Monday, December 12, 2011

Our December Author: Haruki Murakami

We are reading Haruki Murakami this month, but unlike the rest of the blogosphere, we are not reading 1Q84, but opted for the more modest short story collection After the Quake. In the video above, the author reads one of the stories, "Super Frog Saves Tokyo."  Random House has a slick multi-media Murakami website where you can get a musical playlist for your reading pleasure or a screensaver, or connect with other fans, but this website might actually be more useful for finding links to articles and interviews, although I found many expired links.  Here are a few interviews and articles I found useful for reading After the Quake and for general introduction to Murakami's work:

In a comprehensive 2004 interview (The Art of Fiction No. 182) with the Paris Review, among other interesting insights, Murakami denies that Japanese manga were the inspiration for "Super Frog Save Tokyo" but allows for some folkloric influence,
When I was a child, I was told many Japanese folktales and old stories. Those stories are critical when you are growing up. That Super-Frog figure, for example, might come from that reservoir of stories. You have your reservoir of American folklore, Germans have theirs, Russians have theirs. But there is also a mutual reservoir we can draw from: The Little Prince, McDonald’s, or the Beatles.
In a recent Guardian profile ('I took a gamble and survived'), Murakami comments on the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami,
He was in Honolulu earlier this year when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. It has changed the country, he says. "People lost their confidence. We had been working so hard, after the end of the war. For 60 years. The richer we became, the happier we become. But at the end, we didn't get happy, however hard we worked. And the earthquake came, and so many people had to be evacuated, to abandon their houses and homeland. It's a tragedy. And we were proud of our technology, but our nuclear power plant turned out to be a nightmare. So people started to think, we have to change drastically the way of life. I think that is a big turning point in Japan."
Charles Baxter, writing about 1Q84 in the New York Review of Books (Behind Murakami’s Mirror) made this observation which I feel is also helpful for reading many of the stories in After the Quake,
Murakami’s novels, stories, and nonfiction ... display, often very bravely and beautifully, the pull of the unreal and the fantastical on ordinary citizens who, unable to bear the world they have been given, desperately wish to go somewhere else. The resulting narratives conform to what I have called Unrealism. In Unrealism, characters join cults. They believe in the apocalypse and Armageddon, or they go down various rabbit holes and arrive in what Murakami himself, in a bow to Lewis Carroll, calls Wonderland. They long for the end times. Magical thinking dominates. Not everyone wants to be in such a dislocated locale, and the novels are often about heroic efforts to get out of Wonderland, but it is a primary destination site, like Las Vegas. As one character in 1Q84 says, “Everybody needs some kind of fantasy to go on living, don’t you think?”
And in the lengthy New York Times Magazine profile (The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami) which explores the geography of Murakami's world there is this observation,
The defining disasters of modern Japan — the subway sarin-gas attack, the Kobe earthquake, the recent tsunami — are, to an amazing extent, Murakami disasters: spasms of underground violence, deep unseen trauma that manifests itself as massive destruction to daily life on the surface. He is notoriously obsessed with metaphors of depth: characters climbing down empty wells to enter secret worlds or encountering dark creatures underneath Tokyo’s subway tunnels. (He once told an interviewer that he had to stop himself from using well imagery, after his eighth novel, because the frequency of it was starting to embarrass him.) He imagines his own creativity in terms of depth as well. Every morning at his desk, during his trance of total focus, Murakami becomes a Murakami character: an ordinary man who spelunks the caverns of his creative unconscious and faithfully reports what he finds.
Murakami is an author who inspires his readers to react creatively to his work--take for instance this musical fundraiser for quake victims inspired by the short stories in After the Quake. We will be featuring additional homages in posts later this week as well as additional insights into the author and the subject of the literature of disaster.

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