Each year, I reach a point where I’m desperately craving for a Murakami fix. For me, reading a Murakami novel is similar to the experience of eating caviar. It’s a rare delicacy you savor, indulge in, appreciate and long for going through the same process all over again. The most celebrated Japanese author in modern times, his novels have been widely translated and have sold millions of copies around the globe. Born in Kyoto in 1949 and raised in Kobe, he was born to parents who were teachers of Japanese literature. Growing up conversations on Japanese literature occurred regularly in the Murakami household, yet ironically it was Western literature that sparked the author’s interest. Murakami immersed himself in the works of European and American writers.
Heavily influenced by Western culture, Murakami frequently makes references to Western culture such as music and literature. In his stories, Japanese characters drink Tom Collins and listen to Thelonious Monk, discuss F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works and wear faded Levi’s jeans. Not only does this allow readers to grasp a sense of what his characters are like, but it also became a way for him to break into the international scene. The stories offered by Murakami are never simple, they’re covered with layers and layers of philosophical issues: love, sex, loss, trauma isolation, loneliness and quest for life. As a storyteller, he effortlessly tackles these themes using surrealism and by adding a flair of humor and optimism. Murakami has several international honors under his belt, namely the Franz Kafka Prize and the Jerusalem Prize. In recent years, he has been considered as a front-runner for the world’s most prestigious award, the Nobel prize in literature. Whether you’ve never read Murakami or are an enthusiast, here are 5 novels that will transport you to the captivating world of Murakami.
1. Norwegian Wood
Perhaps Murakami’s most recognized work, this is the novel that skyrocketed the author’s fame in Japan. The novel starts off when the 37-year-old protagonist Toru Watanabe hears fragments of the Beatles “Norwegian Wood” on a flight from Hamburg. Watanabe soon becomes emotionally overwhelmed as the song triggers painful memories of the past. Recalling memories of his college days in Tokyo during the ‘60s, Watanabe takes us through his relationship with 2 extremely different women from the opposite spectrums. Perfectly capturing the heartache that comes with first love, brace yourself for a poignant story of love, loss, and coming of age. Yes, Norwegian Wood will make you feel all the feels that you have when you’re young, innocent and hopelessly in love with someone. Provoking readers to think of philosophical questions about life and death, Murakami lays out how they are both fully intertwined. There is definitely a sense of nostalgia and lust for life in this beautiful story. While this novel doesn’t share many of the surrealism elements seen in Murakami’s other novels, it is still considered as the best introduction to his novels.
2.Men WIthout Women
If you find reading a 400-page book to be daunting, why not try reading one of Murakami’s short novels? Consisting of 7 short stories themed on “men without women”, each story allows us a glimpse into how these men ended up being wounded and somewhat isolated. This book offers an amazing observation on how people react differently in the aftermath of a relationship. Some may feel the loss and intense pain, while others are detached and distant. In true Murakami style, not everything is resolved in all of these stories, just like life itself. How often are we provided answers to the catastrophic events that shape our lives? Not often, I assume. The eccentric characters in these stories will linger and make you ponder about their fate.
3. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Tsukuru is a 36-year-old engineer that lives in Tokyo. He’s single, friendless for the most part, and doesn’t have a lot going on in life. In high school, Tsukuru had 4 best friends (2 boys, 2 girls) and this friendship became a lay of light for him. However, one day he is exiled by his group of friends without any explanation. Haunted and traumatized by his past, Tsukuru leads a colorless mundane life. Surviving, but not thriving through life. With the assistance of his girlfriend, Tsukuru comes to the realization that he must seek answers in order to reconcile with the past. There is always two sides (or shall I say more) to a story, and it’s no exception with this novel. Colorless Tasaki Tsukuru gives us an amazing insight that nothing in life is ever simple, there are layers of complex issues that occur in between. This is a mysterious yet mesmerizing novel that doesn’t disappoint.
4. Kafka on the Shore
Engrossing and powerful, once again Murakami takes readers into his surreal world. Kafka on the shore revolves around 2 exceptional characters. Kafka Tamura, a teenage boy flees from home in the hopes of finding his long-lost mother and sister. The story’s other protagonist is Satoru Nakata, a damaged victim of the past, he has the ability to communicate with cats. As the novel carries on, their paths start to come together. With Kafka on the Shore, Murakami stuffs so many magical elements in the story, yet manages to loosely connect them together. This is a compelling tale about the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
5. The WInd-Up Bird Chronicle
One of Murakami’s most beloved novels, this is a tour de force of sublime magical realism. Toru Okada is in his 30’s, lost in life and in a marriage that is falling apart. When his cat goes missing, Toru sets off on a journey in search of his cat and ultimately his wife. From there, things start to become stranger and stranger.
Encountering many unique characters along the way and navigating through a plethora of bizarre incidents, Toru takes us through a hyperreal universe. Dream-like and psychedelic, there’s no way you’ll be able to put down this masterpiece.