Haruki Murakami was born on January 12, 1949 in Kyoto, Japan. Today he is known for being a renowned novelist, short essay writer, and translator. His works had first been bestsellers in Japan before becoming international sensations that millions have read. His own parents had expertise in the realm of Japanese literature, but Western influence managed to have a great effect on his work as well. Years ago he had attended Waseda University in Tokyo to study theater and it is here he would meet his wife, Yoko. The two would eventually start their own jazz bar but once Murakami’s writing career took off, they would eventually sell it.
So how did it all start?
As described on Murakami’s “Moment of Inspiration” on his website: “In 1978 Murakami was in the bleachers of Jingu Stadium watching a baseball game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp when Dave Hilton, an American, came to bat. According to an oft-repeated story, in the instant that he hit a double, Murakami suddenly realized that he could write a novel. He went home and began writing that night.”
The story that would be birthed from this monumental moment was called Hear the Wind Sing (Kaze no uta o kike), in 1979. In that same year it would go on to win the Gunzo New Writer Award. The story follows a 17 year old narrator, home from college for the summer, and the interactions he has with others his age, especially a friend named Rat. The book would be the first in what would be later called the “Trilogy of the Rat”, works that generally stand independent of each other with only a loose thread of connection. The series has been considered odd, ambiguous, and at times rambling, but only in the best of ways. The sequel Pinball, 1973 (1973-nen no pinbōru) would follow in 1980 and the final installment in 1982 with A Wild Sheep Chase (Hitsuji o meguru bōken). The narrator and Rat are the only characters to appear in all three. The third novel garnered great success and would lead Murakmi to win the Noma Literary Award for New Writers. Years later in 1988, Murakmi would release the novel Dance Dance Dance which is considered a sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, but not officially part of the Trilogy of the Rat.
These two titular characters would also appear in Murakmi’s next novel in 1985, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. This fantasy work follows around a plethora of colorful characters across two different dimensions, creating a wild and thought provoking journey for readers. This story would snatch up the Junichi Tanizaki Award along with other praises. The year 1987 saw the publication of the Young Adult Novel, Norwegian Wood, centered around another forlorn college student who grapples with the loss of a dear friend and being attracted to two vastly different women.
At this point and with this bibliography at his back, Murakmi has established himself as a contending name in the literary world. From then on he continued to write while also moving around the world from Japan, Rome, Greece, to America. Other titles under his belt include The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994-95), a political tale of Japanese militarism, and Underground (1997) and After the Quake (2000) which focus on the real life disasters of a subway attack and earthquake, respectively, in Japan. There is also Sputnik Sweetheart (1999), Kafka on the Shore (2002), After Dark (2004), 1Q84 (2009), Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2013), and Killing Commendatore (2017). Numerous short stories were also published such as The Elephant Vanishes (1993) and First Person Singular (2021).
Several of Murakami’s tales have been adapted into films for those who prefer this visual outlet. Hear the Wind Sing received its adaptation in 1981, Tony Takitani in 2004 (based on one of his short films), and Norwegian Wood in 2010. Another film released based on a short story was Burning in 2018 which received several accolades and currently holds a 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Spectacularly reaching Oscar status was Drive My Car in 2021 (with short story origins) which was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and International feature film (the last for which it won). It too holds a high score on Rotten Tomatoes with 97%.
Murakami has breached cultural and language barriers to bring imaginative and out of the box stories to the masses. One may only need to pick out a book to read, from the Trilogy of the Rat, to a nonfiction selection, or one of his many short stories, even the ones that then went to film. His awards speak for himself, with only just a few mentioned in this blog. You can find many of the titles mentioned above and others on Libby, Hoopla, and Kanopy as well as clicking on them below to see what library you can borrow them from. And don’t forget to wish this beloved author a Happy Birthday on January 12!
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
Written by Margaret Andracchi
Reference Librarian, Will Library
Come join our next Rather Be Reading Book Club meeting on February 22. We will be reading From Scratch by Tembi Locke ( I must read this before I watch the Netflix show, I must read this before I watch the Netflix show…)