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Almost Transparent Blue [Paperback]

Ryu Murakami , Nancy Andrew
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 April 2003
This controversial novel touched the raw nerves of the Japanese and became a million seller within six months of publication. It is a semi-autobiographical tale of the author's youth spent amidst the glorious squalor of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll in 1970s Japan. Almost Transparent Blue is a brutal tale of lost youth in a Japanese port town close to an American military base. Murakami's image-intensive narrative paints a portrait of a group of friends locked in a destructive cycle of sex, drugs and rock?n?roll. The novel is all but plotless, but the raw and


Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha International Ltd (1 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4770029047
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770029041
  • Product Dimensions: 18.9 x 13.4 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 84,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"A Japanese mix of A Clockwork Orange and L'Etranger." -Newsweek"Bugs and mucus, cheesecake and semen, rain and runways-all lovingly described." - Washington Post"Highly recommended for readers of the bizarre." -Antioch Review"A violent book-sharply begun and slammed quickly to a finish." -Bestsellers

About the Author

RYU MURAKAMI was born in 1952. The only son of schoolteacher parents, he grew up in the port city of Sasebo in southwestern Japan. After graduating from a local high school, where he played the drums in a band called Coelacanth, he went to an art college in Tokyo. It was while studying there that he entered his first novel, Almost Transparent Blue, in a competition for new writers. Published in 1976, the book won a major literary award and sold over a million copies. Since then, he has worked for a publishing house, presented a weekly music and interview radio program, and hosted a TV talk show. His literary output includes two collections of stories Run, Takahashi (1985) and Topaz (1988), and the novel Coin Locker Babies (1980), which made its debut in English early in 1995. His roman a clef 69 appeared in English in 1993. He has also directed four movies based on his writing, causing a sensation at an Italian film festival when Tokyo Decadence was shown there in 1992. His latest film is set in the U.S. and Cuba.

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It wasn't the sound of an airplane. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not his best work. 17 Nov 2004
By Dauvit
Format:Paperback
Having read Murakami's "In The Miso Soup" and "Coin Locker Babies", it has to be said that this book does not live up to the expectations generated by his two other works. BUT as it is his first novel, written in the mid-seventies (the other works are much more recent), it is a readable, if confused, portrait of degeneracy and drug abuse in 70's Tokyo. Like a Japanese "Trainspotting" but without the humour.
Not a book I would go out of my way to read, but not bad either.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gently tragic 24 Sep 2003
Format:Paperback
This is one of those books that appeals and repels in equal measure. Comparable to The Outsider in tone and Less Than Zero in content, it's the story of an individual drifting through a series of experiences with passive interest. The author's note on the last page is absolutely essential to the overall effect, and will stay with you for a long time after.
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By J.Kelly
Format:Paperback
This was a blind buy for me, in a London branch of Waterstones... but with a front cover so distinct and hypnotic how could I say no? Also, I am the first to admit that I devour Japanese culture; books, films, games, food, everything (I knew Murakami before I read this as the mind behind Miike's 'Audition). And so, now onto one of the more controversial works in Japanese Literature.

'Hypnotic' may be the first word to describe this. Then 'disgusting' and then 'Moving' in quick succession. The tale of a young man and his friends living vacuous and destructive lifestyles whilst living near an American Army Base, they do very little except shoot up, pop hallucinogens, experiment with inter-racial, homosexual and violent sex and try and get by. There really is a sense of hopelessness and nihilism throughout the book, enhanced by Murakami's ambiguousness with the subject matter (he has neither confirmed nor denied if the work is auto-biographical). You do get the idea that these young people are merely existing instead of living, and even if they are living, they are living only to destruct, which detracts from the strains of life within Japanese society and/or boredom. You never care for the characters because they don't really ever care for themselves, and it is this dynamic which drives the emotional core of the book; who wants to see the young squander their future? It is a serious and quite stunning book, with some beautiful passages of haunting prose and drug related imagery (particularly the 'trip' in the woods), but only if you can get past the graphic descriptions.

