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 ‘Norvegian Wood’-which has sold in more than 4 million copies in Japan alone-that the author was truly catapulted into the limelight. He is now Japan’s best known novelist abroad. Eight novels, two short story collections and one work of non-fiction are currently available in English translation.
South of the Border, West of the Sun
“Casablanca remade Japanese style… It is dream-like writing, laden with scenes which have the radiance of a poem.”
Growing up in the suburbs in post-war Japan, it seemed to Hajime that everyone but him had brothers and sisters. His sole companion was Shimamoto, also an only child. Together they spent long afternoons listening to her father’s record collection. But when his family moved away, the two lost touch. Now Hajime is in his thirties. After a decade of drifting he has found happiness with his loving wife and two daughters, and success running a jazz bar. Then Shimamoto reappears. She is beautiful, intense, enveloped in mistery. Hajime is catapulted into the past, putting at risk all he has in the present.
” How does Murakami manage to make poetry while writing of contemporary life and emotions? I am weak-kneed with admiration.”
Independent on Sunday
Twenty-two-year-old Sumire is in love with a woman seventeen years her senior. But wheareas Miu in glamorous and successful, Sumire is an aspiring writer who dresses in an oversized second-hand coat and heavy boots like a character in a Kerouac novel. Surpized that she might be a lesbian, Sumire spends ours on the phone talking to her best friend K about the big questions in life: what is sexual desire and should she ever tell Miu how she feels about her.
“There is something bold and exhilarating about Murakami’s writing.”
The night needs to be re-enchanted. So in the nocturnal milieu of Tokyo’s 24-hour cafes and love hotels, Haruki Murakami’s new novel makes an eerie metaphysical wager. As the manager of a small jazz bar (whom it is tempting to read as an avatar of the author himself) says at one point: “Time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night. You can’t fight it.”
The Elephant Vanishes
The Elephant Vanishes contains stories written in the 1980s (and translated later), and the range of material is a good introduction to Murakami if you haven’t come across him before. ‘The Little Green Monster’ and ‘The Dancing Dwarf’ are examples of his more surreal adventures. In the former, a housewife is horrified when a scaly creature enters her home, reads her mind, and declares that it loves her. She promptly gets rid of it by thinking nasty thoughts about what she’d do to it if she could. And in an excursion into fairy tale, the ‘dancing dwarf’ appears in the dream of a man who works in an elephant factory (yes an elephant factory – where they make elephants of course), and enters the dreamer’s waking body to help him win over a woman.