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Awesome Men Throughout History: Haruki Murakami

Writers can be a frustrating lot. Granted, writing is a frustrating job, but a lot of writers seem to constantly be on the lookout for a persona to graft onto themselves, which makes the whole industry look like a bunch of nerds trying way to hard to be interesting.

This is not the case for Haruki Murakami, who is not only one of the best writers out there but a quietly cool, idiosyncratic guy. He’s also this week’s Awesome Man, as if that weren’t obvious.

Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan, during Japan’s baby boom after World War II. His parents both taught Japanese literature, but Murakami absorbed a lot of Western music and literature during his childhood, and his willingness to look to the West for inspiration sets him apart from other Japanese writers (and has attracted no shortage of criticism from the Japanese literary community over the years).

Murakami didn’t start writing until he was 29; before that, he owned a jazz club called The Peter Cat and was borderline obsessed with baseball. The apocryphal story is that he was watching a game in Jingu Stadium and, when American player Dave Hilton hit a double, realized that he could write a novel. He’s been writing ever since, and started running marathons when he was 33. He even wrote a book about running, appropriately titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, in 2008.

Murakami’s novels and short stories are unique in that he almost never uses complicated language; both the narration and dialogue are very simple. His novels generally combine one very straightforward plot (someone has to find something or someone) with surreal, fantastic characters and situations (talking cats, the ghost of Colonel Sanders, etc.), and the two weave around each other in a kind of double helix. Often, the reader is too invested in the weird atmosphere Murakami has built to see how he did it, which is one of the marks of a good writer, in my opinion.

Murakami’s narrative style is also unique for its channeling of what he describes as the exhaustion of the typical Japanese citizen. The tone may seem bloodless or lackluster at times, but that’s because many of the characters work so hard and endure so much social pressure that they can’t muster up the energy to care about anything. This features heavily in his short story “TV People,” and to a somewhat lesser extent in his novel Kafka On the Shore.

Murakami’s most recent book, IQ84, was longlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, and also placed second in Amazon.com’s top books of 2011, and garnered much praise from The Guardian and the New York Review of Books (and from Newsweek, but we all know how that turned out).

If you’re in the mood for a book that is odd and wonderful and deceptively challenging, I strongly urge you to give Haruki Murakami’s work a try. You’ll probably also like this documentary about him.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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