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Let’s Talk Murakami and Explore the Amazing World of the Author: A Sunday Musing

“Time flows in a strange way on Sundays.”

–“1Q84,” Haruki Murakami

 

I happened to stumble upon the above statement one fine Sunday morning some three years back while I was scrolling through my Pinterest feed. For reasons still unknown to me, I felt an instant connection with this statement. For that matter, I don’t think there’s anything profound in this simple line. Even to this day, I couldn’t pinpoint why this line felt so special to me, but it did catch my eye on that lazy Sunday morning. Maybe, it was the mood, the frame of mind, on that day –or you could say one of those surrealistic experiences for me (surrealism being a term so typical of Murakami).

Sundays as such are those days marked out for resting and taking a break. These are days that come in between the busy, hectic week-days, and they do have a special “feel” about them. One spontaneously goes lazy, slack, or comfy on such a day. A feeling of ease always catches up on you on a Sunday morning and keeps you that way throughout the day. This feeling comes on automatically. No need to switch on or off. As the day dawns, it comes on. Thus, time flows differently or, for that matter, strangely on Sundays. That’s how I interpreted this line at that point in time.

Around that time, I felt that it would do me good if I adopted a little slower pace with everything in my life, and that may have contributed in making me feel a little nostalgic about “busy week-days and the lazy Sundays.”

By the way, this statement turned out to be a very popular quote from the book “1Q84” written by the very popular and critically acclaimed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. I was not aware who Haruki Murakami was at that time, as I was not much of a reader myself or into books, and neither did I have any bibliophile in my close circle of friends. So I had little knowledge about books or authors. The talks we had in our circle may cover other spheres but rarely touched books or authors. Frankly speaking, the books we read, if we have to read any, are academic books concerning our respective fields of work. Over and above, leaving aside habitual readers, most people find it tough or almost impossible to continue to put up with reading as a hobby with lots of stuff to handle and juggle around. The same applies for me too. Reading was not a form of recreation for me. After student life, I do not recollect reading much.

This way Murakami enters into my sphere of knowledge and there’s been no looking back since then. I have been a fan and I guess will remain so.

Fast tracking to the present time, I’ve read quite a few books by Murakami but haven’t gone through 1Q84, so I’m still unclear of the context in which this line has been put out. Nonetheless, it was one line that clicked for me, one that struck the right chord.

As most book lovers know, Haruki Murakami is a prominent figure in the modern literary scene. He is a Japanese novelist, a short-story writer, and a translator. He writes his books in his native Japanese language. These books then get translated into many languages (over 50 languages all over the world). Most of his books are international bestsellers. He is one author with a massive fan following — some diehards, some skeptics, and some critics – but fans or followers all the same. Almost all bookstagramers on Instagram have at least one post dedicated to his books. He has a huge fan following on all social media platforms, and surprisingly a lot of them are youngsters. Here I would like to point out that his books are not for the “very young” as some of the contents may not be pleasant or palatable at all.

This is how I came across Haruki Murakami. I got drawn to his writings through his quotes. I started reading his books and am quite enthralled with what he has to say or what I assume he has to convey. After this chance encounter, I got back to my reading habit which I’d left behind long ago. If it had not been for the many scroll-throughs of my social media feeds, I guess I wouldn’t have discovered him.

The first book that I picked up by him was South Of The Border, West Of The Sun. This short novel was published in 1992 and it tells the story of Hajime, a middle-aged, well-settled, successful man who is happily married to a beautiful woman named Yukiko and has two loving daughters. Everything was smooth sailing and normal in his life until he got reconnected in a chance meeting with his childhood sweetheart Shimomoto after many years. Following this meeting with Shimomoto, Hajime was not his usual self anymore. The situation got very complicated and complex. He was so consumed by this rekindled relationship that things started to crumble around him and he felt quite helpless about this unusual situation.

I started the book with an open mind and had no preconceived ideas about what it was going to be. As I wasn’t a seasoned reader myself, I approached it like an amateur and just enjoyed the process of going through the book. What I could definitely say was that I liked the narrative style which was done from the perspective of the protagonist Hajime. He travels down memory lane and reminiscences about his life from his childhood up to the time the story ends. I felt Hajime to be very real as the person next door, very ordinary, not the stereotypical hero but a rather imperfect person, just plain ordinary, leading his mundane life, maneuvering through his day-to-day activities, doing whatever he could do for himself and for his family. He could be any of us. That was the striking point for me.

After the first read, story wise, I felt it to be quite ordinary. Not so much of a take-away. It sounded like the usual run-of-the-mill tale about a bored, middle-aged man going through midlife crisis, having the usual fling outside of marriage once a while – maybe the effects of being bogged down by the mundanities of life. What I found a little odd though was that the story didn’t have a clear-cut ending. It was quite vague and bizarre, and I found myself ruminating over the possible outcomes. There was no clarity at all about the end, and so, no closure.

This is Murakami’s signature style which I came to know later on. Same pattern is seen in almost all of his stories, be it a novel or a short story. He always has his readers ruminating, contemplating, exploring the pieces, trying to find the loose ends to come to a conclusion. Maybe, that is his way of getting the readers hooked to his writings. What I thought to be a one-time read got me thinking and re-readings had to be done for a thorough understanding. It was not as easy or as simple as I thought. There are many layers to this seemingly simple narrative. The protagonist seemed to be shifting from one dimension of being to another which is a rather unfathomable concept.

After this the next book I picked up was What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Over and above him being a popular novelist and writer, Murakami is also an avid runner and he takes part in marathons and triathlons on a regular basis. Before he became a novelist, he was running a jazz bar and had a hectic lifestyle. After he started writing, he became more stagnant, was smoking heavily, and had started putting on weight. To counter this, he decided to take up a physical activity to keep fit. He chose running as he felt it is an activity that matched his personality and he liked running.

Haruki Murakami describes this book as “a kind of memoir centered on the act of running.” In this book he reflects upon his life’s journey as a writer as well as a runner and he puts forth his thoughts about what running has meant to him over the years. Reading his memoir earlier on gave me a pretty good idea about who Haruki Murakami was as a person, a novelist, as well as a runner.

I went ahead and read a few more of his books, namely Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore, Hear the Wind Sing, Men Without Women, Birthday Girl, After the Quake, The Elephant Vanishes, and some of his essays.

Murakami’s writings explore the themes of isolation, exploration of the self, existentialism, coming of age, dreams, death, sex, music, cats, and Japan. His protagonists are mainly middle-aged, 30-something, ordinary men leading mundane and somewhat lonely lives.

What attracts readers to his stories lies deep within people’s own personalities. People try to find themselves within the fictional world of Murakami, the deepest, most surreal, and subconscious level of themselves. There are varying reactions to his stories from his audience. Some captivated, some repulsed, and some with mixed feelings. If I have to put it, I’ll say:

“Love him or hate him but you can’t ignore him.” That’s Murakami in a nutshell. So there is no harm in sampling him out if you haven’t yet.

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