Since hitting the big Hawaii 5-0 this past June 28, I’ve been finding myself drawn toward literature involving characters with whom I can identify closely. Not that I’ve forgotten what it was like to be in my 20s and 30s, but now that I’m thoroughly embedded in my middle years, I find myself especially conscious of stories, characters, and authors whose writings are more reflective of my generation. I don’t mean to say that I’m dwelling on aging and all the aches and pains that go with it, including the worries of an eventual retirement. Rather, I’m fascinated by the idea of living life having amassed a wealth of experience and being able to look back, both amazed and satisfied at all that has happened and how it is the shaping whatever future I have left to me.
Two welcome additions to my library of the experienced and slightly gray are books by two very prominent Japanese authors. Yoshimura’s book is an intriguing portrayal of a man, Kikutani, who has just turned fifty when he is released on parole after having been convicted of murder. The story follows his difficult transition back into normal society, in which more than anything he fears having his crime discovered by the people with whom he now lives and works. It is a story about betrayal, stigma, and the insurmountable task of trying to redeem one’s life. It is also about trying to make peace with one’s past, sometimes by trying to forget one’s sins and misdeeds, sometimes by facing one’s demons, not to mention the demons that dwell in others. Murakami’s book I’ve only just begun, but it has already completely engrossed me as the character, Hajime, looks back on his life from the vantage point of being in his late 30s/early 40s, and reckoning with his successes and disappointments, an ordinary life that is suddenly disrupted by the return of a girl he once loved, Shimamoto, who has a lame leg, but who also holds the key to Hajime’s soul.
I guess I’ve always been interested in stories that involved characters that were my age, whatever that age happened to be at the time. But at this point in my life, the narrative that concerns me most isn’t based on the belief that I have my whole life ahead of me; instead, it’s based on the personal geography of the world and history I have created thus far for myself. Reading books like these provides me a unique sense of solace that others are traveling this path with me.