Colorful Haruki Murakami and His Ever-growing Popularity: Why do People Like His Works?

Haruki Murakami at a young age
Murakami at a young age

Whenever you walk into a bookstore, chance is high that you will always encounter at least several copies of Haruki Murakami’s work. The sixty four years old Japanese writer has written more than a dozen novels, among many other short stories and non-fiction, ever since his 1979 debut novel, ‘Hear the Wind Song’. There is no doubt that he is one of the most important writers of our time, being seen as a favorite to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for years. In an age where reading is not as valued as before and printed version are gradually being substituted by digital copies, it is remarkable Murakami’s fanbase around the world is still steadily growing, if not stronger (his latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Prilgrimage (2013), sold 350,000 copies in the first three days of sale in Japan; the English translation should be out in 2014). The question is: why do people like to read Murakami’s work? What is so special about his stories that people are willing to buy his book even though they have no idea what the book is really about? Why do people like him?

One aspect that distinguishes Murakami’s work from others is his unusual writing style. Some critics have said he is not really a ‘Japanese writer’, considering that his prose sounds more English than Japanese even in its original, Japanese text. Largely influenced by Western novelists like Fitzgerald, Murakami departs from the traditionally tragic and serious style of Japanese writing and opts for a more casual, often humorous approach to his words. In fact, Murakami himself admits that when writing, he often writes the sentences in English first then translates them into Japanese. His style of writing short paragraphs, with a focus on character’s psychology and not so much on the environment, also departs from typical Japanese writers such as Yasunari Kawabata (first Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1968) or Yukio Mishima (nominated for the Nobel Prize a few times), who devote a lot of passages in describing the context. This creates a unique style of writing where Japanese readers find enticing, and Western readers find easy to follow as well.

Movie poster of Norwegian Wood
Movie poster of Norwegian Wood – one of the very few Murakami stories to be adapted into the silverscreen

The theme of alienation and sense of loss is prominent in most of his novels. Often times, the protagonists are people who follow societal norms while feeling nihilistic about anything they do. While this isn’t anything particularly new, this is very important considering the context of post-war Japanese society. After the Second World War, the Japanese experienced a difficult time of reconstruction, both physically and socially. The people went through the troubling 1960s with the student protest movement, the prospering economy of the 1970s and 1980s, only for the bubble to burst in the 1990s. Murakami’s novels took place frequently under such post-modern contexts. His characters are not direct victims of such events, but you can sense how such contexts affect their growth and their perception towards human relationships. Like a recurring Hedgehog dilemma, the characters are always weary of establishing intimate relationships with others, in the fear of protecting themselves and the people they care about. In this context, there is a subtle critique of capitalism as well, as the advancement of technology in Japan does not necessarily make people feel better about their lives. Through this critique of modern society, along with his unique writing style, Murakami shows us how we are a lot more distant from other people than we imagine.

His work often invokes surreal creatures or settings. From the talking cats in Kafka on the Shore (2002) to the city of two moons in 1Q84 (2009), from the character that sees her imaginary self in Sputnik Sweetheart (1999) to the girl that sleeps for years in After Dark (2004), often times Murakami includes such fantasy-like settings that challenge our perception, yet somehow, you feel like they make sense. When reading the chapters, you will feel odd, but at the same time you find them very believable, as if you are just waiting for them to happen. In this sense, it almost feels like Murakami is putting forward an existentialist question: what do you do to find your meaning of existence in an apparently absurd world? Do you accept it as it is or do you try your best to figure out why that is the case? The various surreal settings and creatures in his novels provoke such thoughts, as readers, often to no avail, try to decipher their real meaning.

The curious settings also lead to another common feature of Murakami’s novels: he never fully explains everything. What happen to Toru and Midori by the end of Norwegian Wood (1987)? What exactly are the Little People in 1Q84? Why is Tsukuru specifically chosen to take the blame in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Prilgrimage? Murakami never provides concrete answers to such questions. Instead, he basically let the readers decide what happens at the end. Throwing out the setting and expecting us to accept them as they are, Murakami is often criticized by readers for this. Yet, at the same time, it is through such bizarre contexts that the characters can really struggle to find their existential meaning, through the exploration of sexuality (sex is prominent in Murakami’s work, be it sexual fantasy or intercourse; somehow, all women in his work pretty much want to sleep with the male protagonist, who is usually very ordinary by all means), adventure in a foreign land, questioning of purpose of life, and confronting human desires. In this aspect, Murakami is a skilled pop psychologist who can describe human emotions well and keep the readers on the edge of their seats as he goes on to discuss what happens in the characters’ minds.

