“When I am writing, I do not distinguish between the natural and supernatural. Everything seems real. That is my world, you could say.” — Haruki Murakami
Murakami invites you to daydream. Indulge in the what ifs and distractions that almost or would never come to be. He encourages you to discover a personal truth through soft jazz dancing in your ears. Sip on an ice cold beer on the beach and let it transport you back in time to that day your best friend told you his deepest secrets and then? vanished. Reminisce about an old classmate you just can’t forget about, but doesn’t seem to have ever existed when you go to look them up.
Love of nostalgia, glimpses of fantasy, and unnerving mystery will drive you straight into the pages of a Murakami novel or short story. When you read his works, you’ll ache to continue despite any hardships that lay ahead. Watch out for shady librarians, subterranean laboratories, talking sheep, little people that can take over your body, and the dream reader who extracts the dreams of unicorns.
“You got to know your limits. Once is enough, but you got to learn. A little caution never hurt anyone. A good woodsman has only one scar on him. No more, no less.”
― Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
It was senior year of college, right before winter break, that special time of year when students barrel towards the bookstore to sell their unwanted books (blasphemy!) and be free from the bonds of last semester. My roomie, at the time, an English major, always had more books than she could shelve or even wanted so instead of selling, she knew exactly where to offload a few books.
She knew me well and my affinity for dark and bittersweet tales and even though we haven’t kept in touch, I’ll always remember she was the one who introduced me to Haruki Murakami. He completely owns his humble, matter-of-fact, yet, wry and intimate approach to writing. When I found out Kurt Vonnegut was one of his main influences, there was no holding me back. I had to get my hands anything related to Murakami.
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, was my first taste of Murakami. Yes, it’s just as heavy as it sounds. It couldn’t have been more perfect timing. I was a dreamer about to graduate college and show this world what I was made of!
“Unclose your mind. You are not a prisoner. You are a bird in flight, searching the skies for dreams.” ― Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Although this novel catches a lot of heat for a few inconsistencies, I absolutely love how Murakami melds the mundane of everyday with extreme and imaginative snippets to drive his message home. Hard-Boiled Wonderland serves as a gentle reminder of how unexpected twist and turns are the harsh and necessary lessons we must learn to appreciate the present. Not to mention there are unicorns!
Reading Murakami feels natural, yet magical. He creates perfectly ordinary moments with elements of fantasy. He forces you to question your morals and even feel compassion towards unlikely characters. In 1Q84, Murakami unfolds a parallel universe where one of the characters must confront his estranged father while he searches for the love of his live who always seems to be just out of his reach.
“The young man knows that he is irretrievably lost. This is no town of cats, he finally realizes. It is the place where he is meant to be lost. It is another world, which has been prepared especially for him. And never again, for all eternity, will the train stop at this station to take him back to the world he came from.” ― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
Murakami uses a ‘town of cats’ metaphor to describe the protagonist’s strained relationships and the necessity to indulge curiosity regardless of fear and misfortune. He encourages us to learn from his characters. He urges us not to pretend or live in a safe bubble of naivety. Shed your complacency because life must be lived.
The gravity of Murakami’s writing is formidable. It’s like the weight of being buried in sand watching the tides rise while your chest is starting to grow tight. Yet, oddly enough, you’re comforted by the awareness of your reality, and you choose to free your mind. You reminisce about that kiss from your crush in 9th grade. It was awkward, but you knew you were alive and this was just the beginning! Or maybe it’s the time your father took you with him to run errands and let you drive the car.
Mere blips of joy and comfort, flooding the mind, essential to overriding the negative of your impending mortality. This style of writing has me completely mesmerized with Murakami’s imaginative and unexpected perspective on life, loss, and relationships.
Here are my recommendations if you’re ready to take the plunge with Murakami.
- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
- The Strange Library (graphic novel)
- The Elephant Vanishes (short stories)
- Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (short stories)
- Sputnik Sweetheart
- After Dark
- 1Q84 (technically 3 novels in 1)