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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

Haruki Murakami: Making the Mundane Magical

Huraki Murakami, a master of magical realism, is the writer of ‘A Wild Sheep Chase,’ ‘Norwegian Wood,’ and most recently ‘The City and Its Uncertain Walls.’
Here is Haruki Murakami lecturing at the National Theater of the House of Ecuadorian Culture. His writing has created a lasting impact all over the world. (Photo Credit: Ministerio Cultura y Patrimonio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Haruki Murakami, a figure shrouded in as much mystery as the characters in his novels, remains a major presence in the literary world after 46 years of writing. Despite his aversion to the spotlight and limited presence in the media, Murakami’s voice has never been louder or clearer than in his intricate narratives. 

His novels serve as portals into alternate universes, where reality and fantasy intertwine to create a rich plot that mirrors the complexity of life. Murakami’s first bestselling novel, Norwegian Wood, named after the famous Beatles song, is one of the only works of his to have more appeal to his Japanese audience than his Western audience. 

The book, set in 1960s Japan, follows the main character, Toru Watanabe, on his journey through the loss of his high school friend, Kizuki. It remains unanswered why Kizuki committed suicide. After finding comfort in talking to Naoko, Kizuki’s girlfriend, the two fall in love over their shared grief. This setting forms a nostalgic and strange tone, with characters bonding over grief and the past, which is seen in many of Murakami’s other novels.

The toll of suicide on adolescent characters throughout the story is clear and while the whole story leaves many questions unanswered, the ominous tone informs the reader that nothing good will happen.

The discussion of teen depression, suicide, and grief within the novel was considered taboo in 1987 Japan (when it was first published). The introduction of these new and uncomfortable topics was one of the main reasons for the novel’s major success in Japan. Disconnecting from tradition and focusing on the newest generation of young adults, Murakami formed a new mainstream in Japan gaining, much to his dismay, tremendous fame. In Japan, tradition was vitalized in literature; therefore, Murakami’s focus on teenage struggles reached a whole new audience. 

Although Norwegian Wood follows Toru, the book tells the story of many teenagers struggling with mental health around the world, forewarning dark futures for those with no outlet. Norwegian Wood is far from a biography but its setting models that of Murakami’s own life as a student. 

Despite the openness of his stories, discussing issues and themes that the majority of people face, and putting his life into his novels, Murakami is considered a hermit. Novels based on his own experiences and his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, are the best ways to learn about Murakami as both a writer and person. 

He agrees to be interviewed only when encouraged by his publishers or attempting to introduce a new novel to the world. It’s understood that while creating a book he works for more than five hours a day writing and brainstorming,and as he has turned seventy-five this past January, it’s clear why he chooses not to do interviews. Murakami’s old age is not the only reason that fuels his desire to stay out of the public eye. He said in an interview, “I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone.” 

“If you remember me then I don’t care if everyone else forgets,” wrote Haruki Murakami in his novel Kafka on the Shore. Murakami’s teaching of individual purpose resonates with many readers, generating an almost cult-like following. (Photo Credit: White Demon, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Yet despite his elusive nature, Murakami remains the best-selling living Japanese author. His fusion between realistic fiction and fantasy blurs the line between ordinary and extraordinary, all forming his revered writing style, of magical realism. Using aspects of reality, Murakami bends human understanding, creating strange from the most mundane items and creatures every reader knows. Organizations such as cults or the Yakuza in Japan, as well as harmless creatures like birds, cats, and sheep, are juxtaposed almost whimsically to enhance the strange fantastical plot of a Murakami novel. Without using complex rhetoric Murakami conveys deep emotion through juxtaposition and intricate plot. 

The Wild Sheep Chase, Murakami’s third novel, begins with a mysterious visitor approaching the narrator, a man working at a newspaper publishing agency, and showing him a photo of a sheep with a star on its coat. The visitor gives the narrator the task of removing the photo of the sheep published in the newspaper and finding the mysterious sheep. If the tasks are not completed in a month, the mysterious man threatens to close the agency where the narrator works. The story unravels as we learn that the photo was given to the narrator by his friend, “Rat,” and the narrator starts to look for the sheep. 

On his wild journey, the mystery behind the incident unfolds, but readers also get a look into the narrator’s somewhat mundane life. His divorce from his wife over an adultery scandal as well as his unhealthy addiction to smoking blends realism into the question about the star sheep, as it seemingly gets deeper when the narrator uncovers its political significance. Murakami’s language is simple, clearly conveying a mysterious, fantastic sheep chase, hooking the reader on unraveling a unique mystery.

Murakami chose to write in English, his second language, because of his desire to reach more people. He understood that because he was not writing in Japanese, simple language would be vital, focusing mainly on the plot. While initially writing in Japanese, Murakami was not happy until he started to write in simple English as he favored its essence and unique rhythm. This led to the creation of his legendary light humor and dark juxtaposition. 