1Q84
1Q84 – Murakami’s attempt to write a novel similar to Dostoevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov’

An essential aspect to Murakami’s work is his insistence on the inclusion of music. He is a noted music fan, having opened a jazz bar before he wrote his first novel, and he effortlessly incorporates music (particularly classical and jazz) into his stories. While the music serves more as an accompanying piece to the story, devoted readers find it pleasing to listen to that particular piece while reading his novel. For example, the Czech composer Janacek’s Sinfonietta is referenced many times in 1Q84, serving as a connection point between the male and female protagonists. The story won’t be affected, in terms of content, if all the mention of the music is omitted, but music has become so prominent in Murakami’s work that without any classical or jazz music reference, it just feels not Murakami enough. The inclusion of music also makes the reading process more entertaining, as if you’re picturing the scenes in your mind while listening to the background music being played in a movie. (Notably, his passion for classical music has earned him appreciation from the music industry as well, for every time a Murakami novel is published, sales for the particular piece mentioned in the book will skyrocket.)

While Murakami’s stories make him famous, it is his humanitarian side that earns him respect from even people who are not familiar with his work. Shortly after the Subway Sarin Incident in Tokyo, 1995, staged by the cult Aum Shinrikyo, when thirteen people were killed and thousands were left injured, Murakami interviewed some victims to get their full experience on that day. Such interviews were later compiled into his first non-fiction work, Underground. He was not done, however; the year after, he proceeded to interview 8 members of Aum Shinrikyo in order to answer the questions: why did the cult commit such an act, and what did the cult members think about it? He then penned his second non-fiction work, Underground II: The Promised Land (in the English version, this book is included in Underground as well). When everyone was pointing fingers at the cult members, Murakami calmly pointed out that these members were no different from ordinary citizens of society, and he criticized the society for focusing on what had happened, instead of trying to figure out why it had happened.

It almost makes you feel like reading an interview of the Jacks in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.

Two more incidents outlined Murakami’s reputation as the most prominent humanitarian writer of our time. In 2009, he received the Jerusalem Prize, which sparked outrage in Japan and many places since Israel just bombed Gaza. Murakami chose to attend the event despite controversies, and in his acceptance speech he implicitly criticized the Israeli government for its action, and famously proclaimed that:

“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg. Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg…If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?”

No wonder that many people shook their head resignedly when Mo Yan, the Chinese writer who has strong affiliation with the government, was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature last year.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
The sale of Murakami’s latest novel – ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’

Murakami is also not afraid of criticizing his government regarding sensitive issues. In the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, he openly criticized the government’s nuclear policy and condemned its role in marginalizing opposition voices in the name of ‘efficiency’ and ‘convenience’. He also ridiculed Japan’s row with China in dispute over the ownership of Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. He slammed both governments for stirring up nationalism in respective countries instead of trying to resolve the issue diplomatically. It was a bold statement from the unflashy writer, considering that this has long been a very sensitive issue in China and Japan. For sure, his comments did not change a lot in terms of the outcome (Fukushima is still a mess, and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands issue remains unresolved), but it is important for someone as widely acclaimed as Murakami to speak up against the wall, when the wall stands erect with pride.

One might get frustrated by Murakami’s ambiguous tone and often melodramatic events. In fact, often times one only gets more confused when one flips to the last page of the novel, only to find that nothing is being resolved whatsoever. Still, the key to understanding Murakami’s reputation lies in the process of exploring his world. Like Toru’s desperate call to Midori by the end of Norwegian Wood, we are stuck in the world of nowhere, trying to understand what lies ahead of us, but never quite grasping the essence to living or human existence. A simple question like ‘Where are you now?’ is enough to make us think why we are here. What matters, though, is the courage to move forward while getting past the sense of disorientation in a seemingly absurd world.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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A 23-year-old deeply influenced by British music, Japanese anime/manga, and Italian soccer. An active fanfiction writer and an aspiring scholar.
Edited by Jordan, Misagh.

