What you should know about Haruki Murakami and his works

By Krishnan

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer of novels, short stories, and essays. His writings involve rather ordinary main characters who face unusual situations, romance, and coming-of-age changes. His works have been translated into 50 languages and have been best-sellers in Japan and across the world. 

Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949. His parents shaped his exposure to many cultures. As they were both professors of literature, he was exposed to a wide variety of American literature and music from an early age. He enjoyed jazz as a youngster and grew up with the classic American books of the 1950s and 1960s. 

He eventually relocated to Tokyo to attend Waseda University, where he eventually met his wife, Yoko. After getting married, the couple owned the Peter Cat Jazz Bar from 1974 to 1981. Murakami started writing after getting an idea during a baseball game, and at the age of thirty, he released his first book, Hear the Wind Sing (1979).

There are several connections between Murakami and his stories throughout his work. He has always found inspiration in music, and these influences can be found in all of his writings. Norwegian Wood, a song by the Beatles, inspired his book of the same title. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: The Thieving Magpie was inspired by an opera by Rossini, while a figure from The Magic Flute by Mozart appeared in the same book. In Norwegian Wood, the main character, Toru Watanabe, works in a record shop, exactly like Murakami did when he was younger.

Disheartened with contemporary Japanese materialism and wanting to see more of the world, Murakami and Yoko left Japan in 1986 to travel around Europe, staying for a while in Rome. During his stay in Rome, Murakami wrote Norwegian Wood (1987), the novel that shot him into literary fame in Japan and sold millions of copies. When the couple got back to Japan  Murakami was surprised and uncomfortable to learn that he had become a literary sensation while he was away. As a result, a few years later, Murakami and Yoko departed Japan and migrated to America. Murakami accepted teaching posts at Princeton University and Tufts University. He wrote The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and South of the Border, West of the Sun during this time (1994–95).

In 1995, the devastating Kobe earthquake and the sarin gas assaults on the Tokyo subway by the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo prompted Murakami to return to his own country. Almost 6,000 people died as a result of the earthquake in Murakami’s hometown of Kobe, and the cult assault in Tokyo claimed 13 lives and had a significant psychological effect on Japanese society. Murakami’s writing style changed as a result of this turning point, leading to the publication of two factual volumes on the terrorist attack and a collection of short tales about the earthquake.

He has won various awards for his writing, including the Franz Kafka Prize, the Jerusalem Prize, the World Fantasy Award, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and the Gunzo Prize for Emerging Writers. Murakami was even praised by The Guardian’s Steven Poole as “among the world’s greatest living novelists” for his writings.

A Wild Sheep Chase 

A Wild Sheep Chase is the third novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. It was first published in Japan in 1982 and translated into English in 1989. It is the third novel in the so-called “Trilogy of the Rat” and a stand-alone sequel to Pinball, 1973.  In his book, Murakami explores post-World War Two II Japanese cultural identity by fusing aspects of English and American literature with Japanese settings. The book has elements of postmodern magical realism and mystery. In 1982, he won the Noma Literary Newcomer’s Award for this book.

Summary: This detective story follows an anonymous, chain-smoking narrator as he goes up against a political-business-industry syndicate with seemingly unlimited money and influence.

Kafka On the Shore 

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami published Kafka on the Shore in 2002. Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore exhibits his unique fusion of pop culture, everyday detail, magical realism, suspense, humour, a complex storyline, and strong sensuality. Also, there is a stronger focus on Shinto and other religious practices in Japan. The novel won the 2006 World Fantasy Award and was listed among “The 10 Best Books of 2005” by The New York Times.

Summary: The book tells the stories of two characters: Kafka Tamura, a 15-year-old boy who flees his family to avoid an Oedipal curse, and Nakata, an elderly Japanese man who, as a result of a childhood accident, has the strange ability to communicate with cats.

Norwegian Wood

Murakami’s 1987 book, Norwegian Wood, is one of his most popular works. Millions of unhappy young Japanese people were drawn to its coming-of-age tale set in 1960s Japan during student riots. Norwegian Wood is still one of his best-sellers. Murakami became a star in his home country thanks to the enormous popularity of Norwegian Wood among young people in Japan. In 2010, Tran Anh Hung’s adaptation of the book into a movie with the same name was released.

Summary: Upon landing in Hamburg, West Germany, a middle-aged Toru Watanabe hears an orchestral cover of “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles. He is instantly struck with a sense of loss and longing. He recalls the 1960s, a time in which a lot of events affected his life.

Hear the Wind Sing

Hear the wind Sing is the first book in the Rat Trilogy and the debut book by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. It initially appeared in the June 1979 edition of Gunzo, and the following month it was published as a book. This book was awarded first place for finest fiction by a debut author. The novel was adapted into a film in 1981 by Japanese filmmaker Kazuki Mori, which was released by the Art Theatre Guild.

Summary: Boku flits between the companionship of his closest buddy “Rat,” a compassionate Chinese bartender simply known as “J,” and a nine-fingered girl with a significant chip on her shoulder while he tries to understand how he lost his youthful optimism.

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