Haruki Murakami

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Born in Kyoto in 1949, Haruki Murakami spent most of his youth in Kobe. Both his father and mother taught Japanese literature, igniting a passion for literature early on in their son. Murakami’s father was also a Buddhist priest (meditations on religion and spirituality are key themes in Murakami’s work), and his mother was the daughter of a merchant. Murakami showed an affinity for Western culture from an early age, particularly Western literature and music. His favorite writers were Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, and his favorite musicians were the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Charlie Parker, and countless jazz and classical musicians, particularly Ludwig van Beethoven. Murakami graduated from Waseda University in Tokyo in 1973, where he studied theater arts, and his first job was at a record store. Just before graduating, Murakami opened a coffeehouse (which served as a jazz bar in the evenings) called Peter Cat in Okobunji, Tokyo, with his wife, Yoko. He is a collector of vinyl records, a full-marathon runner and triathlete, and obsessed with cats (all interests that weigh heavily on his fiction).

Murakami did not start writing until he was twenty-nine years old. Legend has it that he was attending a baseball game in Tokyo when he had a revelation regarding writing. Murakami suddenly realized that he was capable of writing a book after seeing American ballplayer Dave Hilton (playing for the Hiroshima Carps) hit a double. Murakami started working on a novel immediately following the game. After several months he had finished Hear the Wind Sing, a short, fragmented book (modeled on Brautigan and written in fits and starts) that introduced many elements that would come to dominate Murakami’s style: an embrace of Western influences (especially writers Brautigan and Vonnegut, and Western music), dark humor, anonymity, relationships, loss, and alienation. His success—he won the Gunzo Literature Prize for the novel—encouraged him to keep at it. He next published Pinball, 1973 and then A Wild Sheep Chase, the last two works of what came to be known as the trilogy of the rat.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World marked the beginning of Murakami’s career as a writer of international reputation, but it was Norwegian Wood that made him a star of the literary world. Initially published in two installments, Norwegian Wood sold millions of copies among the youth of Japan, catapulting Murakami to superstar status. Murakami initially was not pleased with the sort of fame he had attained, and he left Japan to travel through Europe, before settling in the United States. He became a writing fellow at Princeton and Tufts, where he worked on and completed South of the Border, West of the Sun and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Murakami returned to Japan after the Hanshin earthquake and the poison gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995. He worked on two nonfiction books about the gas attack, which were combined to form the English edition of Underground. Sputnik Sweetheart, Kafka on the Shore, and After Dark cemented Murakami’s reputation as one of the world’s most popular and critically successful novelists. Several of his stories and novels have been adapted into films, and Hashiru koto ni tsuite kataru toki ni boku no kataru koto (2007; What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir, 2008), Murakami’s memoir about his life as a marathon runner and triathlete, was a highly anticipated step in a new direction for the successful novelist.


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Haruki Murakami, born January 12, 1949, in Kyoto, is one of Japan’s most popular contemporary authors. Although he has never won any of Japan’s more...

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prestigious literary prizes nor been accepted into the elite literary circles of Japan’s distinguished authors, he has won a faithful audience both in Japan and internationally.

Both of Murakami’s parents taught literature, so he came to a love of books naturally. Much of the literature Murakami read was by Western authors. When it came time for college, Murakami chose to attend Tokyo’s Waseda University where he majored in theater arts. He loves music, especially classical and jazz. This lead him to open a jazz bar called Peter Cat before he was out of college. The bar was successful and Murakami worked there until he was able to make a living as a writer. He was married by then to a woman called Yoko, whom he had met in college. The couple spent many years traveling through Europe and the United States while Murakami continued to write.

Murakami’s first novel was published when he was twenty-nine. It was called Hear the Wind Sing (1979). Three years later, Murakami’s Wild Sheep Chase (1982), a book about post–World War II Japan, brought him critical acclaim. Then in 1997, with the English version of Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Murakami won a large international audience. This novel covers familiar Murakami themes and establishes his style. His narrator in this novel explores Japanese involvement in World War II, especially in Manchuria (part of China), simultaneously weaving in and out of dreamscapes that he attempts to manipulate. The author’s 2006 translation of Kafka on the Shore won Murakami the 2006 Franz Kafka Prize, one of the more prestigious awards of his career.


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