The Magic of Murakami
The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is one of the most compellingly original voices in world literature. Magic realism shows its surreal face in...
The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is one of the most compellingly original voices in world literature. Magic realism shows its surreal face in many of his stories and novels that manifest his fierce and, sometimes, frenzied imagination Haruki Murakami is a literary phenomenon Japan has gifted to our generation. He has invested simplicity of style with a dreamlike gloss. According to the 'New Statesman', 'The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is one of the most compellingly original voices in world literature.' His prose is addictive and conversational, segueing the reader into the centre of his texts. Magic realism shows its surreal face in many of his stories and novels that manifest his fierce and, sometimes, frenzied imagination. He is among the world's bestselling non-English novelists today. He writes in Japanese. His fiction has been translated into 42 languages so far. But Murakami speaks excellent English and has translated the selected works of Raymond Carver and others into Japanese. None of his books sold less than a million copies. His latest novel, "Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to Kare no Junrei no Toshi" (Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage) sold over a million copies in just the first seven days of its launch on April 12. When Murakami's new book, 1Q84, was released in Japanese two years ago, most of the print-run had sold out in just one day. A million copies went in the first month. His first realistic novel 'Norwegian Wood' became a cult classic among young Japanese, selling more than four million copies in Japan alone. How Murakami, who is shortlisted for the Nobel literature prize every year, began writing is a bizarre story. He was among the spectators at a Tokyo baseball stadium watching the game from the outfield when a batter hit a double. As the ball sailed through the air it occurred to Murakami for no reason that he could write a novel. He was 29 at that time. He went to a bookstore, bought a pen and paper, went home and began his first novel 'Hear The Wind Sing' in two months. He had now reached the point of no return. It was time to sell his jazz bar and embrace writing full time. I have read two ('Blind Willow', 'Sleeping Woman' and 'The Elephant Vanishes') of his three short story collections and two ('Norwegian Wood' and 'Kafka On The Shore') of his 12 novels, which are representative of the two worlds, the real and the unreal, the magical and the mundane, that constitute the setting for most of his writing. 'People say it's magic realism � but in the depths of my soul, it's just realism. Not magical,' says Murakami. I also flipped through a few pages of his epic '1Q84'. His first person style is not minimalist as some critics believe, especially those who compare him to his idol Carver. He observes the environment and his own presence in it with a fictional third eye and describes it in such detail that his prose hardly merits that restrictive appellation. Murakami revels in descriptive extravagance. For example, in 'The Spaghetti Year story', he is making spaghetti. He describes each strand of the spaghetti he is cooking in a different way, describes his trip to the grocery to buy spaghetti, a huge aluminum cooking pot big enough to bathe a German shepherd in, visit to other supermarkets that cater to foreigners to gather odd-sounding assortment of spices, how he cooks spaghetti and every tidbit unrelated to the main theme or the story itself and gets away coolly with this excess which is quite the opposite of minimalism.. Murakami uses the metaphor to enrich the images he creates. They may sound flaky and absurd but still make sense and indicate extremes of creativity. A couple of examples: like the footprints of an Indian elephant that's lost its way; like a lonely, jilted girl throwing old love letters into the fireplace. Murakami is as much a runner as he is a writer. He runs or swims long distances almost every day. Running is such a part of his life and writing that he wrote his memoir /What I Talk About When I Talk About Running', explaining the relationship between his running and writing. "My goal was always doing about 60K per week: six days a week, 10K a day on average. My fastest run was in New York marathon in 1991, 3:31:27. In 1996 I completed an ultra marathon of 62 miles. Since I also enter triathlons these days, I have added biking and swimming to my workouts. As such, I am now running only three or four days a week. I've run the New York City Marathon three times so far and the Boston Marathon six times before," he told an interviewer. He ran from Marathon to Athens in Greece, the original route that Pheidippides took to inform the Athenians that their soldiers had defeated the Persians in the battle at Marathon. To give up running would be like giving up writing, which would be like giving up living, he says. He wants his epitaph to read: Haruki Murakami, Writer (and Runner) At Least He Never Walked." Murakami is a great lover of cats. The jazz bar he ran for sometime was named Peter Cat. He raised ten cats so far in his life. They get into his novels and stories and there is a story entirely about cats, 'The Town of Cats'. They happen in the 'Wind Up Bird Chronicle', in 'Sputnik Sweetheart', in 'A Wild Sheep Chase', in 'Kafka On The Shore', in 'What I talk About When I talk About Running' and '1Q84'. His stories are built often around the trivialities of every day grind that go unnoticed precisely because they are trivial. Murakami's novels are full of strange and incredible characters and happenings. In 'Kafka On The Shore' Nakata converses with cats; Johnny Walker is a cat killer who plans to make a flute out of cats' souls and Kafka comes across two forest-dwelling Imperial Army soldiers who haven't aged since the Second World War. In '1Q84' Tengo visits a town of cats. Murakami erases the line between the real and the surreal and yet carries the day. Murakami uses calculated and prolonged digression as a literary device. With his mind and physique in their prime, I have little doubt that Murakami will continue to enthrall fans with his flair for the unnatural and the unusual. Nobel Committee be damned!! (The writer is a senior Indian journalist who now lives in the US, [email protected])