Haruki Murakami turns 68 today. A perennial contender for the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature, his books are celebrated across the world. He is a former jazz bar owner and is dubbed as the reformist saint of modern literature, bridging the gap between popular literature and literary fiction.
His ‘magic realism’ challenges and delves deep into the concept of identity and society. And he mirrors human emotions and struggles of modern civilizations.
Humming to the melodies of The Beatles, he has heavily poured himself into the popular culture. He is an avid Hollywood fan and simultaneously considers himself a protege of the likes of Franz Kafka, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky. He pens the sulky elements of popular pop culture into hardcore literature, paving a way for ordinary pulp readers to get their reading ecstasies in the pages of hardcore novels.
He has absorbed the world through jazz and Russian classics. His style is simple yet elegant and deep underneath. He was inspired to write his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing (1979), while watching a baseball game. Its success encouraged him to continue writing. Here’s a sneak peak into his finest writings:
Norwegian Wood (1987)
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
Toru Watanabe, in his late 30’s, hears ‘Norwegian Wood’—a Beatles track at Hamburg airport. Nostalgic memories of his days as a young student and his love affair with the beautiful and troubled Naoko return to him.
Haruki takes us on an emotional journey through the tales of love and friendship. Norwegian Wood became Murakami’s first realistic novel which transported him to mainstream arena. His humour and the depiction of emotions brought an unbeatable place for Norwegian Wood among readers all over the world. It has been translated into many languages and in 2010, a film adaption was released which won many awards.
Kafka on the Shore (2002)
“Things outside you are projections of what’s inside you, and what’s inside you is a projection of what’s outside. So when you step into the labyrinth outside you, at the same time you’re stepping into the labyrinth inside.”
The most challenging of all Murakami’s novels, Kafka on the Shore has two protagonists narrating two separate yet interrelated plots. Through non-linearly displays and magical realism, Kafka on the Shore illustrates a blend of pop culture, love, and sexuality, and challenges Japanese religious traditions. The novel created many arguments among Murakami’s readers regarding the comprehension of the narration. Mostly, it is believed that this novel is the extended spiritual sequel of his earlier works Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World as well as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
“It is not that the meaning cannot be explained. But there are certain meanings that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words.”
The distinguished blend of a beautiful love story, a mysterious labyrinth, and a magical fantasy, 1Q84 is a novel of self-discovery which is considered as Murakami’s finest work by the literary critiques. He introduces the theater of action in a fictional Tokyo in a fictional 1984. The book is based on the idea that a single action will change the entire path of an individual’s life. The novel paints a tremendous feat of imagination and it became an instant bestseller, reaching 1 million sales in just one month after the release.
Dance Dance Dance (1988)
“I used to think the years would go by in order, that you get older one year at a time. But it’s not like that. It happens overnight.”
The surreal misadventures of an unnamed narrator and the conundrums he encounters are portrayed in this novel. The protagonist, who is a commercial writer, is compelled to return to the Dolphin Hotel—a seedy establishment where he once shared a room with a woman he loved. Interestingly, he doesn’t even know her real name. Since she had disappeared without a trace, the protagonist experiences dreams of this woman and the Sheep Man—a supernatural character dressed in an old sheepskin who speaks in an unpunctuated tattoo. The character helps the protagonist to solve the mystery of the disappearance.
Haruki Murakami tries to bring the reader into the deconstruction of the economic and social phenomenon of Japanese society through his fictional characters. He interrogates the advanced capitalistic notion of commodifying basic human relationships.
South of the Border, West of the Sun (1992)
“No matter where I go, I still end up me. What’s missing never changes; the scenery may change, but I’m still the same incomplete person. The same missing elements torture me with a hunger that I can never satisfy. I think that lack itself is as close as I’ll come to defining myself.”
This short novel focuses on an era where the Japanese people had experienced isolation and tremendous misery. The novel carries the residuals and traces of a brutal war, travelling through a typical love story which is set against the backdrop of Japanese post-war. Haruki Murakami pictures the silent sorrows, starting from a couple’s childhood in a small town in Japan. Here the boy Hajime meets a girl Shimamoto, who is an only child and suffers from polio, which causes her to drag her leg as she walks. They spend most of their time together talking about their interests in life and listening to records on Shimamoto’s stereo.
Eventually, they join different high schools and grow apart. They reunite again at the age of 36. Hajime, now the father of two children and owner of two successful jazz bars, is compelled to make a life choice between his past and present.