The Strange and The Familiar

"Some questions cannot be answered./ They become familiar weights in the hand,/ Round stones pulled from the pocket, unyielding and cool." --Jane Hirshfield, poet, Princeton Class of 1973

It was to my temporary Italian address that a package arrived in mid-November. Even though it had been only a couple of months, I had yearned for something to read as a respite from the unending flow of Italian, which inundated my still-untrained ears every night I spent with my host family. The package contained a book by Haruki Murakami. I had read some of his stuff before, so I asked my mom to get me another of his books because I wanted something familiar. The title of this one was strange, even more conspicuously and obnoxiously strange than the titles of most of his books: Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

The next morning, like all of my school mornings in Italy, my host sisters and I piled into the Italian version of a minivan: pale blue and boxy, but filled with the same dirt and daily debris as any car anywhere in the world. I started reading my new book during that ten-minute ride and finished it in the same place a week later. Once I finished it, I no longer felt such a strong need for respite. Reading it had been like “pulling round stones from my pocket,” “familiar weights.” The book provided me with a connection to someone else -- the author, the protagonist. It started a dialogue. It opened a...

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