29th.  So there's still plenty of time to grab either book and join in.  Also don't forget that by reading the book and joining in this discussion, you can have a chance to win a copy of either Hear the Wind Sing or Pinball, 1973.  Just visit the Hello Japan! March mini-challenge post to enter the links to any of your related Murakami posts.

Happy discussing!



Photo source: Random House Australia

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22 comments:

  1. Tanabata, when you finish, I'd love to hear your thoughts as to what the sheep represents...I have a few ideas, which I wrote about on my post, but I'm never quite sure with Murakami, only guessing. I suspect that he wants us to make meaning as we find it applies to our lives, yet there's a tiny seed in my (the teacher I suppose) which is still looking for the 'right answer'. I suspect the sheep is really symbolic for the quest: whatever it is that we're searching for. But, I'd love to know your thoughts.

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  2. I hope I'm doing this right, just picked out the questions that appealed to me and answered them. :)

    What did you think of A Wild Sheep Chase?

    I really enjoyed it! Sure, the plot was a bit experimental, but the writing itself was so easy to read. And that line drawing of Sheep Man-so creepy! lol I must say though, I was a bit put off by how the women seem to be mainly about their body parts/relationships to the main character.

    How does this book compare to other Murakami titles that you've read?

    I've only read Norwegian Wood, which everyone tells me is very different from his other books and more traditional. While the storytelling was definitely different, there was the same feel to the main characters and the way women are talked about. So I don't think it's *crazy* different.

    Any favourite scenes? Or characters?

    I thought the whole Sheep Man thing was creepy and hilarious and awesome. I'd say my other favourite scene is when the cat gets a name. :) As far as characters...the girlfriend intrigued me. I would enjoy reading a book from her point of view.

    Did you think the characters and their relationships were believable or realistic?
    Not really, but I don't think that was the point. :)

    What did you think of Murakami's use of language, and writing style? Did you make a note of any memorable quotes?
    I thought it was quite readable, which was nice since the plot got zanier and zanier.

    My favourite passage was early on, when his wife has left:
    "From the photo albums, every single print of her had been peeled away. Shots of the both of us together had been cut, the parts with her neatly trimmed away, leaving my image behind. Photos of me alone or of mountains and rivers and deer and cats were left intact. Three albums rendered into a revised past. It was as if I'd been alone at birth, alone all my days, and would continue alone.
    A slip! She could have at least left a slip!"

    There are no proper names used in the entire novel. Why do you think the author chose not to include these names? Do you believe this style helped or harmed the story?
    I think it helped make the novel feel more allegorical, which is a good thing for me.

    In Chapter 24, the main character, his girlfriend, and the limo driver discuss the naming of things, places, and creatures. The limo driver believes names depend on physical fixation, free will, and an emotional attachment to humans. Why do you believe we name some areas and things, such as ball parks and boats, but not others?
    I think we tend to name things that have superstitions attached to them. :)

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  3. Murakami Month Submission #1:

    I really enjoyed "A Wild Sheep Chase." And while I did find it perhaps not as accomplished as some other (later, of course) novels by him that I've read ("Hard-Boiled Wonderland ..." and "Wind-Up Bird ...", in particular), I still thought it was a fun, inventive, layered story with a satisfying ending.

    My favorites scenes were the ones on the mountain -- the well-done description of the narrator's solitude and then the interaction between the narrator and the Sheep Man, which I found delightfully absurd.

    I understand thematically why the characters were not named, but I think the style got bogged down a little bit because of this -- I'm thinking in particular of when the narrator is speaking of his girlfriend and it seemed to get kind of awkward to always refer to her as "my girlfriend" when he wasn't using a pronoun.

    Certainly not everything about the characters and their relationships are believable or realistic, but as usual Murakami has a way of rendering the implausible, plausible. While you are in his world, you don't question any of it -- his characters are matter-of-fact and so are you, the reader.

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  4. My review at :

    http://tonysreadinglist.blogspot.com/2009/11/80-wild-sheep-chase-by-haruki-murakami.html

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  5. I'm about a quarter through the book, and hope to post my reviews for the read-along. I'm in the midst of giving up reading (not because of the book but bcos I have so many things going on in Real life now!) but after reading your discussion questions, it piqued my interest in giving it a go this weekend. Thanks for hosting this, it's wonderful.

