Haruki Murakami’s Five Favorite Books

Image bySo­ci­ety for Cul­ture, Art and Inter­na­tion­al Coop­er­a­tion Adli­gat, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

You could say that Haru­ki Muraka­mi is a Japan­ese writer. And giv­en that he was born in Japan to Japan­ese par­ents, grew up in Japan, and lives in Japan still today, you’d have geog­ra­phy, cul­ture, and biol­o­gy on your side. Yet Alfred Birn­baum, one of Murakami’s own Eng­lish trans­la­tors, has called him “an Amer­i­can writer who hap­pens to write in Japan­ese.” To under­stand how this could be requires a con­sid­er­a­tion of not just Murakami’s writ­ing, but the writ­ers whose books inspired him. Take the hard-boiled nov­el­ist Ray­mond Chan­dler, whose The Long Good­bye appears on the list of Murakami’s five favorite books just post­ed at Lit­er­ary Hub.

“I have trans­lat­ed all the nov­els of Ray­mond Chan­dler,” Muraka­mi once said. “I like his style so much. I have read The Long Good­bye five or six times.” He must have read it for the first time in Kobe, where he grew up in the 1950s and 60s, and whose book­stores offered an abun­dance of pulp fic­tion left behind by depart­ing U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel. Chan­dler’s would have been one of the lit­er­ary voic­es he inter­nal­ized before sit­ting down to write his own first nov­el, Hear the Wind Sing, using the high­ly unusu­al method of begin­ning the sto­ry in Eng­lish, or what Eng­lish he com­mand­ed. He then trans­lat­ed this Philip Marlov­ian exper­i­ment back into Japan­ese, begin­ning a lit­er­ary career of four decades and count­ing.

A trans­la­tor when not writ­ing his own fic­tion, Muraka­mi has also ren­dered in his native lan­guage F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s The Great Gats­by, per­haps the most sym­bol­i­cal­ly Amer­i­can nov­el of them all. Lit­er­ary Hub quotes him as say­ing that “had it not been for Fitzgerald’s nov­el, I would not be writ­ing the kind of lit­er­a­ture I am today (indeed, it is pos­si­ble that I would not be writ­ing at all, although that is nei­ther here or there).” His prose is also the medi­um through which many Japan­ese read­ers have expe­ri­enced J.D. Salinger’s The Catch­er in the Rye: “I enjoyed it when I was sev­en­teen, so I decid­ed to trans­late it. I remem­bered it as being fun­ny, but it’s dark and strong. I must have been dis­turbed when I was young.”

None of Murakami’s top five books are Japan­ese, but not all of them Amer­i­can. The list also includes Franz Kafka’sThe Cas­tle, anoth­er book he encoun­tered as a Kobe teenag­er: “It gave me a tremen­dous shock. The world Kaf­ka described in that book was so real and so unre­al at the same time that my heart and soul seemed torn into two pieces.” Though the two writ­ers have their styl­is­tic dif­fer­ences, “so real and so unre­al at the same time” could just as well describe what­ev­er genre it is that Muraka­mi has invent­ed and con­tin­ues to advance today. “Most writ­ers get weak­er and weak­er as they age,” he once said, “but Dos­to­evsky didn’t. He kept get­ting big­ger and greater. He wrote The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov in his late fifties.” Muraka­mi is now in his ear­ly sev­en­ties, but who — even among those famil­iar with his inspi­ra­tions — would dare pre­dict what sort of nov­el he’ll give us next?

via Lit­er­ary Hub

Relat­ed con­tent:

Haru­ki Muraka­mi Trans­lates The Great Gats­by, the Nov­el That Influ­enced Him Most

David Fos­ter Wallace’s Sur­pris­ing List of His 10 Favorite Books, from C.S. Lewis to Tom Clan­cy

Bruce Spring­steen Lists 20 of His Favorite Books: The Books That Have Inspired the Song­writer & Now Mem­oirist

Stephen King Cre­ates a List of His 10 Favorite Nov­els

Philip Roth (RIP) Cre­ates a List of the 15 Books That Influ­enced Him Most

The Books Samuel Beck­ett Read and Real­ly Liked (1941–1956)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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