Haruki Murakami holds the titles of both the most popular novelist in Japan and the most popular Japanese novelist in the wider world. After publishing Norwegian Wood in 1987, a book often called “the Japanese Catcher in the Rye,” Murakami’s notoriety exploded to such an extent that he felt forced out of his homeland, a country whose traditional ways and — to his mind — conformist mindset never sat right with him in the first place.
Whenever I write a novel, I have a strong sense that I am doing something I was unable to do before. With each new work, I move up a step and discover something new inside me. I don’t see this novel as a departure, but I do think it has been a major step in my career. Formally speaking, this is the first full-length novel I have written from beginning to end in the third person.
In East Asia, his lyrical fictional style has spawned a legion of imitators dubbed "Murakami's children." In South Korea, where his books often hit best-seller lists, 50 volumes of his work have appeared in translation, including novels, short stories, travel pieces, essays and interviews.
"I'm looking for my own story. I'm digging the surface and descending to my own soul." This kind of introspection is the key to his work, and the inner journey may also be the source of his appeal for young Japanese readers. Economic woes have transformed a country once famous for its discipline and formality, its application of external structure and ritual. Young people no longer want to buy into all that.
He does not attempt to explain Japan. I don’t think he writes for us, or them. He writes about lost souls who find an unsatisfactory salvation or a fragment of happiness. Somehow, I who appear to be one thing, find myself to be another, just by reading these books.
Mr. Murakami is supposed to be very wise too. But “1Q84” has even his most ardent fans doing back flips as they try to justify this book’s glaring troubles. Is it consistently interesting? No, but Mr. Murakami is too skillful a trickster to rely on conventional notions of storytelling.
"The most perturbing -- and attractive -- aspect of Murakami's books is that they usually amount to far more than the sum of their parts. They resist definition, yet they seem to stand for an unnamed something - they seem to have a life outside themselves." - Julie Myerson
And yet, despite his disclaimers, despite his three-year self-imposed exile in the Mediterranean, despite -- or because of -- his alienation from rootless, monied Tokyo, Murakami is very much a writer of modern Japan, nostalgic for missing idealism, aghast at sudden wealth.
As Murakami tells it, his emergence as a novelist was a mystical experience—an artistic epiphany. It came in 1977, he says, as he sat in Tokyo's Jingu Stadium watching his favorite baseball team, the Yakult Swallows. When batter Dave Hilton hit a double, Murakami, then 28, says he heard a voice telling him to begin his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing. "That was one of the happiest experiences of my life," he recalls. "Perhaps the happiest." A decade later came the momentous publication of Norwegian Wood.
It was 37 then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense could cover on approach to Hamburg airport. Cold November rains drenched the earth, lending everything the gloomy air of a Flemish landscape: the ground crew in waterproofs, a flag atop a squat airport building, a BMW billboard. So - Germany again.
"My parents were always talking about Japanese literature," he says, "and I hated it. So I read foreign literature, mostly European writers of the 19th century - Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Dickens. They were my favourite authors. Then I took up American paperbacks. Hardboiled detective stories.
Not much about his private life is known (or has not yet been translated). Unlike most other authors or writer in general he leads a very healthy life. He quit smoking and started running amongst other sports when he gave up the Jazz Bar. He is going as far as joining several marathons per year all over the world.
In 1963, at the age of 14, there was another moment of revelation when he attended a concert by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. "I was so impressed," he says of the night he became hooked on the music's spon-taneous warmth and the musicians' cool stance. "Since then I have been a very enthusiastic jazz listener."
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949. Following the publication of his first novel in Japanese in 1979, he sold the jazz bar he ran with his wife and became a full-time writer. It was with the publication of Norwegian Wood – which has to date sold more than 4 million copies in Japan alone – that the author was truly catapulted into the limelight. Known for his surrealistic world of mysterious (and often disappearing) women, cats, earlobes, wells, Western culture, music and quirky first-person narratives, he is now Japan’s best-known novelist abroad.