The very first Haruki Murakami book I read was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and I enjoyed it. The book was an odd mixture of eastern culture and western influences. The theme of balance, or Feng shui, permeated the novel and the sense that something was off within the book penetrated the pages. Murakami’s playfulness with the food his character ate within the novel was my first clue to the theme of broken flow. In the opening pages of the book, the main character, Toru Okada, was making spaghetti at 10 a.m. For me, spaghetti is a dish best served in the afternoon or evening and didn’t quiet fit with being a breakfast type meal. These seemingly mundane occurrences taking place out of their normal order flowed throughout the book to create an environment for the reader to immerse themselves in and understand the importance of balance within the novel. Murakami is a master of running with a theme and weaving it into every fiber of the fabric that makes up the tapestry of his stories. Yesterday is no exception.
Yesterday opens with a Beatles song being sung incorrectly by a man the main character, Tanimura-kun, only met briefly in his youth. This story explores the reliability of human memory and plays with the things we remember, why remember them, and what seemingly important details at the time get blurred as time moves forward.
As in Murakami’s other works, Yesterday explores Japanese culture and western influences on that culture. Tanimura-kun works in a coffee shop within the story along with his friend, for example, rather than something more transitionally Japanese like a tea house. Going further, modernized Japan’s education and testing system are briefly explored and the way individuality corrupts the uniform testing system in place. The drive to be an individual instead of conforming to parental and societal expectations is an underlying theme within the story.
Overall, while many themes are at play, I feel that Yesterday is an exploration and celebration of those unique individuals in our lives that we hold onto in our memory. Our meetings with them may be brief, and they may sit outside the norm of society, but it is the briefness of their presence in our lives and their originality that makes them such markers in our minds. Yesterday captures this masterfully well, in a way that only Murakami can.
I give this short story six Bards on our Bard Scale.