Imagine a world where cats can talk, fish rain from the sky, where a woman is omnipresent, where the soul is divided and wells are empty. Neither is it a Hogwarts nor a Wonderland; it’s not a dream, nor is it a crude reality. Far from a world of “abnormal things happening to abnormal people” or “normal things happening to normal people”, Murakami creates “stories of abnormal things happening to normal people”.
Such events and the impressions they leave in the minds of people are emotionally resonant, and universally so. I, for one, have this reminder written somewhere on my study table:
As time goes on, you’ll understand. What lasts, lasts; what doesn’t, doesn’t. Time solves most things. And what time can’t solve, you have to solve yourself.
– Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance
These are oft-forgotten simple words, almost making it ironic that despite change being the only constant in our seemingly 9-5 lives, we do need to be reminded of change. This Japanese storyteller lacks a concrete plot. The events in his tales unravel in an abstract form which is only reminiscent of life itself.
Does life have a plot? Do the characters that appear in our neatly scheduled calendar-lives each have a specified function to play? If yes, are we clear in our minds about their functions? What about that man you had casual sex with on last Saturday? What about all the sleepless nights spent after a particularly tyrant schoolteacher flashes in your nightmare? That’s when Murakami outlasts the pages and slips into your very being.
The world of Murakami’s novels is inhabited by characters with Japanese names. They remind you of Salinger’s Holden. They make you feel Kafkaesque. Yet, for the first time in the literary history, these characters hail from the East of high rise buildings and modern shamans. The West, to them, is the source of jazz which constitutes a recurring theme in the sagas of these “everymen”.
This world is devoid of the homogeneity of the West as has been imposed on the East for the longest period in history. This world is of an erstwhile jazz café owner who, while being based in his native setting, stands out as a universal voice of inspiration without one didactic sentence. It’s as much your world too. It’s in the way he narrates his experience in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running that motivates you in the way your friends’ advice sometimes turns out to be more effective than that of your parents on the same issue.
On lonely nights, I read his works. I read his works on silent afternoons. I sometimes secretly aspire to write in simple language that connects to the hearts of many someday. On other occasions, I read Murakami to seek fulfillment from such sentences that make me feel as though the author was with me while writing them:
Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.
–Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
In a world where literature has crossed the boundary of books to be found in lyrics, Nobel Prize or no Nobel Prize, Murakami, for me, is the Bob Dylan of literature.
If this article makes you want to read more of Murakami, or has introduced you to him, do share. I would recommend A Walk to Kobe on Granta magazine for curious beginners who do not have immediate access to Murakami’s works.