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61 Comments

  1. Wesley Dunn
    0

    I loved to read this article, taking my time over the long evening.. and remembering my own personal experience of inmersing myself in a good proportion of the Murakami novels this past summer. I started with Kafka on the Shore and I was so thrilled and hooked up that I had to read all of his novels that I could get access to in a row, culminating with the two first parts of 1Q84. It is good, readable literature, very thrilling, it speaks to our days, to people all over the West, yet the oriental, Japanese poetic sensibility, the sense of quiet and dark interior worlds create, well, a very local-Japanese door from the post-Imperial West into the Unknown. It has been my first foray into Japanese culture. From loving Haruki Murakami’s novels I have gone to loving the music of Toru Takemitsu.

  2. Sakutarou
    0

    Murakami’s writing has such a strange addictive quality to it – the closest I have read that sends you into a kind of meditative trance. I just love the way that pretty much all of his characters are so meticulous in the way they prepare their food. In the hands of any other writer such daily mundanities would be a chore to read about. Kafka on the Shore just completely floored me.

  3. Steven Bradley
    0

    I’d like to like Murakami, but I find myself indifferent to him. Perhaps he comes across differently in Japanese, but in English the elliptical and detached tone and the unmotivated surrealism come across as a Japanese kid’s idea of Western cool; as though he would have liked to be some fusion of Miles Davis and Tex Avery but can only mimic the externalities.

  4. This is a GREAT read. I adore Murakami and always look forward to his work.
    That’s all.

  5. i’ve only read “what i talk about when i talk about running”, and was most fascinated by him winning that prize with his first novel. what i found most amazing is, if his account is true (and i see no reason to doubt him), that he wrote it by hand, and sent it off without even making a copy. his attitude was that he’d wanted to write it, and then he had written it. if he hadn’t won, he would probably have never seen that novel again. blew me away.

    • Kenneth Wilkerson
      0

      Murakami is the greatest living writer (imho), but I would avoid What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It is nonsense (imho again). Please read his other stuff.

  6. His books make me feel like drinking, and in this case that’s a compliment.
    His characters share a propensity for just sitting around and having a beer and when they do, I find it hard not to crack a can open and have one with them.

    • So difficult to read a Murakami novel for a few hours without running through several beers, a couple of whiskeys, a pile of jazz records, and half a pack of cigarettes!

  7. i cam to Murakami with The Wind up Bird Chronicle- now that is one bonkers novel but i think it perfectly shows his ability to convey other worlds beyond ours or in our imagination.. i then read Norwegian Wood and was underwhelmed by it maybe because i was expecting more surrealism than i got..next on the list to read is Hard Boiled realism… might be a good read for xmas holidays.

  8. To anyone wanting to get into Murakami, I’d recommend reading some of his short stories. Barn Burning is a particular favourite of mine.
    Whilst his stories may not receive as much attention as his novels, I find that they perfectly encapsulate his recurring theme: examining the strange occurrences that are to be found in the mundane events of everyday life.

    • Norwegian Wood is the obvious starter book but I started with The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and I’m glad I did. When I read it I was completely unsure what I was reading a third of the way in, but by the second third I was loving it. It’s not an easy read but it really pays off in the end.

    • My first Murakami was a less conventional one: “Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World” is the title. I was instantly hooked and passed the novel on to my wife, who has not read a Murakami before either. She was equally hooked!

      Apart from that, all other Murakami novels are just as great. Norwegian Wood being a very good one, Kafka on the Shore, Dance Dance Dance, Wild Sheep Chase, all very very absorbing and addictive!

    • the best place to start is such a difficult question, but i’ve started and still continue so for what it’s worth, here goes my list,
      after the quake (short stories, and all pretty cool)
      sputnik sweatheart
      dance dance dance
      almost finished the wind-up bird chronical
      he’s not my fav author, but he can write a book that you get sucked into and i will totally read this new one.

    • Misagh

      If anybody is thinking to use Murakami as a stepping stone to reading other Japanese writers I really think they are going to get their feet wet. In the early days he would write many of his drafts in English because he had taught himself English by reading American crime novels. He would then translate those English drafts into Japanese. This is why so many western readers find him easier to read than many other Japanese writers. His idea of the novel, no mater how bizarre it might be in the reading, is western not Japanese.

