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Books by Murakami

Murakami Haruki is world-renowned as a novelist of magical realist fiction. His works are built around an almost obsessive urge to explore and understand the inner core of the human identity. His heroes routinely journey into a metaphysical realm—the unconscious, the dreamscape, the land of the dead—to examine directly their memories of people and objects they have lost.

Murakami is a Japanese writer but he is also a “global” one, meaning that his works are best read not as expressions of Japanese culture, but as examinations of questions that concern all humanity. What is the nature of the individual self? What is the meaning of “happiness,” or “success,” in the global age? What is the soul, and how do we get one? Why are some people turned off by the structures of contemporary societies, and what alternatives do they have? These are just a few of the many issues Murakami addresses, and they affect us all.

My own favorites are chosen on a “gut” level; I liked these works because they awakened something in me as a reader, spoke to me about things that were already going on my mind, maybe only subconsciously. Some are powerfully entertaining, others just powerful. All seem to connect to an enduring thematic thread of identity, its construction and its preservation.

1. A Wild Sheep Chase – The original title of this novel is “An adventure concerning sheep,” and it lives up to that title. In it, the Murakami hero takes on a political-business-industry syndicate with apparently limitless money and power, and he does it on his own terms. Some of the most interesting parts of the novel take place in the rural wilds of Hokkaido, which has been interpreted alternately as the hero’s inner mind, or as a mythological land of the dead. At its heart, like many Murakami novels, this is a tale of conflict between the will of the individual and the demands of an impersonal State. Oh, and there is a really cool, all-empowering sheep, too.

2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – This is another novel that features an “other world,” this time taking the form of a labyrinthine hotel, in which the hero’s wife, Kumiko, is held prisoner by her evil brother, Wataya Noboru. The hero, a mild-manner, unemployed house-husband named Okada Tōru, must find his way into this metaphysical labyrinth, confront Noboru, and rescue Kumiko. Meanwhile, he must also deal with those awkward moments when the coiled springs of time run down, and different historical epochs slam into one another. The work is a study of sex, violence, and collective memories lost and regained.

3. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – If Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and H.G. Wells has gotten together to write a novel, it might have looked like this. Its dual narratives portray, alternately, the mean streets of a slightly futuristic Tokyo embroiled in an information war with real casualties, and a bucolic fantasy world in the form of a Town, surrounded by a massive, perfect wall, populated by people without shadows, a fearsome Gatekeeper, and unicorns. The hero, finally, must choose between the two worlds for his permanent home.

4. 1Q84 – This is the first novel in which Murakami takes up the risky topic of fringe religious groups—a sore spot in Japan since the Aum Shinrikyō terrorist attack of 1995. As the work’s fictitious cult, Sakigake, attempts to re-establish its connection with earth spirits known as the Little People, the novel pursues a central plot of bringing together its two soul-mate heroes: a fitness instructor who moonlights as an assassin of abusive men, and a math genius who moonlights as a copywriter. As with other Murakami novels, this one looks hard at the tension between political and religious ideology and the inner soul of the individual.

5. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Tsukuru Tazaki spends much of this story trying to understand why his circle of friends in high school expelled him from their group shortly after he left Nagoya to attend college in Tokyo. His quest for understanding takes him al the way to Finland, where he confronts some hard truths about his own inner self. It is a novel of betrayal and forgiveness, but above all, it is about growing up.