First of all,
I’m not a “Harukist”,
but neither am I a hater [I promise;)].
His books came into my life at a special timing when I was going through some emotional turbulence feeling isolated and misunderstood. Given the time passed since that point of time, I now have some confidence in finding clarity in his writing, which sometimes feels like a never-ending fog… 😉
For those who haven’t come across this author. Murakami is a Japanese writer who’s famous for his romantic novels and those talking about alienation and loneliness. He has a massive fan-base – much larger outside of Japan than inside. In the past 10-15 years, his books have won him many international literature awards which, along with other information, can be found on his wiki page:
I don’t intend to either promote or criticise his books, but I hope this blog will provide insights on whats and whys to the type of author he is and his popularity.
1 Word: Sad/Lonely
2 Words: Almost Defeatist
3 Words: Chaotic Mysterious Confusion
4 Words: Romantic Extremist/Terrorist in Solitude
5 Words: Imploding Soul-Searching That Never Ends
6 Words: “I don’t know the answer either.”
His million-dollar question could be:
“Love, loss or loneliness, which will break you first?”
“Human loneliness” aside, Murakami is an extremist romantic, not exactly the cliche hyper-passionate type but the pessimistic type that can’t quite look love in the eye, but takes great satisfaction when looking at/for it being mirrored by pain.
The obsession for an answer eventually traps him in the fog of chaos that he tries so hard to get out of. Endless monologue and open ends… the intention seems to be keeping the answers an unreachable mystery.
Speaking of which, there is no doubt that Murakami gives importance to the ’struggle’ and amplifies the soul-searching to the maximum. That’s where we get the famous extremist dualist/“all-or-nothing” Murakami quotes:
“But the absence of fighting or hatred or desire also means the opposites do not exist either. No joy, no communion, no love. Only where there is disillusionment and depression and sorrow does happiness arise; without the despair of loss, there is no hope.”
— Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
“I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it — to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more. Just once. ”
— Norwegian Wood
“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.”
— Kafka on the Shore
His style appeals to people who feel trapped in an isolated, alienated or emotionally difficult situation; that’s where making sense of pain and suffering helps gain insights in chaos. The first time I truly absorbed anything from his books was when I was about 18 – post-puberty, never really felt belonged, cooling down from superficial fluctuations and starting to face the inevitable ‘human loneliness’…
If you’re partial to some harmless sensational exploring the potential of love and loss, Murakami will give you some interesting reading time with waves and waves of emotions. It will also be calming, making you feel less alienated. But if you’re a fan of logic and instant clarity, Murakami is certainly a bad match – the kind of firstdate you’d want to say goodbye within 10 minutes of conversation.
On a larger scale, Murakami’s writing style fits into the western world’s post-colonial romanticisation of Japan.
Japanese literature and films that are popular overseas and those popular within Japan are often vastly different. Sometimes, it’s long after a book becomes the bestseller overseas, that domestic readers first notice there is such a book (domestic bookstores then start to advertise them with a sensational title, such as, “the Japanese novel that made America cry”, etc.)
A good example to demonstrate this would be the popularity of director Kurosawa Akira（黒澤明）. His films (e.g. Ran, Rashomon, etc.) became massively popular overseas. The Hidden Fortress influenced and inspired the creation of the Star Wars… Meanwhile (1970s), in Japan, there were a lot of popular directors besides him, e.g. Yamada Yoji（山田洋次）, who were making town-folk films, teen films, and Japanese new wave films.
My impression was that Kurosawa’s success in the west had a lot to do with:
1) the fact that he was one of the first directors who filmed individualist films in the early post-war time to support the Occupation’s democratic and individualist political agenda;
2) the fact his films possessed the “Japanese-ness” that the west found exotic and desirable…
Without turning this blog into a discussion of post-colonial media discourses, let’s just say Murakami’s sentiments and soul-searching were something that the western world found particularly ‘Japanese’ and intriguing.
His books gave me insights in a difficult time, so he definitely has a place in my heart…
Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts and experience about him;)