Featured Author: Haruki Murakami
Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949. He found the inspiration to become a writer while watching a baseball game. After publishing his second novel, he sold the bar he was running with his wife (Peter Cat coffeehouse and jazz bar) and dedicated his life to writing. Since then he has published over 15 books and many short stories which have been translated into 50 languages.
His books are quirky, smart, and funny and he has become an iconic figure of postmodern literature. Many of his books focus on themes of loneliness, alienation, and search for meaning within modern Japanese culture. He has won numerous awards and prizes for both is novels and his short story collections. The Guardian recently referred to Murakami as the world’s greatest living novelist. However, he has been criticized by Japan’s literary establishment for being overly influenced by Western culture and literature. Murakami’s books are a blend of magical realism, fantasy, and realism. . Murakami’s books are for those who like experimental, post-modern literature that often cuts across genres but includes a moderate amount of magical realism and random feline appearances. Many of his stories lack neat, satisfying endings, so comfort with ambiguity is a must if you want to enjoy these books. Reading his books is more about the journey than the conclusions.
Jen’s thoughts: Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite authors. I first discovered his books after a friend from a face to face book club recommended I pick up a copy of The Windup Bird Chronicle — a book that is now one of my favorites. I haven’t read all his books although I have been making a dent in his collection from the time I first discovered his books. Below are a list of his books that I’ve read in descending order from favorite to least favorites (and event my least favorites are books that I’ve enjoyed):
- The Windup Bird Chronicles: One of my all time favorite books. When I read it for the first time I was blown away by how original it was and how entertaining. It does have at least one fairly graphic violent scene (related to war & torture) so be forewarned if that bothers you.
- 1Q84: A giant (in length), but enjoyable book. It does have more of a solid story line compared to some of his other books but still leaves quite a few questions unanswered.
- Sputnik Sweetheart: I gave this 4.5 stars at the time. Here’s a small part of my review from last year: “Sputnik Sweetheart is a book about love, longing, loneliness, and their consequences. It is bizarre, beautiful, emotionally-evocative, and magical. It is hard for me to describe exactly what I like about his books other than the fact that they leave me haunted and wanting to read more. Reading his books remind me of my experiences reading as a child and being so immersed in a completely new, vivid, and magical world.”
- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: 4 stars. You can read my review here.
- A Wild Sheep Chase: 4 stars. This is the third book in the Rat series although can be read as a standalone. It’s is a literary detective novel full of surrealist elements and the books that launched his literary career. A fun read, quirky, and engaging.
- Kafka on the Shore: I gave this 3.5 stars. Here’s part of my review from last year. Trying to write a synopsis of a Murakami plot is really beyond my abilities but even more so with this book: Talking cats, raining fish and leeches, living spirits, Johnny Walker & Colonel Sanders all make appearances. The book is filled with Freudian concepts & music and literary references. Protagonist, Kafka Tamura, is a 15 year-old boy who runs away from home and finds refuge in a small private library. His story is interspersed with the narrative of Nakata, a elderly man who can talk with cats. As the book draws to a close, the connections between the characters are made clearer (all relative here since I never achieve full clarity in his books).
- Wind/Pinball: These were the first two books in the the Rat Series (mentioned above). Both are novellas and were just okay for me. However, I really liked A Wild Sheep Chase and these two helped me better appreciate that book.
- After the Quake: I generally don’t love short stories but this was an enjoyable enough collection. Some brilliant stories and others less interesting.
Book Worm’s thoughts: Like Jen, my introduction to Murakami was The Wind Up Bird Chronicles. This was lent to me by a friend who has since passed away due to cancer, giving it an even greater place in my heart. Not only was this my first Murakami, it was also my first magical realism book and I was totally blown away, I had never read anything like it before and I loved it from beginning to end. Since then I have read more Murakami books largely for the 1001 Books challenge, every time one came up on the list I was really pleased as it gave me an excuse to lose myself in the magical world that Murakami brings to life. In order of favourites here are the Murakami novels I have read; The Wind Up Bird Chronicles 1Q84 Kafka on the Shore Sputnik Sweetheart Norwegian Wood After the Quake.
I have been meaning to get A Wild Sheep Chase from the library as it has been sitting on the shelf calling me for some time, however now I can see it is part 3 of trilogy I can’t possibly read it without reading the other 2 books, does anyone else have this problem or am I alone in my obsession not to read a series out of order?
Murakami’s list of published novels and several short story collections: (I’ve included hyperlinks to amazon for anyone who wants to check out the book synopses:
- Hear the Wind Sing
- Pinball, 1973
- A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel (Trilogy of the Rat Book 3)
- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Vintage International)
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Vintage International)
- The Elephant Vanishes: Stories (Vintage International)
- Norwegian Wood (Vintage International Original)
- Dance Dance Dance (Vintage International)
- Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Vintage International)
- South of the Border, West of the Sun: A Novel (Vintage International)
- After the Quake: Stories (Vintage International)
- Birthday Stories
- Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Vintage International)
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel (Vintage International)
- Sputnik Sweetheart (Vintage International)
- Kafka on the Shore (Vintage International)
- After Dark (Vintage International)
- 1Q84 (Vintage International)
- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel
- The Strange Library
Want more Murakami news? Check out:
- This article on NPR about his blog where he answers reader questions about life, books, love, etc.
- His personal website
What do you think of Murakami? Which are your favorite/least favorite books?