Thursday, October 20, 2011

Haruki Murakami Bestselling Japanese Writer



Murakami Bestselling writer of the Japanese absurd - by article from Channel NewsAsia

TOKYO : Haruki Murakami, whose new novel "1Q84" is proving a worldwide phenomenon, describes himself as "the black sheep of the Japanese literary world" for his absurdist take on the spiritual emptiness of modern life.

In Japan the first two volumes of "1Q84", which can be read as "1984" in Japanese, came out in 2009, becoming a bestseller even before hitting the stores on the back of massive advance orders, and clearing a million sales within a month.

The third volume went on sale in Japan last year, boosting the number of copies of the popular series to more than 3.85 million, according to its publisher Shinchosha Publishing Co.

But the release of the foreign language translations of the book, his first in five years, have also come amid a blaze of excitement, garnering the sort of attention usually reserved for the Harry Potter series.

In France, where it was released in the summer, publishers, who printed 70,000 copies, were forced to reprint within a week.

And the launch of the first installment in Britain on Tuesday and across the United States next week has had bookshops planning midnight openings to cope with demand.

The novel, just shy of 1,000 pages, contains the usual Murakami mixture of parallel universes, bizarre characters and surrealist happenings as the lives of a female murderer and a male novelist intertwine.

Murakami, a keen runner who spends much of his time in the United States, is known for writing lyrically and surreally about Japanese who refuse to toe the line in a homogenous society, peppering his works with pop culture references.

His 2002 bestseller "Kafka on the Shore" is the story of a teenage boy who runs away from home to search for his missing mother and sister, and meets an ageing simpleton who has never recovered from a wartime affliction.

Translated into some 40 languages, his works have attracted fans worldwide with their so-called "Murakami world" -- fantastical scenes such as a giant frog inviting a salaryman into an epic battle, or skies that rain mackerels.

The top-selling novelist is noted for his disregard for the traditional Japanese qualities of discretion and understatement.

"Before, Japanese authors spoke about pain in an inaccessible style," he has said. "For them, suffering was an aesthetic question."

Murakami's quixotic themes strike a chord in a country that today records some 30,000 suicides every year. But Japan's nuclear crisis after the March earthquake and tsunami prompted him to deploy a more straightforward rhetoric.

Fukushima "was the second source of nuclear damage to Japanese people in history" after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Murakami said in a speech when he won this year's International Catalunya Prize in June.

"But this time nobody dropped a nuclear bomb," Murakami said.

"We Japanese set it up, made mistakes, contaminated our country. We should have said no to nuclear power. We should have pursued energy development to replace nuclear energy."

Murakami was born on January 12, 1949 in the Japanese city of Kyoto, although he grew up in Kobe. After studying in Tokyo he spent seven years running a jazz bar in the capital and also studied cinema.

In a recent interview in the Britain's Guardian newspaper, he described how he did not know how he decided to be a writer and sometimes has a vision of a parallel existence in which he carried on at the bar.

"Do I have a sense of alternative lives? Ummm ah. Yes. So I feel it's very strange, still. Sometimes I wonder why I'm a novelist right now. There is no definite career reason why I became a writer. Something happened, and I became a writer. And now I'm a successful writer," he said.

He sold his jazz bar as he devoted himself to writing, but he told the Guardian: "I don't think of myself as an artist. I'm just a guy who can write. Yeah."

Murakami took up running to keep himself fit and in "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" (2008), he conveyed what the sport meant to him.

"No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act," he wrote.

The author showed the same disciplined dedication to his running -- he has run numerous marathons and even an ultramarathon -- as to his writing, describing the routine of both activities as important.

Murakami has been compared to the US writer J.D. Salinger, whose "Catcher in the Rye" he translated into Japanese. Other influences, also from the pantheon of US postwar writers, are Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut.

He decided to begin writing in his 30s, and his first success came with "Hear the Wind Sing" in 1979.

"Norwegian Wood" (1987), a sexually frank novel about a man's fleeting romance with a traumatised young woman, brought him such celebrity that he fled Japan to spend time in the United States, his second home.

The film was turned into a well-regarded movie last year by French-Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung.

Murakami has contradictory relations with his native land, describing himself as "the black sheep of the Japanese literary world".

"They criticise my style, which is too far from the classical canon," he says. "I left Japan partly for that reason, to be myself."

When he received the 2009 Jerusalem Prize, Israel's highest literary honour for foreign writers, he obliquely criticised Middle East conflicts that victimise innocent citizens.

"If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg," he said at the ceremony in Jerusalem.

He was awarded Spain's Order of Arts and Letters last year and the Czech Republic's foremost literary award, the Franz Kafka Prize, in 2006.

He has been tipped as a future winner of the Nobel literature prize.

- AFP/ir

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