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  6. I found this story to very enjoyable. I posted a review non my blog where I also answered a few of the question.
    My Review

    Eva: You said, "I was a bit put off by how the women seem to be mainly about their body parts/relationships to the main character"
    I was not put off because I did not feel like there was much connection between them. The whole ear thing, I did not really get but it did not bother me either. They both seemed like disconnected characters.

    Looks like the Sheep Man scenes are the favorites so far to this group. It was my favorite scenes as well. The Sheep Man was strange, zany, and intriguing.

    Teresa: You said, "Certainly not everything about the characters and their relationships are believable or realistic, but as usual Murakami has a way of rendering the implausible, plausible"
    you put that so well. I agree with you. Murakami certainly had a way of making the implausible, plausible while still keeping unbelievable stuff abound.

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  7. I forgot to ask a question.
    Many times, I have a hard time deciding the actual genre of a book. Currently, the genre for A Wild Sheep Chase escapes me. Does anyone know what genre this book would be placed?

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  8. Hi everyone. Thanks so much for jumping in with your thoughts on the book. I don't have anything to comment on quite yet as I'm still reading, but I'll definitely be back to do so later. In the meantime, please feel free to chat among yourselves. :)

    Eva - That's exactly right. The questions are simply there to kick start the discussion. You can pick and choose whichever ones interest you. And I love that you had so much to say. :)

    Jovenus - I'm still reading too. I know what you mean about having other things going on in real life. You're always welcome to comment on what you've read so far, or come back later when you're done. And I'm glad the questions have inspired you to keep reading. I look forward to hearing what you think of it.

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  9. In response to dolcebellezza's comment about the meaning of the sheep: Perhaps I'm more pessimistic than you, but I took a somewhat opposite interpretation -- that the sheep represents what is 'dead' inside of us, what could make us inhuman and unfeeling, and that's why the sheep must be fended off.

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  10. ibeeeg asked: "Does anyone know what genre this book would be placed?" From what I've gathered, many 'experts' and critics seem to think he belongs to no genre but his own (which I would agree with) but that he uses elements of the noir/'hard-boiled' detective genre, which I can definitely see in this book and others that I've read by him too.

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  11. I've wanted to read something by Murakami for a while now. Thanks for the review.

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  12. Phew! finally completed the review and it's midnight! Would love to hear what you think.

    http://bibliojunkie.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/a-wild-sheep-chase-by-haruki-murakami/

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  13. Thank you for your analysis, Jovenus. I especially appreciate your answer to the question about what the sheep represents. I felt the same way, feeling "spurts of light bulb moments but there was no real convincing hypothesis." I feel that way a lot about Murakami's work and I like that!

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  14. @Teresa, Bellezza,
    Thanks for all your kind words. It's my first time signing up for a book discussion, and it is a valuable experience. I doubt I would pay attention to what the sheep means if I haven't participate in this discussion!

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  15. Tony quoted a bit from his review, regarding the sheep, in a comment on the Hello Japan! March post but I thought I'd copy it here too for the sake of the discussion.

    My take on the sheep (from my post):

    "And the sheep (yes, there is a sheep)? Don't quote me on this, but I feel the sheep represents ambition and a drive to be as successful (as opposed to happy) as one can be."

    In fact, the sheep represents the opposite values to those of the protagonist (and, probably, Murakami): progress over privacy, industrialism over relaxation, the rat race over individuality.

    Possibly ;)

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  16. Tony said [in part]: "the sheep represents the opposite values to those of the protagonist (and, probably, Murakami): progress over privacy, industrialism over relaxation, the rat race over individuality"

    This makes a lot of sense to me!

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  17. It’s been a while since I’ve read A Wild Sheep Chase, so I’ll limit myself to only two of the discussion questions.

    How does this book compare to other Murakami titles that you've read?

    I think A Wind Up Bird Chronicle is Murakami’s most accomplished book to date, but A Wild Sheep Chase is my personal favourite, probably because I like the narrator.

    Any favourite scenes?

