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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Japanese Literature 101

For anyone interested in Japanese literature, this site is a must. Please take a look at the extensive database of authors, their books, their history and just about anything else you could want to know about Japanese literature. I'll include links to a few of my favorites in case you'd like to pick up a book and try out this fascinating world.

One of my all time favorites is Murakami Haruki (b. January 12, 1949). I'm not alone here; his works have gained an incredible following around the world and have won just about every prise given for literature. Not everything he's done has been translated into English, which is a shame, but those that have will reward you with a peek into this creative genius. He's still writing today so we can look forward to more great books in the future.

Here is a site that includes the text of an interview he gave back in 1997 that I think you'll like, and should give you a bit of an idea of this unique character.

Below are a few links to some of my favorites that are available at Amazon, where you can read reviews from other readers.

Kafka on the Shore

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Norwegian Wood

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

A Wild Sheep Chase

South of the Border, West of the Sun

in the Guardian

Interview in the Review of Contemporary Fiction

Interview in Metropolitan

Profile in The Guardian

Profile in the Daily Telegraph

Profile in The Harvard Crimson

Thanks for some of the links above go to The Complete Review

Hopefully this will give you a taste for how good Japanese literature can be. I'll toss up an author or two every few weeks for you to look into. I think you'll be glad you discovered this world.

Click the Read More link below for a list of interviews and many other reviews!


What others have to
say about Murakami Haruki:

* "And yet, despite his disclaimers, despite his three-year self-imposed exile in the Mediterranean, despite -- or because of -- his alienation from rootless, monied Tokyo, Murakami is very much a writer of modern Japan, nostalgic for missing idealism, aghast at sudden wealth. For in his Japan, the old has been destroyed, an ugly and meaningless hodgepodge has taken its place, and nobody knows what comes next." - Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post (25.12.1989)

* "(His) bold willingness to go straight-over-the-top has always been a signal indication of his genius (.....) A phenomenon in Japan, Murakami is a world-class writer who has both eyes open and takes big risks. A gifted translator, he has introduced Fitzgerald, Carver, Irving and Theroux to the Japanese audience. Murakami himself deserves similar attention from this side of the Pacific." - Bruce Sterling, The Washington Post (11.8.1991)

* "There are no kimonos, bonsai plants or tatami mats in Murakami's novels. His work (...) is shot through with a reverence for Western culture, particularly American pop culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Except for references to place names and certain foods, Murakami's protagonists might as well be living in Santa Monica (.....) Products of an affluent, educated culture, they exhibit a curiously American style of ennui and are always bemoaning their shallow, materialistic lives." - Lewis Beale, The Los Angeles Times (8.12.1991)

* "Whereas the characters in early-twentieth-century Japanese fiction could and usually did choose traditional Japanese ways, Murakami knows that no such choice is possible now. Japan has come too far. If a conflict still exists, his characters are not engaged in or even aware of it. So enmeshed are they in the forms of Western, and particularly American, culture that they accept these forms as integral to contemporary Japanese life. Nonetheless, their essential Japaneseness is never truly lost in spite of what the works appear to say." - Celeste Loughman, World Literature Today (Winter/1997)

* "The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has built an international following because his stories move so effortlessly between the surface reality of materialistic yuppie life and the horrors of a sensitized imagination. His tools are a flatly realistic prose (influenced by Raymond Carver, whom Mr. Murakami has extensively translated) and what you might call a psychological metaphysics. His first-person narrators are at once reliable and half-crazy." - Philip Weiss, The New York Observer (1.2.1999)

* "The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is one of the most compellingly original voices in world literature. (...) Murakami is, in many ways, the shape of 21st-century fiction to come. Using the narrative mechanisms of Hollywood noir, he explores, in a surreal way, the metaphysical anxieties of our age while retaining a mordant grasp of its mass-consumed realities. His fiction belongs to no genre but has the addictive fluency of the best genre fiction." - Scott Reyburn, New Statesman (15.11.1999)

* "(T)here is a basic plot-line in almost all his novels that is a bit jading." - Ian Hacking, London Review of Books (19.10.2000)

* "For Murakami, truth lies outside the regimented world of human speech. His novels often emphasize the value of music as an antidote to the narrowness of spoken words. Music anchors his characters' worlds, but also illuminates them, and the discography embedded within his writing is a key to its interpretation." - Henry Hitchings, Times Literary Supplement (11.5.2001)

