Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's prescient fiction
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami uses his novels to peel back the layered chaos of an uncertain world.
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In his fiction, Murakami depicts a Japan of near-stifling mundanity. His protagonists are frequently bored and self-abnegating chumps whose lives are pierced by the supernatural, leading them to encounters with the darker forces of history, sexuality, and war. "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," his sprawling 1998 novel, begins with its unemployed hero boiling spaghetti and whistling to Gioachino Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie." Suddenly his cat disappears, his wife leaves him, and he is drawn into a horrific confrontation with Japan's massacres in China.Skip to next paragraph
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The shattering impact of the natural and man-made disasters of March 11 in Japan is well suited to Murakami's world, where passive acceptance of the way things seem leads to the violence of the way things are. His generation's blind faith in the future and the ultimate good of technology is being severely tested, with an ongoing nuclear disaster serving as a persistent reminder of "mistake[s] committed by our very own hands." Tellingly, Murakami's readers in Japan tend to be younger than he ("I get older and my readers get younger," he often says), perhaps because they can see what his own generation has chosen to ignore.
Unrealistic and dreamy, Murakami's first novel, "Hear the Wind Sing" (1979), won him Japanese literary magazine Gunzo's prize for rookie writers and launched his literary career. His fifth novel, "Norwegian Wood" (1987; Knopf, 2000), now a motion picture from Anh Hung Tran, won him 2 million readers in Japan – and launched him into a white-hot spotlight. Murakami's reputation for aloofness grew over the years as he studiously avoided Japanese media and literary circles – partly, he says now, because he was shunned by his nation's literary critics for producing a bestseller.
Translator Jay Rubin recounts how Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe lambasted Murakami for "failing to appeal to intellectuals with models for Japan's future." With his interspersed references to American popular culture (the Beach Boys, McDonald's, etc.), Murakami was accused of being batakusai, or "stinking of butter": too American to be purely Japanese.
"They hated me," Murakami says of his Japanese critics, "and so I left."
His success, and the attention it brought, propelled him abroad, and his own life might be the subject of a road movie if he weren't so frankly unimpressed by it. He left Kobe for Tokyo at 18, and left Japan for Europe and America as soon as he could, he says, "because I wanted to write something international. And I still do. But I've just been feeling insecure since I was 20, and that's all I've been trying to express. Now the entire world is feeling insecure."
The roots of Murakami's insecurity, his outsider status, are local. When the Tokyo antiwar protests collapsed at the end of the 1960s and the formerly antiauthoritarian peaceniks quickly and obediently joined Japan's large corporations, the young Murakami felt betrayed. To avoid becoming another salaryman, he borrowed money and opened a jazz bar with his wife.