If there’s one thing unique about the reading experience, it’s its ability to take us to various places without us having to leave our homes. With only words, writers are able to stop and fast-forward time. They are able to create new worlds or to write about the impossible as if it’s something we have always been living with. They are able to push reality beyond its limits while still keeping us grounded here on earth.
Haruki Murakami is one such author with the capability of bending reality while keeping his stories distinctly human. His writing often overlaps the genes of science fiction and magical realism, coupled with drama.
Growing up in Japan, Murakami often read Western and Russian literature, such as the works of authors Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Richard Brautigan, and Jack Kerouac. His first foray into writing was the manuscript Hear the Wind Sing, an entry to a literary contest. He was twenty-nine at the time and was inspired by a baseball game between the Yakult Swallows and Hiroshima Carp. The novel was the story of a would-be writer inspired by a fictional author by the name of Derek Hartfield. The novel won first place in the said contest, and this initial success kept Murakami going. A year after writing Hear the Wind Sing, the sequel, Pinball, was published. In 1982, he published the final book in the trilogy, A Wild Sheep Chase. The series was called the Trilogy of the Rat. After this, Murakami wrote another manuscript under the genre of magical realism. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was published in 1985.
In 1987, Murakami gained national popularity with the publication of Norwegian Wood. The novel is an account of the student years of Toru Watanabe and his experiences with two women. The novel was popular among teenagers of the eighties and inspired an interest in politics and social action.
Murakami then left Japan to travel throughout Europe before settling in the United States. While in the United States, he became a writing fellow at Tufts University, Princeton, and Harvard. He also continued writing more novels. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995) deals in part with war crimes in Northeast China. It combines fantasy and reality, with nods to physical violence. Kafka on the Shore (2002) has two separate yet interrelated plots. The story combines magical realism with pop culture and sexuality but focuses on Japanese religious traditions. 1Q84 (2009) is set in a fictional 1984 Tokyo. A nod to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the novel follows the life of the protagonist Aomame and the premise that a single action can change one person’s life. It’s also his most widely read work.
To this day, Haruki Murakami is one of the most popular Japanese authors whose works have been translated into English. He has won several awards for his works, including his first award, the Gunzo Award for Best First Novel for Hear the Wind Sing, in 1979. He received the 2006 Franz Kafka Prize and the 2009 Jerusalem Prize, a literary award for writers whose work involves themes of human freedom, society, politics, and government. Kafka on the Shore also won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.
Murakami continues to write and shows no sign of stopping. He is also active on social media, especially on Twitter, where he shares nuggets of literary wisdom. He has mentioned that his writing process started from detachment and depictions of individual darkness and has evolved into commitment and depictions of darkness found in society.
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