* "Mysterious disappearances and equally unexplained sadness, even madness -- such is the gloomy psychological landscape in which Haruki Murakami sets his novels. Geographically, it is Tokyo, but it might be any of the world’s vast, unforgiving cities, where people get lost like tears in the rain and finding love is sometimes as hard as solving Rubik’s cube in the dark. (...) This is not to say that the books are no good. Reading Murakami is an unsettling, disorienting experience that can leave you feeling, well, immeasurably empty." - The Economist (17.5.2001)

* "You don't have to be Martin Amis to be provoked by Murakami's narrators, with their propensity to cliche and fondness for hackneyed, low-pressure generalisations about life (.....) To describe Murakami's characteristic mode of expression as childlike would be unfair to children: his clunky yet oddly weightless prose often seems to aspire to the banal. (...) And yet there is something bold and exhilarating about Murakami's writing, and always has been" - Julian Loose, New Statesman (4.6.2001)

* "Murakami has long been obsessed with subterranean realms; his stories often wander into physical and psychic netherworlds. At the becalmed center of even his most extravagantly plotted fiction lies a steadying imperative: to make sense of the senseless. (...) Murakami not only renders the banalities of day-to-day life with a precision that borders on the tactile, he somehow evokes the queasy coexistence of something unnameable and altogether more bizarre." - Dennis Lim, The Village Voice (12.6.2001)

* "Characters in novels tend to change incrementally; Murakami's shed personalities more easily than tears. (...) In Murakami's increasingly astral scenarios, the human self has become a disturbingly malleable thing." - Daniel Zalewski, The New York Times Book Review (10.6.2001)

* "The most perturbing -- and attractive -- aspect of Murakami's books is that they usually amount to far more than the sum of their parts. They resist definition, yet they seem to stand for an unnamed something - they seem to have a life outside themselves." - Julie Myerson, Daily Telegraph (16.11.2002)

* "Haruki Murakamis Werke entziehen sich solchen Obduktionen, denn seine Bücher sind Musik. Sie sind die Variationen des immergleichen Themas, und eine Geschichte, eine Handlung, ein Plot, sind völlig nebensächlich." - Sibylle Berg, Die Welt (20.3.2004)

* "In Japan, Haruki Murakami is the most influential and imitated novelist of his generation. I would not be surprised if his novels, which have the weightless and accessible resonance of great pop songs or genre movies, turned out to have a similar influence in the West. Murakami writes cool, fluent and addictive meditations on the strangeness of ordinary life, brilliantly evoking the coexistence of the mundane and the dreamlike." - Theo Tait, Sunday Telegraph (16.1.2005)

* "He has been compared to the American minimalists Chandler and Carver, but the comparison is inapt; minimalists believe in getting the details right, whereas for Murakami the details are an impediment to seeing the whole picture. This isn't an aesthetic decision so much as a claim about morality: The forest is good, and the trees are evil." - Paul Lafarge, The Village Voice (18.1.2005)

* "Though his work abounds with references to contemporary American culture, especially its popular music, and though he details the banal quotidian with an amiable flatness reminiscent of Western youth and minimalist fiction in the hungover nineteen-seventies, his narratives are dreamlike, closer to the viscid surrealism of Kobo Abe than to the superheated but generally solid realism of Mishima and Tanizaki." - John Updike, The New Yorker (24.1.2005)

* "Is it possible, however, that Murakami is a bit too likeable ? The flipside of such hipness is a suspicion that his novels are not terribly profound. It is true that they make frequent and extravagant gestures towards profundity -- but that is not the same as actually being so. (...) For all their cleverness and surface complexity, his novels are essentially works of escapism." - William Skidelsky, New Statesman (24.1.2005)

* "He writes uncanny, philosophical, postmodern fiction that's actually fun to read; he's a more serious Tom Robbins, a less dense Thomas Pynchon. Like those two, he mixes high and low culture, especially ours" - Steven Moore, The Washington Post (30.1.2005)

* "He isn’t always so blunt, but it’s apparent in everything he writes that the project of both his work and his life is the quest for a continuity of self, for a thread that, pulled taut, could put all those "convoluted extras," along with everything that really matters, on a straight line: a bullet train named Murakami. What he has to guide him is nothing more (or less) than the sound of his own voice, which tells him, and his readers, approximately who he is, for the moment. And over the years he has developed and sustained a remarkably distinctive narrative tone: calm, wry, intimate, gently interrogative." - Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review (17.9.2006)

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