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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1611

Haruki Murakami 1949-

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Japanese novelist, short story writer, translator, and nonfiction writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Murakami's career through 1999.

One of the most commercially successful and influential writers of contemporary Japanese jun-bungaku (“serious literature”), Murakami is a best-selling novelist and prolific short story writer who has extensively translated works of modern American fiction into Japanese, including the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, Truman Capote, John Irving, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Many critics recognize Murakami as a spokesperson for the shin-jinrui (“new human beings”)—the affluent postwar generation that typically shuns traditional Japanese values in favor of the appeal of American popular culture. In his fiction Murakami has consciously diverged from the mainstream of jun-bungaku. Murakami writes in a new style of Japanese prose, which juxtaposes and merges distinctly American motifs and diction with such traditional jun-bungaku themes as love, death, and the self. Combining metaphysics with the cinematic devices of film noir, Murakami's fiction frequently alludes to commercial brand names and cultural icons of the United States. Much of his work has been noted for its surreal qualities, blending bizarre plot twists and unique narration styles in a fashion that nevertheless retains an air of plausibility. Those of the shin-jinrui generation have bought millions of Murakami's books, prompting both popular and critical attention from a global audience. Although some critics have characterized Murakami's novels as slickly packaged consumer products, several others have compared Murakami's literary achievement to the works of Ōe Kenzaburō and Kōbō Abé, whose writings from an earlier generation similarly changed the Japanese language.

Biographical Information

Murakami was born January 12, 1949, in Ashiya City, Japan, a suburb of Kōbe. His mother and father were high-school-level Japanese literature teachers. As a boy, Murakami felt alienated by the authoritarian strictures and familiar closeness of traditional Japanese culture. Rejecting the values of his World War II veteran father, Murakami instead immersed himself in 1960s American popular culture, growing familiar with Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, the television show “Peter Gunn,” and American jazz. As an adolescent, his interest in jazz deepened, and Murakami began reading American literature, both in Japanese translation as well as the original English. Murakami entered Tokyo's Waseda University in 1968 and spent seven years earning his bachelor's degrees in screenwriting and Greek drama. In 1971 he married Yoko Takahashi, a fellow university student, and together they opened a suburban Tokyo jazz bar shortly before their graduation. The couple managed the Peter Cat nightclub until 1981, catering to a diverse clientele of Japanese students and American soldiers from a nearby U.S. military base.

In 1978 Murakami began writing his first novel, Kaze no uta o kike (1979; Hear the Wind Sing). Murakami published two more novels, 1973-nen no pinbōru (1980; Pinball, 1973) and Hitsuji o megaru bōken (1982; A Wild Sheep Chase), which were met with critical acclaim. After the publication of his third novel, he decided to sell the nightclub and commit to a full-time writing career. In 1981, Murakami published the first work in a continuous series of Japanese translations of modern American fiction. Subsequently, Murakami turned his attention to shorter fiction, publishing three Japanese-language collections of short stories. In 1985, Murakami published Sekai no owari to hādoboirudo wandārando (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World ). Murakami then spent the next decade travelling around Greece, Italy, and the United States, contributing...

(The entire section contains 56938 words.)

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