      I have to say “be warned”. He is not your starter writer.

      I can’t say that I am a Murakami fan though I have read most of his writing, an odd kind of fun to read. But not Japanese in nature.

      If you really want a better look at what is being written in Japan, are there is so much, even in translation, I would suggest starting with anything by Natsuo Kirino and Banana Yoshimoto. If you want to dive in at the deep end you could always go for Murasaki Shikibu’s The tale of Genji. No I do not recommend that you do that, that takes a lot of building up to. But it should give you an idea of just how much there is out there that has been translated and is so worth reading.

      • Justin Wu

        I won’t say his stories are more Western than Japanese though. While for sure that he is hugely influenced by Western writers, as seen in his novels, his way of characterization is still more aligned with the Japanese tradition in the sense of having a surreal, tragic-poetic taste.

        For a more ‘traditional’ sense of Japanese writing, I’d recommend Yasunari Kawabata. His prose is really poetic and conveys that distinct Japanese feeling. The Tale of Genji will also be good if one has a bit of understanding of Heian Japan, though I think many publications now also provide footnotes/endnotes about the story.

  9. Ok. How is this Murakami. Wikipedia, I’m coming…

  10. His compilation of short stories ‘Birthday Stories’ is great, I’ve bought lots of copies as birthday presents for friends.

  11. CÄCILIA
    0

    Murakami is great, but if you find an appeal to Japanese literature, a very good place to start is Miyuki Miyabe’s “All She Was Worth”.

  12. Veronica Roy
    0

    I think I’ve read most of things he’s written and what I’ve always felt is that his style is very similar to some of Iain Banks’ novels (e.g. The Bridge). Apologies if this is obvious or an unintelligent comment.

  13. Catherine
    0

    A reason why his writing is popular (or appealing to me) is his writing conjures a world that I like to spend time in. He seemed to manage to get the best from both West and Japan.

  14. William
    0

    Another overrated writer in today’s over-commercialized literary scene. Style over substance, sensationalism, pseudo intellectualism. Murakami is the kind of writer advertising executives love.

  15. He seems to be able to put my unconscious into words… but it’s my “unconscious”, how does he do it?

  16. Ferocity
    0

    I find his themes and characters too light. The successful marketing of his work has over valued his artistic achievement. Japanese books aren’t translated much if at all so perhaps with more competition.

    I think he appeals to a twenty something age group who are the people I mostly see reading his books.

  17. Lula Wright
    0

    Student of Japanese Studies here. I read my first Murakami only the other week (Hardboiled Wonderland…) just because it’s probably not okay for someone studying Japanese to have never read the guy. I found it quite good. But it’s not really serious literature now, is it? Sometimes original, imaginative middlebrow fun. It’s just a shame how many people take him to be the pinnacle of Japanese literature without ever exploring further.

    In fact, the biggest shame is that he’s barely a Japanese author at all, his entire writing style is very westernized, even the grammatical structures of his sentences seem designed for easy translation into English.

    Yukio Mishima, on the other hand, was a rare example of the artistic genius who was also very popular. ‘Confessions of a Mask’, ‘Temple of the Golden Pavilion’, to me are some of the best psychological portraits in any language in the last 50 years.

    Reader’s looking for the same ease of readability as well as some of the dialogue between East and West would be well served to read Tanizaki Junichiro, something like ‘The Key’, or ‘The Tattooer’, maybe ‘Some Prefer Nettles’, which all do the mixing high and low culture thing 50 years before it was cool, and the first in particular having some of the best smut I’ve ever read.

  18. I’m currently reading the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and I’m having a hard time staying motivated to read it. Despite being relatively easy to read, I’m having a problem becoming immersed. The book is slow-moving, especially through the detailed depictions of the mundane aspects of life. I understand that a lot of Murakami’s allure is the atmosphere he creates, but because of my inability to become drawn into the world, I’m having trouble enjoying myself.

  19. His first book was called ‘Hear the Wind Sing’.

    • Justin Wu

      My apology on that mistake. When typing this, I was thinking the Chinese translation of the title, which directly translates as ‘The Wind’s Song’. Still, it’s my fault on giving the wrong name, and I apologize.

