Photograph of Haruki Murakami from Wikimedia Commons, edited, January 12, 2018 –wakarimasita/Wikimedia Commons
CAIRO – 12 January 2018: January 12 marks the birthday of acclaimed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, renowned for his atmospheric and absurd stories.
Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1949 as part of the post-WWII “baby boomer” generation. Growing up in Kobe, he moved to Tokyo for his education, where he studied at Waseda University. It was in 1978 when, according to a frequently-repeated personal story, Murakami was hit with his first bout of inspiration while watching a baseball game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp. It was the moment American player Dave Hilton stepped in and hit a double when Murakami instantly felt driven to write his first novel.
That night, he began writing and never stopped.
His first books have come to be known as the “Trilogy of the Rat” and are composed of the novels “Hear the Wind Sing” (1979), “Pinball, 1973” (1980) and “A Wild Sheep Chase” (1982). “Hear the Wind Sing” won the Gunzou Literature Prize for budding writers, setting Murakami onward to his rather strange course to success. Shortly after graduating college, Murakami and his wife ran a tiny jazz bar for several years, which would serve to inspire the setting for some of his stories.
Despite being a Japanese writer, his works have garnered appeal over the world and are not tied to any specific culture, place or time. Here are 10 of Murakami's more popular stories, helping to serve as an introduction to this unique and mysterious talent:
“Kafka on the Shore” (2002)
Murkami's most famous work, “Kafka on the Shore” is actually two narratives in one, following the separate-yet-connected storylines of two protagonists from different generations. The first is Kafka Tamura, determined to become the world's strongest 15-year-old boy who runs from home both to escape a bizarre prophecy and to find his missing mother and sister. The other central character is an elderly wartime veteran named Nakata, who never recovered from war and now finds himself drawn to Kafka's life. This story also features as a prime example of Murakami's trademark absurdity, with talking cats, UFOs and Japanese folklore all part of the package.
“Norwegian Wood” (1987)
One of Murakami's first stories to propel him into fame, this book follows Watanabe Tōru and his relationship with his friend Naoko. Unfortunately, the death of their shared friend years ago has left Naoko traumatized, and she even claims to hear his voice from beyond the grave, calling to her from “the other world.” As Tōru tries in vain to stop Naoko, he too finds himself drawn to a mysterious and sexually liberated woman named Midori.
Part love-story, part examination of the nature of religious cults, “1Q84” merges these two topics together into a strange and mystifying narrative. It begins when a young woman named Aomame realizes she has slipped into an alternate reality after noticing strange differences around her. Meanwhile, writer and math genius Tengo takes on a project as a ghost writer, but finds himself driven into obsession with the strange project he works on. Eventually, his story intertwines with Aomame through the most fantastic of connections. The grand scope of this tale required it be published across three volumes from 2009 to 2010.
“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” (2013)
Selling a million copies in the first week, this long-awaited novel tells the story of the titular Tsukuru Tazaki, a man looking back at his past to figure out what went wrong, why his friends from high school shunned him from their group after he embarked on college. The journey to find answers takes him to Finland, where he learns to come to terms both with the past and himself.
“Dance Dance Dance” (2002)
This critique of Japanese capitalism is a direct sequel to “A Wild Sheep Chase”, bringing together a large and truly bizarre cast of characters, including a psychic music-obsessed 13-year-old boy to a one-armed beach poet and the narrator, all enmeshed in the web of “Advanced Capitalism”, which turns friendship and love into products.
One of Murkami's rare forays into non-fiction, “Underground” follows the events of the 1995 Tokyo gas attack, which saw 12 people dead and thousands affected. Murakami personally interviewed both survivors of the attack and ex-members of the doomsday cult responsible for it, aiming to piece together what happened and why.
“South of the Border, West of the Sun” (1992)
Hajime grew up a lonely child, with his only companion being a sick girl named Shimamoto. Together they enjoyed listening to music; though once Hajime moved away, the two lost contact. He grew up to find love, start a family and lead a seemingly normal, ideal life. However, he harbored a secret feeling that something was missing, and one day, Shimamoto returns, now a beautiful grown woman. Hajime is forced him to make a choice: his family or Shimamoto?
“Sputnik Sweetheart” (1999)
Sumire, an aspiring writer, falls in love with a fabulous businesswoman named Miu. Sumire's friend, K, a high-school teacher, also harbors feelings for Miu, and the two internally debate on whether or how they should confess their feelings. This love triangle grows even more complicated when Miu calls up K from a Greek island, informing him that Sumire has gone missing.
Somehow all of this is connected to the Sputnik satellite, still floating out in space alone.
“Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” (1985)
Two very different stories come together as one here. The first, “Hard Boiled Wonderland”, is a detective story set in a futuristic Tokyo, while the second, “The End of the World”, takes place within a walled fantasy city where people without shadows live. These two tales, nothing like each other, gradually come together as one by the end.
“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” (1994)
What begins as a search for a missing cat sprawls into a grand, wild narrative following Toru Okada, who discovers his wife has also gone missing, leading him down a truly bizarre rabbit-hole into the world of dreams, where he is assisted by a cast of truly strange characters in finding his wife. Despite the dreamlike nature of the story, its backdrop is Japan's 1980 war with Korea, where Japan's brutal crimes against the Koreans are laid witness to here.