If there’s one contemporary Japanese writer you should have on your radar — well, let’s be honest, there isn’t… there’s way more than one you should be keeping tabs on — but if we may have the honor of highlighting at least one of them for you, we’ll let it be Haruki Murakami.
Murakami has won more awards than we can even name off the top of our head, including the World Fantasy Award and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. His works range from fiction novels and short stories to non-fiction pieces and autobiographical memoirs. Really, this man can do it all.
While Murakami clearing pulls from his Japanese heritage and culture in all of his works, interestingly enough, his fiction has actually been criticized as being heavily influenced by Western authors, and therefore “un-Japanese.” When it comes to naming his biggest influences, Vonnegut, Kafka, and Chandler have all played a vital role in shaping Murakami’s writings, and it’s pretty darn evident in anything you read by the esteemed author. (In fact, Murakami has also been responsible for translating much of Kafka’s work into Japanese, bringing more of the Western literary culture over to the East, as many would think).
Murakami mostly writes in the first-person, narrating tales of Japanese tradition. While his themes can wildly vary, it’s fair to say that a large portion of his works deal with the struggle between freedom and lack there of. Additionally, solitude, intimacy, and inner depth all play critical roles in his work as well.
If you’ve never read anything by this telling and sure-handed author, it’s never too late to start. We recommend beginning with one of his short stories, such as the UFO in Kushiro (published in The New Yorker during March 2001) as a great tipping off point. You’ll inevitably get lost in his work, and we mean that in the best way possible.
Featured Image: Shinchosha Publishing