  20. ‘Dance Dance Dance’ is my favorite of his; my exposure to him started with a book trade, my copy of ‘Let The Right One In’ for ‘After Dark’, best reading decision I ever made.

  21. Angie Garde
    0

    I started with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and loved it, but I wish now I’d started at the beginning with the trilogy of the Rat (Hear the Wind Sing/Pinball 1973/A Wild Sheep Chase). Seems to me to be the essence of Murakami’s style and a great introduction. Might take a bit of effort to get hold of the first two, but worth it.

  22. Kristopher
    0

    I’m not so keen on his non-fiction or his short stories, but I love his novels and enjoy the repetitive use of cats, wells, jazz, elevators into other worlds, etc.

  23. someone said to me you should read Murakami and so i did – and thats it – if you read raymond carver you can see thats what he, like Murakami loves to do – to say the things tight in front of you and behind and inside and outside – and thats how Murakami developed Carver – inside and outside through time, beyond memory and space and that makes it always – here and beyond now…

  24. I adore Murakami, not least because reading Kafka on the Shore is what led me to read Franz Kafka when I was at college. Both Murakami and Kafka’s works have the remarkable quality of making me want to write. When I finished Hard-Bolied Wonderland and After Dark, my two favourite Murakami novels, I just couldn’t put my pen down. And the best thing about reading such a prolific author is that even though I’ve read several of his works there are still loads more out there!

  25. Thank you for this overview of Murakami, the writer and the man. I have been a fan of his for quite a number of years, since about the time “Hardboiled Wonderland and The End of the World” came out in English paperback–the first book of his I read. I was immediately taken in by his genre-mixing and imaginative constructs. I then read “The Wild Sheep Chase”, perhaps the book of his that moved me the most. His ability to dramatize alienation via magic realism is exceptional. His work has further matured and, overall, continues to be fascinating. He is a cultural mixer, not only mixing up genres and styles (please look at his short stories) but also cultural influences. While I am not a student of Japanese literature, I fully understand why some may not see his work as representative of it. It is a body of work that has an international heart, even though it is based in Japan.

    I also want to thank Mr. Wu for including material on Mr. Murakami’s political work outside of his writing. I was not aware of these details and appreciate learning them.

  26. Aliya Gulamani
    Aliya Gulamani
    0

    As a Murakami fan, I really enjoyed this article, really well written and researched and provides an interesting insight into the man behind such amazing stories. Thank you.

  27. Jessica Koroll

    This is very fascinating. I have yet to read anything by Murakami but he sounds like a remarkable individual. You managed to cover a lot of ground in a concise way that was really enjoyable to read. I’ll be checking him out soon!

  28. MattMueller

    This article has put forth a lot of points regarding Murakami that I had had thought about. It’s nice to have it all conveniently packed here in an article for me.

    Despite reading many of his works and being what I suppose you’d call a ‘fan,’ I find myself figuratively rolling my eyes at his repeated inclusion of a few story elements, like his propensity for jazz and each protagonist being ideal readers/bookworms. This, coupled with his identical writing style and tone throughout each of his books, makes his novels seems stale after a while. Not saying that a writer shouldn’t recycle elements, after all, that’s what makes it their signature style, but if each novel, stripped to its basic elements, are the same, there’s kind of an issue.

  29. I just bought “Kafka on the Shore” the other day during a book haul of mine and have been putting off reading it. But now I think I’ll put it next on my reading list!

  30. I love how Murakami leaves his works largely unresolved at the end. After such fantastical scenarios, a tidy ending would seemed out of place.

  31. This article has me interested to read some of his books. I’m ashamed to say after all the reviews that I am not one who has ready any of his material. I look forward to at least reading one of the many promoted books mentioned here and will definitely comment further once I have a better perspective of his work.

  32. Excellent article, Justin. I’ve only read Norweigan Wood among Murakami’s oeuvre, and I enjoyed it. The characters in that novel are intricate, the story is heart-rending and the open-ended conclusion breeds existential musings. I’ll have to check out more of his stuff.