An angsty Kawabata... sadly the book now seems to be quite rare, selling new on this site for 148. I urge those with strong stomachs and a penchant for all things cynical and nihilistic to seek this one out.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By calmly
Format:Paperback
Porn-like with bloody needles and every forty pages or so a pause for an "epiphany". Not the "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" epiphanies, which intimated the real thing as well as words can be expected to, but the feeling of drug hazes, a chance to rest from the intensity of the main story and perhaps make it all seem of socially redeeming value. But does transcendence have socially redeeming value any more than drug and sex escapisms do? May depend on what you make of silver negligees. Almost no one here seems to have a job except for the cops and the serviceman but the former might be better occupied with real criminals and the latter are off-duty. It may be that only the nurses, as always, do necessary work. The character Ryu and his friends seem also in need of psychologists but there is no context in the book of how the characters became this way or of how they may find help before self-destructing.

Forceful writing, for sure. Seemed somewhat choppy but that may have helped move it along quickly.

"Almost Transparent Blue" is not at the level of Burroughs either in style or at all for the issues raised. It's probably asking way too much to expect that. Burroughs "Naked Lunch" and his trilogy "The Cities of the Red Night", "The Place of Dead Roads" and "The Western Lands" have plenty of sex and drugs, if that is what you are after, but with broad contexts and much deeper explorations of how it connects to all of us. No one may have understood and expressed the role of addictions in social control the way Burroughs did. But it seems unfair to compare Murakami with Burroughs based on just this first and short novel of Murakami, so you may want to read later and longer works (e.g.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  30 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "But maybe we'd feel something after all..." 29 Oct 2004
By Steven Reynolds - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's 1976, and a group of Japanese teenagers living near an American airforce base indulge their appetites for drugs, alcohol and bi-curious group sex. Like most sensual quests for liberation and vision, these only lead to the annihilation of consciousness and a confusing desire to escape back into bourgeois life. Getting high is one thing. Connecting with reality is something else. In 126 pages of orgiastic indulgence, drug-induced catatonia and suicide attempts, there are three moments of transcendence in which Murakami's case is made: the memory of a beautiful piece of music; the experience of almost being killed by an aircraft taking off; and the narrator's climactic desire to communicate a personal vision of the world, himself and their possible unity. Murakami's call for connection and creativity in the face of mortality and post-war nihilism is a familiar one in twentieth-century literature, but the way he goes about it is refreshing. Firmly realist in his approach, Murakami stays on the surface. Sticking with the physical details he refuses to burrow into the minds of most of these youths where he might have interpreted or psychoanalyzed their inner lives for us. Ironically, this works. Their own halting attempts at self-expression are so much more poignant, and so much more credible for being vague and incomplete. If the bulk of this narrative strikes you as tedious, pointless, repetitive and occasionally appalling, then Murakami has succeeded in capturing the reality of a life devoted to escapism. It's only in such a context that the moments of incipient self-awareness and transcendence can have such a powerful resonance for these characters, and for the reader.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Trippy 21 Oct 2003
By Charles E. Stevens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When Almost Transparent Blue came out in the late seventies, it was an important piece of literature and an important milestone in Japanese fiction. Almost Transparent Blue is not simply about drugs and sex; in fact the chilling but fascinating aspect of Murakami's writing style is how remarkably detached his protagonist is from the actions that he and the people around him are doing. This is a significant change from Coin Locker Babies, a book with similar themes, but much more proactive and passionate characters. This rift between what is real and surreal becomes more in focus as the story continues, and the book reaches its climax when the protagonist, in a self-induced semi-hallucinogenic state, realizes that the reality that exists in the surreal world (primary, the Bird's world) is much more real and urgent than the drugs and sex in the "real" world around him.
While this book is still relevant today, as there is still an unnamable but nevertheless constant pressure on the youth of Japan (and around the world), the context it exists in has changed quite a bit. Ryu's world is not quite the world of today, and ATB is beginning to show its age. Nevertheless, Almost Transparent Blue is a very enjoyable book, and by the end it becomes clear that it is a much deeper and mature book than first meets the eye.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing and beautiful! 4 Feb 2005
By Kgar - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book won the Akutagawa Award, changed modern Japanese literature, and is a favorite of Japanese college students (...or so I hear). This book makes Requiem for a Dream look like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Seriously some of the descriptions get pretty intense, but nonetheless retain some sort of elegance. Murakami puts graphic scenes of sex and drug use next to scenes of quiet reflection (watching rain, childhood memories) to create a sense of youthful hopelessness. However, taken in the proper context, this book will leave you uplifted rather than depressed. One of my favorites.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A 1970's Japanese junky "family" 8 April 2005
By Zack Davisson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
John Steinbeck's "Tortilla Flat." Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer" William S. Burroughs's "Junky." The semi-autobiographical novel of disaffected youth and their abusive love-affairs with drink, drugs and sex is certainly not without literary precedence. Over the years, it has become a genre, one which shocks people with its honestly, and lures with its romanticism of the life of a fringe wastrel, who looks no further than the next drink or fix, living life in pursuit of pleasure.

