Written by Jon WilliamsFor the past few weeks you’ve been seeing Haruki Murakami’s name at or near the top of the bestseller lists. His recent novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, released on August 12, went straight to the top of the New York Times list, where it remains in the top ten. It follows the main character as he attempts to get his life in order by reuniting and making amends with friends from his youth. Murakami’s own story, though, is just as interesting.
Born in Kyoto 1949, Murakami went on to study drama in college in Tokyo. Instead of pursuing that as a career, however, he and his wife opened a jazz club. According to Murakami himself, he didn’t write at all until he was 29 years old. Then, while attending a baseball game, he was struck with the notion that he could write a novel. He had to stop on his way home from the ballpark to buy a pen and paper, but he began work that very night on the manuscript that would become Hear the Wind Sing, his first novel. Although that book is not widely available in English, a new translation is in the works, scheduled for a 2015 release. It will be paired with a new translation of his second novel, Pinball, 1973, which is also rare in its current English version.
While Pinball, 1973 was his first novel translated into English, Murakami did not gain international acclaim until his third and fourth novels, A Wild Sheep Chase (written 1982, translated 1989; currently unavailable) and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (written 1985, translated 1991), which worked in elements of fantasy and magical realism. Then came Norwegian Wood (currently unavailable as an audiobook, although the movie adaptation is available), a realistic coming-of-age novel, and perhaps his most famous to date. That made its way to North America in 2000. Since then he has published such novels as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and 1Q84 (his most recent work prior to Colorless Tsukuru), all of which came available to English readers in much shorter order than his previous works.
Murakami’s novels are his most popular works, but they are by no means his only literary occupation. He is a noted translator, adapting into Japanese so much of the American literature that has had such an influence on him, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Long Goodbye, and The Great Gatsby, among many others. In between novels he writes short stories, a form in which he claims to find more joy. You can find examples of his short fiction in the collection After the Quake, a collection dealing with the aftermath of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. He also ventures into non-fiction with What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir of his dedication to fitness. Like his writing life, Murakami came relatively late to running—beginning at age 33, he has run one marathon each year since, as well as one 110km ultra-marathon.
Needless to say, you haven’t heard the last of this driven literary dynamo. A new story, Strange Library, arrives in December. With the print version coming it at a scant 96 pages, its length is quite a contrast to most of his work. What comes after that is anyone’s guess. As Murakami prefers to challenge himself as he writes, it’s certain to be compelling.