Book reviews, Culture, Migrants, Multiculture

Haruki Murakami, between realism and the dreamlike

Surely on this occasion the surrealist writer did not spill his morning coffee when he heard a speaker on the radio talking about his birthday, as was the case last time.


Ariel B. Coya


Unlike last time, he now knows with certainty – to his regret – that today, he is a celebrity. He is a world-renowned writer, called to join Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe to complete the triad of Japanese laureates of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Haruki Murakami (born in Kyoto, 12 January 1949) can also be described as eclectic and postmodern, modern and a traditional, but above all, he is equally able to mesmerize readers from Asia and the West with the completely free style of his prose. This is something he succeeds in doing very well when exploring the mysteries of the night in the urban poem “After Dark” (2004), when plunging himself into the traumas of a generation in the Pacific war in “Kafka on the Shore” (2002), or when inventing mythical magic in “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” (1994).

His effort to delve deeper into the depths of the well, which he describes is what writing a book is, seems endless, to the point of inspiring other writers and filmmakers such as Sofia Coppola in “Lost in Translation” or Alejandro González Iñárritu in “Babel”.

Interestingly, however, Marukami is not enticed by writing for film producers; he claims that he is neither suitable for that nor for working in a team.

He prefers to write in solitude and this is a characteristic of his personality which is intensified because he guards his privacy with an almost pathological zeal.

He does not go to parties.

He does not receive awards. He practically does not give interviews nor does he sign books.

However, he says he enjoys television series, horror films, detective novels, sportswear and pop songs…because all these things help him to establish a bond with readers. “I want people to see that what I write is not out of obligation,” the author maintains. He also claims not to have any friends who are writers nor to be valued by his professional circle in Japan.

He states, “They do not like me, I am too different to them. They think that everything that is written should depend on the beauty of our language, to issues of our culture”.

He also explains that for him, language is a tool for writers to tell their stories in an effective way, and nothing else: “The most important thing is the flow of the story and not embellishing sentences with superfluous elements.”

Nevertheless, Murakami admits that he does like to imbue the plot of his books with a certain amount of ambiguity, fluctuating between the real and the dreamlike, hence he describes himself as a “surrealist” writer.

This is exactly the term that explains why he was inspired to start his career one April evening of 1978; while watching a baseball game in Tokyo, all of a sudden, the sound of a hit ball kick started his literary career.

It may sound like the most stupid thing in the world, but that is what happened. It was an epiphany. When I returned home I started to write”, he recalls.

Music and marathons

Grandchild of a Buddhist monk from his father’s side and of a businessman on his mother’s side, Murakami studied literature at Waseda University, earning a reputation from the librarian for being the most compulsive reader, though this was not until he was certain he wanted to write.

In the meantime, he alternated between books and records which he listened to in his jazz club, so literature and music go hand in hand in his life.

So much so that his first job was in a record shop (like one of his main characters, Toru Watanabe from “Norwegian Wood”) before going on to manage a jazz bar in Tokyo between 1974 and 1981, together with his wife.

In fact, many of his novels are based on a particular musical piece like “Dance, Dance, Dance” (The Dells), “Norwegian Wood” (The Beatles) and “South of the border, West of the Sun,” (which eludes to the song by Nat King Cole).

Another big passion of his is participating in marathons, as shown in his autobiography “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” (2008).

When you finish a marathon, you have the assurance that when you start to write, you will reach the end of the line, and then the end of the page, word by word, metre by metre”, says Urakami, who once completed a 100 kilometre triathlon. An admire of the writings of Scott Fitzgerald, John Irving, Manuel Puig and Raymond Carver, whose books he translated into Japanese, Murakami claims he is constantly in search of his own personal style in his work, while he faces life with a hatred for humans and a permanent “strange” outlook of Japanese idiosyncrasy.

Japanese society still continues to be very closed today. If you are not part of any group, be it a company or a society, then you are a sort of outcast,” he explains.

But I think I am slowly gaining territory as although other writers do not support me, readers do.” And these readers are millions, not just in Japan, but also around the world. (PL)

(Photos: Pixabay)

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