Joining their ranks is "Almost Transparent Blue," the debut novel by Japanese virtuoso Ryu Murakami. This first novel, written while still in collage, won the prestigious Akutagawa award and skyrocketed Murakami to fame and financial independence. Telling the semi-connected tales of young junkies Ryu, Kazuo, Yoshiyama, Moko, Reiko, and Kei, the book is a decent into the underbelly of 1970's Japan, fresh with Jimmy Hendrix music, exotic black men from the local military base, and the numbness of emotion that comes from living in a drug-haze.

Like his predecessors, Murakami has detailed the life of the Bohemian as an attractive and repulsive existence. Attractive, due to the seductiveness of a life lived for base pleasure, animalistic sex and a constant supply of drugs. Repulsive, in the vomit and blood and pain that of necessity accompanies such a lifestyle. You wonder which characters will escape, which ones will die, and how much of this did Murakami experience first hand. He never makes it quite clear, naming the lead character "Ryu" after himself, and leaving the reality of the elusive "Lily" up in the air with the last paragraph.

Very much a product of its time, both the music and the stereotypical "otherness" of the black people are striking time stamps. Unfortunately, the translation is dated too. With Japanese literature, you can always tell how old a translation is by how the translate tofu. Here, it is called "bean curd," since tofu had not entered the standard English language yet. Also, some strange choices were made by the translator, such as changing Kei's Osaka dialect into an American Southern accent.

However, flaws aside, "Almost Transparent Blue" is a powerful milestone in Japanese literature, and a good book as well. A short, quick read, it will linger long after the last page is read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I read it by mistake...and was pleasantly surprised... 8 Aug 2002
By Chris Boone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Somebody told me I should read a book by Haruki Murakami...At the book store all of his works looked long and menacing...Then I saw Almost Transparent Blue...It sounded interesting, noticed it won an award, and it was rather short, so not much of a commitment if I didn't like his writing after all. So I read it, and I was expecting something in the realm of hardboiled fiction as his works were described to me. It wasn't until after I read the book that I discovered it was written by Ryu Murakami and not Haruki...DUH
The scope of the novel seems to cover a drug/alcohol/sex binge over the course of a few days. There are lots of characters to keep track of and I had a bit of difficulty following which character was speaking from time to time. The plot drags in some spaces as the story jumps from orgy to shooting up and back again.
The characters are interesting but not very well developed. The author does take a bit of an interesting side look at how this lifestyle affects the relationships between several of the characters, but with the lack of much backstory on any of the characters it isn't easy to sympathize with them.
I enjoyed Almost Transparent Blue mostly due to Murakami's writing style, and use of very vivid imagery.
All in all I found the story interesting and I would recommend to anyone who doesn't mind gratuitous sex, drug use and the occasional rock and roll reference.
Read it and judge for yourself. If you like it you might want to read his much longer and more in depth second effort Coin Locker Babies.
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