Moreover, Murakami’s writing does more than convey a story. He teaches readers about the importance of their struggles, no matter how mundane they may seem. Murakami, through his magical realism, exemplifies the importance of discovering what makes one’s identity distinct. 

Furthermore, Murakami’s dedication to his craft starkly contrasts with the current media and celebrity culture, which focuses on quick snippets of bleak entertainment produced by select characters presented to the public to evoke simple emotion and dopamine release. Murakami’s focus on writing in simple language allows him to have a complex plot but also provides a nuanced message to his audience. His novels do not push understanding but curiosity, not focusing on what is right and wrong but rather why. 

Intrinsic fears and emotional problems potentially plaguing readers are reflected among the characters who often fall victim to emotional turmoil and resort to dabbling in dangerous vices as a result. However, Murakami illustrates reality through resonance with his characters with his strange fantastical stories. In essence, Murakami’s characters have their flaws just like any real person as they struggle to find their life’s purpose. 

Furthermore, Murakami’s unique blend of Eastern and Western influences creates distinctive messages with a sense of cultural ambiguity and universal relevance. He draws from Japanese mythology and Western pop culture, specifically music and art. The title, Norwegian Wood, mirrors the Beatles song, and the rest of the novel constantly mentions Western music such as ‘Yesterday’ and ‘People Are Strange,’ by the Rolling Stones. Murakami’s obsession with Western music is evident through his novels but is also seen through Peter Cat, Murakami’s jazz bar, which closed in 1981.

Similarly, in Kafka on the Shore, Murakami masterfully intertwines elements of magical realism with profound philosophical insights. Through the parallel narratives of Kafka Tamura and Nakata, the two main characters, the novel explores themes of identity, fate, and the search for meaning in a seemingly chaotic universe. Murakami’s evocative imagery and dreamlike sequences blur the lines between reality and fantasy, inviting readers to ponder the mysteries of existence. The presence of talking cats and surreal encounters with otherworldly beings in the narrative add layers of symbolism and intrigue.

In 1Q84, Murakami crafts a sprawling epic that defies conventional genre categorization. Set in a dystopian alternate reality, the novel follows the intertwined destinies of two protagonists, Aomame and Tengo, as they navigate a world filled with cults, conspiracies, and parallel dimensions. Murakami’s intricate plotting and rich character development draw readers into a labyrinthine narrative that challenges perceptions of reality and truth. Through Aomame’s reflections on her isolated existence and Tengo’s quest for artistic fulfillment, Murakami explores themes of agency, autonomy, and the search for authenticity in a society governed by oppressive forces. The story is loosely based on 1984, George Orwell’s masterpiece, with even its title being a sly play on words. ‘Q’ represents the alternate reality in which the main characters find themselves as Q and 9 are homonymous in Japanese. 

Furthermore, Murakami’s non-fiction works, such as What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, offer intimate insights into the author’s own life and creative process. By comparing long-distance athletics like running to his writing, Murakami expresses the value of discipline over motivation and explains that the struggle to write is often when writing becomes the most reflective. This book is not the fantastical novel he is mainly known for but rather a memoir discussing his own life. It is clear though, that Murakami himself is similar to many of the characters he creates in his novels with clear ambitions but also flaws.

The fantastical Murakami presents to his readers helps to get a clearer view of one’s reality. While no writer may be perfect, Murakami conveys the nuanced purpose of an individual conveying that purpose is derived from experience. The magical world of Murakami shows the reader the importance of tedium in a character’s world and their own.

Haruki Murakami, a figure shrouded in as much mystery as the characters in his novels, remains a major presence in the literary world after 46 years of writing. Despite his aversion to the spotlight and limited presence in the media, Murakami’s voice has never been louder or clearer than in his intricate narratives. 

About the Contributor
Maximilian Duravcevic, Staff Reporter
Maximilian Duravcevic is a Spotlight Editor for 'The Science Survey.' In his role as a Spotlight Editor, he revises and helps rewrite articles within the Spotlight category. A spotlight article focuses on a specific person or a small group. In the field of journalism, Max enjoys assisting people in learning, but more than that, he relishes the opportunity to learn for himself, to uncover hidden knowledge, and to share it with his readers. Moreover, he places significant importance on narrating stories and conveying the significance of empathy to his readers. He takes great pleasure in telling stories through photography, often capturing photos himself and embarking on journeys to document the perfect moments. He has a deep love for food, as evidenced by his very first article being about food. Whenever the chance arises, he visits restaurants all over the world, valuing the stories and the satisfaction that good food provides. His daily swimming routine sometimes hampers his eating habits, but he enjoys it nonetheless, and he also indulges in drawing whenever he can. Maximilian continuously values and hones his journalistic skills and is committed to keeping them sharp in his repertoire.