It is so often recounted that Murakami wrote his first novel “Hear the Wind Sing” in English and then translated back to Japanese. He did so in order to find the right rhythm for his sentences. This approach was already tried by a Hungarian writer Agota Kristof who lived in Switzerland and wrote in French. The two writers chose this method for completely different reasons. Murakami did it purely to try something different to find his writing style while Kristof was inspired to write in French because she was forced to relocate from her country during the Hungarian anti-communist revolution.
Most notably led by Noam Chomsky, generative linguists have presented that languages share a set of syntactic rules and principles, termed “universal grammar”. It is innate and is embedded in the neuronal circuity of the human brains. This theory supports why children can so quickly adapt to new languages that they have never encountered before. These linguists argue that language learning is facilitated by a predisposition that our brains have for certain structures of language. This explanation would explain why people advance at different speeds when it comes to learning languages. Just as any other neuronal circuits in our brains, this predisposition to universal grammar can deteriorate if it is not being used.
My idea of writing in English was not something that was perceived by certain needs nor I was forced to write in this language by any social or political movement. It just came to be over the course of my immigrant life that now amounts to 13 years. The beginning of my story of writing in English came with my hard realization that I will never get to enjoy the allure of bookstores, the joys of getting lost in millions of new books, sniffing and feeling the fresh pages that no one has ever touched. This exploration of the virgin land of books made me feel so alive and so attuned to my deep desires. It was the activity my soul chose. It was the call of my heart. So when I moved to this new country thirteen years ago, losing my joy of getting lost in the bookstores was one of the causes of my grief among many. To answer and cope with this real problem, I decided that I will teach myself to adapt to English books to the closest level possible to my native language. This switching from one language to another brought certain paradigm shift to my writing ability. For better or worse, I no longer find it pleasurable and natural to write in Korean. Although my writing process is much more labored and slowed-down now that I write in English, it feels closer to my heart. Whatever my heart chooses to speak is the language I shall write in.
Murakami recently published his partly autobiographical book “Novelist as a Profession” (2015). The version I am reading is Korean translation –no English translation is available right now- and this book reminded me of my first years on the journey of reading English books. The pure joy of exploring bookstores has been lost to me lately. Now many American cities are left with no local bookstores. I have to drive at least 30 minutes to get to a decent bookstore, not an easy task when you have a toddler, not an easy task for someone who has driving anxiety. Even so, it strikes me as an unthinkable event that my daughter has never been to a bookstore. (We do our weekly visits to library, but bookstore is a whole different experience). This reminds me of my horror I felt upon hearing that my cousin in Florida never saw a single snowflake until she moved away to New Hampshire for her college. Perhaps today would be a good day to introduce my little girl the joys of being surrounded by new books. Will she understand the profound meaning of it all? How those simple pages open the doors to the new paths, new opportunities, new beginnings, new hopes and dreams? But most of all, it will be a visit to help me remember where my love of books and my dream of becoming a writer started. So thank you Murakami for routing me back to the idea of “writer as a profession”.