OK. I'm reading Norwegian Wood, the novel that launched Murakami in Japan in 1987. He wrote it mostly in Rome, in the year in which I, a Roman, attended a college in NJ, reading Dylan Thomas, Eugenio Montale, W. H. Auden, John Updike, and E. E. Cummings mostly. There was no Nobel Prize in Literature from Japan at the time, and for a young writer from Europe that undoubtedly mattered. I didn't know, like many of us, that a Japanese novelist with that name even existed. I got to know his work recently, a couple of years back, and had to stick his first name in front of his last (unlike the Japanese practice, which is the other way round), since I already knew the works of two more Murakamis, the novelist and film director Ryū and the visual artist Takashi. I also knew of a porn star with that name, Risa, but I didn't know much about Haruki, except by hearsay, and, as I said, superficially and recently. My brother had read one of his novels, Dance Dance Dance, we talked about it, and I finally decided to read another: 1Q84. Haruki is the most popular Murakami abroad today, although the other two are certainly very important figures in international culture.
Yesterday Haruki Murakami's thirteenth novel was released in Japan. He is a cult figure there too, not one of those prophets who are honoured everywhere except in their home country. The youth audience loves him there, but here in Italy he is read more by adults. His success is based on an appeal to one age groups in Japan and another in the West.
Not every novel by the same novelist meets our expectations. I'm finding Norwegian Wood a bore so far—it's very well written, with a lot of realistic details and Murakami's dependable ability to represent self-consciousness but it doesn’t have the electric charge I found in 1Q84 (his last novel), Kafka on the Shore, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (even the less ambitious Sputnik Sweetheart has more excitement than the first 160 pages of Norwegian Wood I have read). I'm reading all of his novels, since Murakami is a unique master of storytelling, an author who can guarantee a future for the novel after so many decades in which many of us, myself included, expected the genre to come to an end.