In late 2013, I found a signed copy of Kafka on the Shore in the free exchange bookshelf outside the Shoman library. I recalled a friend of mine mentioning the book title, so I grabbed it thinking it must be valuable.. and anyway, I could always sell the signed copy if I don’t enjoy it.

Kafka on the Shore book cover, vintage publication

Back then, I had never read a Murakami book before. And once I started, my life had changed forever. So surreal, so scary, so mysterious, so weird and out of this world. There were some pages that actually gave me goosebumps and raised my heartbeat.

All I could think was ‘what more does Murakami have to offer?’

Let’s introduce him first; Haruki Murakami born January 12, 1949 is a Japanese writer. His books and short stories are best sellers worldwide and have been translated into 50 languages. Along with Mishima and Kawabata, he is considered one of the best authors in Japanese history.

Sputnik Sweetheart book cover, vintage publication

Murakami writes about average people we can all relate to who have non-average things happen to them. In most of his books, there are unnatural events taking place, which is a great way to make the reader escape reality. Murakami always has someone (usually the protagonists’ female love interest) disappearing, sometimes they return, and sometimes they don’t. Cat appearances  are recurring events in his stories. For some reason I got used to them, although they are not my favourite animals. He involves a lot of classical, jazz as well as modern Western musical references in almost all his books. His characters, although authentically Japanese, tend to be very exposed to Western music and art. Murakami also has this pattern where he describes how characters cook or tidy their surroundings. I realized that this is one main factor of making his writings so soothing. The reader just imagines the characters involved in those household tasks and it actually has a calming effect. In a stressful 2017, Murakami’s writings were the only thing that calmed me down.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle book cover, vintage publication

One main cheat or setback on Murakami is that he describes Japan in a way that makes the reader fall in love with the country. Unlike Mishima who wrote about post WW2 Japan being filled with sickness, death, crimes, hunger and poverty. Murakami’s modern day Japan is the place to be. So clean, organised, modern, beautiful, safe and Zen.

Sometime in 2016 after reading multiple Murakami books and collecting all his works, I learnt a lot about his writing style. The recurring themes, the novels vs. short stories, the unnatural vs. natural plots make this author enjoyable to everyone. I must admit, some of his works were major disappointments, yet others, I cannot wait to read again. I highly recommend this author for any reader.

A Wild Sheep Chase book cover, vintage publication

Being Japan’s number one contemporary author, Murakami’s success can be described as commercial nowadays. There is no one bookshop without his books. Regardless, I do recommend that anyone attempting a first Murakami read to do some research before picking a book. For example, his best seller, A Wild Sheep Chase is one of his most difficult reads and requires a lot of dedication and perhaps spending some time on its prequels (not necessary, but very much recommended since it is part of a 4-book ‘trilogy’ entitled Trilogy of the Rat). His short stories collection Men Without Women is a good starter choice. Sputnik Sweetheart is a quick and easy read and of course, his masterpiece, Kafka on the Shore is another thing entirely… I guess I am keeping that signed copy after all.

Book review by booksbyhala