  33. Francisc Nona

    I see some of the comments to your post address the issue of Murakami’s style, and I think they are right to point out the simplicity of his writing. It struck me too to go for pages on end without as much as a jolt of adrenaline, and to discover, when moments of tension did occur, that they were resolved in a tone of light humour. I can see, however, that it’s precisely this aspect that makes him intriguing. I was reading the other day something about Zadie Smith’s critique of literary artifice, and I think Murakami would fit just well in that category of artifice-less authors(funny to write about this on a website called The Artifice!). The abrupt endings of his novels and short stories are also prone to make him, if not likable, at least intriguing. Sometimes, I have to agree, irritatingly so.
    Thanks for the background you provided in this article. I didn’t know most of the stuff. Thumbs up!

  34. Well done. This article captures the aesthetic allure to all of Murakami’s novels; especially the intertwining of music into his story lines. Whether it is cooking spaghetti to the Magic Flute, or the relishing the poignancy of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue in a dorm room on a rainy day, Murakami’s devotion rendering a real life atmosphere emphasizes the surreal elements into believable fantasy.

  35. I’ve found myself intrigued by Murakami’s work for years without quite being able to explain why; I read his (sort of) biography, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and I enjoyed learning about his cultural surroundings in this article.

  36. I just recently discovered Murakami and I agree that there is definitely something almost universally appealing in the way he writes and the stories he chooses to tell. I am absolutely fascinated by the he uses fairly simple, uncomplicated sentences to tell these really complex, bizarre stories.

  37. His strength, to me, lies in re imagining stories. His most recent short story in The New Yorker (“Samsa in Love”) is a retelling of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” – well, sort of. Cockroach Gregor wakes up to realize he has become, well, a person. And through his discovering of his body and his interactions with a hunch-backed locksmith he says quite a bit about the human condition, all the while seemingly poking fun at the entire situation. That ability to balance comedy and severity, to me, is special.

  38. Wow i feel very connected to all of you. I have never really heard of Murakami except in fashion but i think that might be a different one. Either way I opened up a word document and literally took down all the book titles I saw. I will check himout

  39. I loved Haruki Murakami and read many of his books. His writing style, as noted, is very addictive – it almost reads like a dream. Yet, I feel like (and especially with 1Q84) his books constitute the same characters, just with different contexts.

  40. Murakami’s novels often feel like a noir re-telling of The Wizard of Oz. His characters’ revelations of self take on a mystic quality. I was shocked to find that the Huffington Post put 1Q84 on its 18 Most Hipster Books of All Time list (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/06/hipster-book_n_5242399.html) because I think that Murakami can be enjoyed even if the reader isn’t psychoanalyzing the characters or looking up every allusion. The sex and the pop culture keep his work vibrant. What do others think? Is Murakami writing “hipster” novels?

  41. Jesse Munoz

    This is a fine article, Justin. In addition to music, which is certainly important in his work, cooking seems to play a prominent role in the lives of his characters. Just as with recurring references to symphonic and jazz music, the reader gets a healthy dose of what meals characters cook throughout Murakami’s novels.

  42. This article was pleasantly insightful and coincidently found at the moment that I finished reading 1Q84. Indeed most of Murakami’s novels end posing more questions or leaving loose ends that the reader almost feels obligated to solve/make sense of. Allowing the reader to put the missing pieces together reminded me of the idea of dreams posed in Kafka on the Shore in which we are told that the dreamer has the responsibility for his/her dreams and what questions they may stir about their unconscious fears and secrets. In this sense, the reader becomes the dreamer and we are left with the responsibility of making sense of the absurd or at least coming to terms with an understanding that allows us to understand our place in it. In Kafka, the dreamscape is created through the heavy allusions towards stream of the unconscious mind as well as the portals between the world in which we live in and that which borders our reality. The dreamer/reader is presented (usually) with double protagonists who most often occupy differing realities and we observe split scenes and absurd surreal events that oftentimes seem as disorganized and ridiculous as dreams themselves.
    I will be (hopefully) writing my own piece about this soon so that is all I will say for now.

    Great article! Got my mind racing!

  43. The author of the article, Justin Wu, cares so much about not only the literary works written by Haruki Murakami but also the writer, the person behind those words that move Justin and other readers. That’s a commonplace notion. However, when I verbalize it, it suddenly dawned on me that a human element is what excites us about writing. What backgrounds and experiences make writers choose particular material for their literary works, express it in certain ways, etc.

