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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Haruki Murakami: Totem Of Modern Japanese Literature

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JAPAN: “I write prose just like I play music”, quoted by Haruki Murakami, who was the owner of a Jazz club in Tokyo before he became a writer.

72-year-old Murakami is a celebrated author and one of the most prominent figures writing in the magical realism world.

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With elegant prose, Haruki Murakami conjures magical worlds overlaying ours. Moreover, Murakami’s style of magical realism uses simple language to express feelings of loneliness and nostalgia.

Furthermore, he focuses on ‘slice of life’ scenes. He describes simple everyday chores like cooking and grocery shopping in minute details that make his writing captivating.

Reminder of nascent youth

Photo Credit: Nupur. Transcontinental times.
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The way I read it, Murakami writes primarily about the experience of adolescence. South of the Border, West of the Sun is a great example of this.

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It contains some extremely poignant explorations of coming of age, early relationships, etc. As the protagonist transitions to adulthood, he never escapes the emotions and memories from that period of his life.

Moreover, he focuses on traditionally adolescent themes, particularly alienation. At the end of the world portions of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, the narrator possesses the only ego or mind in Town.

This is mirrored in the hard-boiled wonderland portions of the novel, where the narrator is cut off from a portion of his mind, and unaware of the strangeness around him.

In Murakami’s works, the narrator is almost always somehow set apart from the world he ostensibly exists in.

Even his books with adult protagonists describe adolescence. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the protagonist is faced with unfathomable changes in himself, his relationships with women, and the world around him.

These changes bring him slowly into a new, stranger world in which he is unequipped to function, but must. Everything from the wet dreams to the confusing inexplicable relationship with the girl next door evokes the heady confusion of adolescence.

Murakami’s work: a towpath of contemporary Japan

Adolescence and alienation from society are particularly interesting themes in the context of Japanese literature. Japanese society has always had exceptionally rigid social expectations, especially for young people.

Weighing the conflicting demands of obligation and human emotion has been a theme of Japanese literature for over a thousand years.

Additionally, today Japan has problems with extremely harsh work culture, people who ‘opt-out’ of society, and “herbivore men,” who opt out of traditional dating and marriage.

Furthermore, Japan has an extremely homogeneous society because they don’t tolerate differentiation. It’s a perfect recipe for adolescent alienation.

For the greater part, I find his works to be divided between two primary categories, that is, those mentioned above which deal primarily with the layers of the human psyche, and then those concerned with the modern Japanese psyche in particular, and how therein the harsh facts of the Second World War now settle.

The best exemplification of each approach I find to be in his best-regarded work, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

It explores the unspoken guilt of WWII, the ephemeral layers of human consciousness, as well as the third great theme of his writings: the disassociation one may feel from the status-quo of the society in which you may find yourself.

While the first of the three themes may be specific to one nation of people, the other two to transcend any racial or cultural boundary, a fact reinforced by the numerous allusions to the pop culture – particularly western music and literature – enjoyed by Murakami himself.

Ultimately, what I find fascinating is his cosmopolitan perspective on those issues he is most acutely aware of, as they apply through the Japanese people in particular and out towards any and all who may pick up his works.

The author launched his new book ‘first-person singular’ in July 2020. It is a collection of short stories written in the first person as the title suggests. The bookmarked the author’s return to his signature style.

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