“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” – Norwegian Wood
The son of two Japanese literature teachers, Haruki Murakami was born in 1949 in Kyoto. Although reading was very much a part of his youth, Murakami didn’t consider himself a writer until he had what he refers to as an epiphany one day in 1978, at a baseball game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp.
“I was more interested in making movies and in college I majored in cinema and theater arts at Waseda University,” he said in an interview. “Rather than writing an inconsequential novel, I would much rather be on the side of reading good novels. But that April afternoon, as I was watching the game at the stadium, I had the sudden notion that “perhaps I too can write a novel.” I don’t know why. I think it was a so-called epiphany.”
Heavily influenced by Kafka, Murakami is drawn to surrealist stories and dreamlike fantasies. “Rather than stories of ‘abnormal things happening to abnormal people’ or stories of ‘normal things happening to normal people,’ I like ‘stories of abnormal things happening to normal people.’”
His first few novels, like Hear the Wind Sing and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World gained a cult following in Japan and sold around 100,000 copies each. But it was his dive into realism that took him to international bestseller status.
“I’m not really interested in writing novels about realism, but Norwegian Wood is a novel of 100 percent pure realism. I wanted to experiment. I thought it was time to try another genre. And the result was that it sold. I started writing it on a whim, and I didn’t expect it to become a bestseller, so I was surprised.”
Some critics have accused Murakami of shunning Japanese culture in his work, but he disagrees – he writes based on his own assimilation of the world; Bob Dylan and baseball are very much a part of Japanese life in that sense. He also sees a shift in Japanese literature: “I am not part of the immediate tradition of Japanese literature, but I do think a new tradition, which will include myself, is going to be created. That is, needless to say, a wonderful thing.”
In addition to his novels, Murakami has written short stories, essays and non-fiction books. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is an account of his love of running, taking us on an athletic journey across the rugged Hawaiian landscape, and in Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, he tells the stories of the people who were affected by the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
Why is he on the list?
Every author on the list has earned their place through scores assigned to various prizes, sales, reader ratings and expert collections.
- Franz Kafka Prize
- Book Depository
- The Ideal Library
- 100 books to read in a lifetime
Read about Murakami
Image: Wikimedia Commons