  44. For a long time, Haruki Murakami has been one of my favorite authors, and I think this article does a decent job specifying the common threads and connections between his works. For me, what really affects is this sense of mono no aware–a Japanese term gesturing towards the awareness of impermanence. In Murakami, he exposes the ephemerality of the world, of life and love and everything we devote our hours to. And still we wake up. And still, it is all beautiful.

  45. Terry Adams

    I picked up Kafka this past summer at random, but it was probably one of the best decisions of my life. Murakami has since become my favorite author; his storytelling has a way of captivating me. I’ve read Wind-Up and just finished Colorless Tsukuru. I plan on reading 1Q84 next, which should be really interesting based on what I’ve heard.

  46. Yama144

    I enjoyed this article, and I have enjoyed some of Murakami’s work,despite some the existential currently I am reading Colourless Tsukuru.

    Particularly ‘After Dark’, and ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’. I found the former insightful,although a little pseudo-philosophical it was heart-warming in places.Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End Of The World particularly made an impression on me, as you pointed out he has the ability to create surreal, but realistic microcosms.

    And despite the existential dilemmas faced by his characters, there is sometimes a naivety about them which can make them appealing.

    I have never read any of Murakami’s work in Japanese , I always assume a little is lost in the translation.

  47. Yama144

    Typing errors : * first and second line. Sorry!

  48. crispychips

    I read my first Murakami novel when I was about 14-15: Norwegian Wood. I absolutely fell in love with his prose, and been on the hunt for more of his books ever since. I do have to admit that as with any other author the style does end up being repetitive and less engaging since as an avid Murakami reader you sort of already know what to expect, plus and the ambiguity that is the key element to most of his prose ended up frustrating me as a reader some of the times. His attention and focus on small details is charming and unique at first, but eventually you get used to it and the whole thing just feels tedious and unnecessary. The last work of his that I read was After Dark. Compared to his other stuff this one was a very easy and non ‘committing’ read, I enjoyed it enough, but I haven’t picked up any of his books since then. Lately I started missing his crisp and ‘average guy’ gets into a very not average kind of situation plots. So I picked up the Wind up Bird Chronicle. The writing style is totally unique, that much is clear. Very few writers can describe the mundane with such sharpness and detail without making want to fall asleep and drool al over the book. All in all Murakami is perfect in small doses or with intervals if you to fully appreciate and enjoy his works.

  49. While this article does a lot to explore Murakami as a writer, by the end I still don’t think that the original question of WHY Murakami is so popular is resolved by much other than “because he’s a great, interesting writer and a humanitarian.” Yes all of these things are true, but there’s a plethora of unique, interesting and talented writers out there–why does his popularity grow even as general readership continues to fall?

    I think you touch on it in explaining the Westernized aspects of his writing, but I would have liked to see more contextualization of his work within our current society. Certainly, I think the West’s continuing fascination/fetishization of Japan plays a big role in this (for example, you mention Murakami’s frequent portrayal of women wanting to sleep with the main, male protagonist–hmmm yellow fever fantasy, anyone?). Anyway, it was a good read to learn more about Murakami but I think that there’s a lot more to be said about how he capitalizes on some unfortunate social trends to have amassed the amount of readers he has.

  50. Justin
    I found this post extremely enlightening in the subject of the author Haruki Murakami. I am currently listening to After the Quake and in a number of the short stories there are reoccurring events which your post helped me gain insight.

  51. The first novel I’ve read of Murakami’s was Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and I’m interested in reading some of his other works. Any recommendations?

  52. I enjoyed this post. I have yet to read any of Murakami’s work, but now I am interested and motivated. I wonder why novels that end without “closure” are popular? I would have guessed the opposite. This is worth exploring in more depth, I think.

  53. Norwegian Wood was the first book I ever read by Haruki Murakami (as a longtime fan of The Beatles I was initially intrigued by the title). Ever since that first book, I’ve been hooked on Murakami. His writing style isn’t what I’m usually into and he tends to repeat character types and themes so it always surprises me how addicted I am and how I never tire of his stories. As you mention, I think I connect a lot with the often alienated protagonists and the surreal settings they’re thrown into without explanation. It makes for an engaging read.

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