    Without question my favourite scene takes place at the end of Chapter 15. The narrator has just bought two cans of beer while walking along the road by the river, one of his favourite places to visit as a youth. When he reaches the spot where the river meets the sea, he discovers that most of the shoreline has been replaced by 30 foot concrete walls, orphaning an old jetty he used to watch the sea from. A hollow act of defiance draws the attention of a security guard in a humorous encounter that I won’t spoil by paraphrasing here. He loses an argument about a small point of law, unable to articulate the injustice that misguided government infrastructure projects have completely cut him and others off from nature. It’s a poignant, yet bitterly funny scene that provides insight into the character while connecting to the larger themes of the novel.

    Regarding the question of genre that was raised during the discussion, I’ve always thought of A Wild Sheep Chase as magic realism because the fantastical elements are responded to in a matter of fact way by the characters living in an otherwise recognizable world.

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  18. Hi guys! I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to get back to this discussion. I actually finished reading the book a little over a week ago, but I've barely been online since. So thank you for continuing to post your thoughts.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed it, and it was interesting to read it right after the first 2 books in the trilogy (Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973). I have a feeling I'm going to have to read all of them again someday. Even though I did really enjoy it, I still prefer some of his later books just that bit more though. Like Hard-boiled Wonderland..., or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (which I'm re-reading now). But I did think it had a much clearer ending than many of his other books and stories do.

    Favourite character? I loved the Sheep Man! I'm halfway through Dance Dance Dance and was glad to see him make a re-appearance. Our nameless narrator has also quite grown on me. As for the no proper names, I usually don't mind characters without names in books, often not really even noticing, and it didn't bother me here. I agree with Eva, it made the story seem more allegorical.

    I've never been terribly good at finding the symbolism and deeper meaning in literature (why I never did any kind of lit degree), and especially with Murakami I don't really look for meaning. I'm perfectly content to go along for the ride. But, the sheep. Everyone seems to want to know what the sheep means. I think the sheep seems wonderful and desirable on the surface (why being inhabited by the sheep would be celebrated by some) but that it had some very negative consequences. I tend to agree with Tony's thoughts that the sheep could actually be seen as a negative influence. Progress at the expense of personal freedom, and happiness. Which is why The Rat felt so strongly about wanting to stop the sheep and his empire from taking over. Plus, the sheep, by moving from host to host, abandoning a host once it was no longer of any use, is certainly parasitic.

    The reading guide that I got some of the questions from, suggests that the sheep represents "the mediocrity of human existence". Any thoughts on that?

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  19. Eva - To me, the fact that the women in the story were mainly just referred to in terms of body parts, or their relationship to the narrator, just reflected how disconnected the narrator was, how he couldn't create or maintain a proper bond with another person.

    Teresa - You have such a great way of describing Murakami's style, like "delightfully absurd", and "rendering the implausible, plausible". And so true! :)

    monnibo - I hope you enjoy whichever of his books you choose to read first.

    Travis - That was a great scene, the narrator visiting the old jetty and the security guard. It made me chuckle while emphasizing the pointlessness of it all.

    Thanks again everyone for joining in the discussion. I hope to see you on Monday, the 29th for the discussion of Dance Dance Dance. I'm finding it very engaging, it keeps luring me back to it so I'll definitely be done on time, this time. And feel free to continue to comment here if there's anything else about the story that you'd like to discuss.

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  20. tanabata wrote: 'The reading guide that I got some of the questions from, suggests that the sheep represents "the mediocrity of human existence". Any thoughts on that?'

    Not sure. I agree that the sheep doesn't represent the opposite of mediocrity, that is, it doesn't represent the sublime and what can rise above mediocrity. Perhaps what the comment means is that those who seek the sheep to gain material power think they can become 'super-men' by doing so but in reality they become even more mired in what makes the world mediocre than ever before.

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  21. Teresa - I think the reading guide's answer is too simplistic. What you say makes much more sense. To me the sheep also embodied, or inspired in the people it inhabited, a kind of greed. The trampling of anything, or anyone, in the path to greater glory, or at least so they imagined. But like you said, in reality they only became more stuck in mediocrity.
    What's interesting to note, for me, is how the Sheep was essentially a negative force, whereas the Sheep Man is a positive one.

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  22. Did anyone think that the new girl friend is the also the old girlfriend? I had the suspicion because of the reference to picnic, and also the fact that the narrator thought her smile looked familiar. There is also the part when the new girl friend mentioned 10 years, which is how long ago the narrator met the old girl friend...

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