On a Year of Murakami
Jan 1, 2021 • murakami stan matt • ~ 2 minute read • 499 words
This year, I read every English-translated Murakami novel, along with several short story collections. From Hear the Wind Sing to Killing Commendatore, this curated bibliography spans seventeen books over forty years.
And I’ve got to say, I’m pretty proud that I did it.
Why Murakami? The simplest reason is unintentional peer pressure. In the beginning of 2020, I had several friends each recommend Murakami. Few of them knew each other or had similar personalities. I rarely get recommendations from such a unique group of people; I just had to give him a shot.
I started with Kafka on the Shore and became entranced. His blend of surrealism, American & Japanese pop culture, and exploration of loneliness was addicting.
I then devoured all 1157 pages of 1Q84 in a couple of days. The book is far from perfect, but it really ignited a passion for Murakami within me. And, borrowing a goal from a friend, I decided. I had to read all of his books.
Murakami has a unique cocktail of narrative and style. He creates worlds grounded in reality, with a hint of the surreal and otherworldly. It satisfies my inner YA fantasy novel reader and gives him a catalysing vehicle, while simultaneously exploring problems that are fundamentally human.
Within each of these magical worlds, his characters are truly alone. They may have lovers, friends, or magical creatures as their accquaintance. They might live in bustling Tokyo or camp out in a mountain. They are young teenagers and sage elders. They’re alone. And mostly, they’ve come to terms with it, embracing their solitude. It’s a startingly realistic and addicting description.
Keep in mind, I read most of his books in a lonely and social-distanced pandemic.
Murakami is no two-trick pony. Recurring explorations of Japanese culture, fatalism, unique humour, a love for the mundane, experiental commentary, and a passion for music, food, and cats - I love all of it. His works all touch on Murakami-esque themes from a versatile set of angles. I was never bored.
Admittedly, Murakami is no perfect writer. In particular, I’m critical of his portrayal of women and sex - teetering from natural and intricate to jarringly unrealistic and one-dimensional. Of course, there are cultural differences and my lack of lived experience, but still. It’s at least a bit weird.
With no exaggeration, this is one of my favourite things I’ve done to date. Special thanks to John, Leo, Kimi, Julia, Baolinh, and Malcolm for their recommendations. It goes without saying that I now recommend Murakami to many friends; Kafka, A Wild Sheep Chase, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle are great places to start.
I feel melancholic now that I’m “done”. But he’s still writing more books. And I’ll be reading them.