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How to read Haruki Murakami – A Primer

by Venky

One of the most frequently posed questions for me to answer in the capacity of a reader has been “How to read Haruki Murakami?” Mind you this is a question that is neither inane nor innocuous. There seem to be only two categories of readers in this contemporary world, those who abhor Murakami and those who swear by him. His books are like the peculiar fruit “Durian’ that is the preserve of countries in South East Asia such as Malaysia. You either detest the fruit or take delight in devouring it. There is no moderation when it comes to Durian. Similarly you have one section of humanity avowed in their objective of abhorring Murakami while the remaining segment of the populace deify himThis Japanese author who has accumulated a cult of followers as well as an army of vilifying critics never fails to stir powerful feelings every time he announces the release of his book. People queue before bookstores from the wee hours of dawn to acquire their prized copy on the very first date of its release. So what is it that causes this vertical split in the preferences of people towards Haruki Murakami? What is it that cleaves opinion like it never does in the case of any other author? Is there an ‘accepted’ or a ‘methodical’ way to approach the works of Murakami. At least in so far as my limited knowledge of books are concerned, there is no “An Idiot’s Guide to reading Murakami” or “Murakami for Dummies” that adorn bookshelves at present. I myself am fanatical about reading the works of Haruki Murakami. I humbly feel that reading Murakami is akin to cultivating an acquired taste. So with a view to finding a simple and plausible solution to this seemingly existential niggle, I write the following:

Murakami’s writing both inspires as well as exasperates. I honestly feel that the key to appreciating Murakami lies in the selection of his books. Imbibing Murakami is a gradual process. His stories need to slowly drip and seep into the mind, veins and soul of the reader rather than being crash-landed or thrust in one go upon her psyche. Thus woe betide a reader who inadvertently begins her Murakami escapade with say “1Q84” or “Kafka On The Shore”. Even Mother Earth took a mind boggling 14 billion years to evolve! Although not bound by the rigours of the principle of Natural Selection, a Murakami obsession also needs to follow its own course of evolution. Similar to the progression of indispensable tools characterising the evolution of mankind and technology from the fundamental stones and scraps of the Neanderthal Man to the robotic advancements of the Quantum computing man, Murakami’s books also subscribe to an upward attraction and assimilation curve.

The ideal beginning would be to pick up “Norweigian Wood” savour its style and substance before moving on to  “Wind/Pinball”. This will introduce the reader to the cryptic and paradoxical way of writing that is the hallmark of Murakami. The time is now apposite to revert to a collection of his short stories, and for this the brilliant candidate is “The Elephant Vanishes”. Now the reader is ready to explore the unexplored. the time is ripe to bring on the heavy artillery! “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle”; “Kafka On the Shore”; “1Q84″; and the remaining works ending with the most recent “Men Without Women”. It needs to be mentioned that I am only restricting my suggestions to the genre of fiction for Murakami has penned a few books in the non-fiction genre as well.

1Q84 Kafka Men Without Women Norweigian Wood

Finally if one was to have a “Guide to approaching, appreciating and finally ‘adopting’ Murakami, it would be something like this:

  1. Cleanse yourself of all pre-conceived notions and opinions liberally doled out by so the so called “Murakami experts” (including yours truly);
  2. Never read a review of any of his books by any of the publishing houses, newspapers or reputed authors;
  3. If you have an affinity towards Scotch in general and Lagavulin in particular, pour yourself a liberal dose and have a deep swig;
  4. Listen to either “The End” by The Doors or “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin or “Learning To Fly” by Pink Floyd;
  5. Ensure that you remain in an undisturbed state for the next couple of hours (this doesn’t include getting disturbed by Murakami because this is bound to happen, inevitably);
  6. Keep the light settings at a pleasant low and not at some garish level;
  7. Pick up “Norweigian Wood” and wait for your life to undergo a paradigm shift;

And most importantly:


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