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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Haruki Murakami: ‘You have to go through the darkness before you get to the light’ | Books + Interviews - The Guardian

His surreal stories are read by millions but the Japanese novelist is bemused by his celebrity. The eternal Nobel favourite reveals why his books appeal in times of chaos, inform Oliver Burkeman, Guardian writer. 

Haruki Murakami rises at 4am to write for five or six hours before a six-mile run and a swim.
Photo: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

The day before we meet in Manhattan, a woman stopped Haruki Murakami in Central Park, where he had come for his late-morning run. “Excuse me,” she said, “but aren’t you a very famous Japanese novelist?” A faintly odd way of putting the question, but Murakami responded in his usual equable manner. “I said ‘No, really I’m just a writer. But still, it’s nice to meet you!’ And then we shook hands. When people stop me like that, I feel very strange, because I’m just an ordinary guy. I don’t really understand why people want to meet me.”

It would be a mistake to interpret this as false modesty, but equally wrong to see it as genuine discomfort with fame: so far as it’s possible to tell, the 69-year-old Murakami neither relishes nor dislikes his global celebrity. His outlook, instead, is that of a curious if slightly bemused spectator – both of the surreal stories that emerge from his subconscious, and of the fact that they are devoured by readers in their millions, in Japanese and in translation. It’s surely no coincidence that the typical Murakami protagonist is a similarly detached observer: a placid, socially withdrawn and often nameless man in his mid-30s, who seems more intrigued than alarmed when an inexplicable phone call, or the search for a lost cat, leads him into a dreamlike parallel universe populated by exploding dogs, men in sheep costumes, enigmatic teenage girls and people with no faces.

Murakami has a theory that this mesmerising literary formula appeals particularly in times of political chaos. “I was so popular in the 1990s in Russia, at the time they were changing from the Soviet Union – there was big confusion, and people in confusion like my books,” he explains, sipping water in a conference room at the offices of his American literary agency. “In Germany, when the Berlin Wall fell down, there was confusion – and people liked my books.” If that’s right, Donald Trump’s America and Brexit Britain should prove especially fertile markets for his 14th novel, Killing Commendatore, a 674-page dose of high Murakami weirdness, translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen and published in the UK on 9 October...

The key moments in Murakami’s emergence as a writer share this sense of having arisen from somewhere beyond his conscious control. Born in 1949 in Kyoto, during the postwar American occupation of Japan, Murakami disappointed his parents by spurning a corporate career in favour of opening a jazz club in Tokyo, Peter Cat, named after his pet. A few years later he was in the stands at a baseball stadium watching the ball sail off the bat of an American player named Dave Hilton, when it suddenly occurred to him that he could write a novel, an epiphany that led to Hear the Wind Sing (1979). Soon after, when the Japanese literary magazine Gunzo woke him one weekend with a phone call informing him that the novel had been shortlisted for its new writers’ prize, he hung up, then went for a walk with his wife, Yoko. They found an injured pigeon, which they carried to the local police station. “That Sunday was bright and clear, and the trees, the buildings, and the shop windows sparkled beautifully in the spring sunlight,” he wrote years later. “That’s when it hit me. I was going to win the prize. And I was going to go on to become a novelist who would enjoy some degree of success. It was an audacious presumption, but I was sure at that moment that it would happen. Completely sure. Not in a theoretical way but directly and intuitively.”
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Source: The Guardian