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Love: Impossible

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Haruki Murakami might be the best-known Japanese writer in the Western hemispere. And rightfully so. While writing about things distinctly Japanese, he manages to move readers from different cultures. His books are widely read in America and Europe alike; when browsing the English-language in the biggest Prague bookstore Luxor, I could not pass through missing the large collection of his novels arranged in a special section. I will be always grateful to the store owners for making this chance encounter possible.

Immediately captured by the appealing UK edition, featuring mysterious Japanese women looking straight into my eyes, I ended up reading three Murakami novels in a row. And it was an experience like no other.

From these three, the Norwegian wood (1987) is the one everyone in Japan has read. Its success literally pushed Murakami out of his home country, such was the reader response that he could not take it anymore. Talk about shy writers.

My favorite is South of the Border, West of the Sun (1992) – an incredibly powerful love story, topping my Best reads list and scheduled for re-reading pretty soon. The book is also central to Murakami’s consistent view on a relationship between men and women, all the difficulties, pains, bad decisions and momentary joys.
Sputnik Sweetheart (1999) confirms Murakami’s superior position among world’s living novelists, bringing us his familiar poetry-in-prose style, a lesbian love story and one sad writer who’s a witness to it, and a surprising happy-end.

Murakami’s writing has this meditative, poetic quality few novelist can dream of achieving. He likes to dwell on details, play with symbols, metaphors, without being boring. The storyline moves along, not rushing too much, and his message gets through indirectly and convincingly at the same time.

Love is the central theme of all three novels. It is difficult indeed to bring anything new into this genre, and Murakami doesn’t try to be original at all costs. We may have read all this already, but it doesn’t matter. No one is going to solve mysterious proceedings of love for good, it is only possible to tell tales, showcase people doing their best to love and not get destroyed by it. Murakami’s heroes manage this with varying degree of success.

South of the Border offer the most concentrated, crystalic Murakami to date. A story of Hajime and his childhood love, Shimamoto, whom he encounters some 20 years later when he’s already married and has kids. Powerful, undeniable love that burns everything standing its way including the actors. The novel does not try to hide the love story behind any kind of dramatic development, on the contrary, everything serves the purpose of moving the characters from one stage of love into another.

Most powerful metaphors appear here. One could perhaps conclude with this paragraph, where Hajime’s friend talks about Disney’s movie The Living Desert:

“Rain falls and the flowers bloom. No rain, they wither up. Bugs are eaten by lizards, lizards are eaten by birds. But in the end every one of them dies. They die and dry up. One generation dies, and the next one takes over. That’s how it goes. Lots of different ways to live. And lots of different ways to die. But in the end that does not make a bit of difference. All that remains is a desert.”

Whether you agree with it or not, you should read Murakami to find out.

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About Tomas Kohl

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Tomas, excellent job and welcome!

  • Johno

    Tomas, thanks for this. I read “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle” recently and thought it was completely excellent.

  • David Mazzotta

    Excellent work Tomas. I’m also a fan of Murakami.

    The Wind-Up Bird Chronichle was a tour de force (although harrowing in many parts).

    I once reviewed a couple of Murkami’s later works for Slashdot:

    (Of course, that was before I discovered blogcritics.)

    Murakami can be especially striking if all you really know about the arts in Japan is anime.