If it is true that writers and artists should spend their entire lives and careers investigating, examining, and trying to understand the same themes, then Haruki Murakami is a prime example of how to do this successfully. Like a jazz musician building on the same note, Murakami has—from the start—been obsessed with issues of sexual identity and love, loss and detachment, history and war, and nostalgia and fate. He has been deeply influenced by Western culture, and his themes, in some ways, are distilled from his favorite writers and musicians. Murakami changed the face of Japanese fiction. He was the first to incorporate Western influences in such an immediate way and he introduced a broad, spare, and raw style that Japanese readers had never before seen. His flirtation with Magical Realism, surrealism, and the fantastic is evidence of his fearlessness as a writer. Never one to be pigeonholed, Murakami is that rarest of literary figures, a writer who revels in telling a good and exciting story without sacrificing his severe vision of what literature is and should be.
Notably, Murakami’s novels often have musical themes and often speak of the power and beauty of music. More than that, his titles are often taken directly from songs. The three volumes comprising The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle refer to works by Gioachino Antonio Rossini, Robert Schumann, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Norwegian Wood, possibly Murakami’s most famous work, is named after a song by the Beatles, and Dance Dance Dance, a sort of sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, is named after a song by the Beach Boys.
Murakami’s work is the highwater mark at the intersection of popular culture and serious literature. As a writer who has filtered such a variety of influences into his work, he is a complete original. He is also a writer who has sought to understand Japanese history (especially Japan’s role in World War II), but he has done so without attempting to make political statements. He examines, explores, and dissects history, war, love, and identity with the same complex (and sometimes confusing) gracefulness. Murakami, like Georges Simenon and Charles Bukowski, has become his own brand name. Though his work has been described in many different ways—as Magical Realism, surrealism, hard-boiledmystery, love story, cyberpunk—it is almost entirely impossible to identify one of his books as anything other than a “Murakami.”
Murakami goes where a novel takes him, where history takes him. He goes to the place where love and memory and fear take him. As an independent artist with a singular vision, he is unrivaled in this generation of world writers.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
(The entire section is 1131 words.)