13 aprile 2013

“New Novel by Haruki Murakami Released in Japan” by Nicola D'Ugo

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.

Now each new novel he writes is greeted with cheerful anticipation in Japan, like the upcoming concert of a rock star. It is good that this occurs for a novelist of real value. Yet I can’t help thinking about the burden placed on the author, i.e. Murakami's relationship with his fans (if «fan» is the right word to use for a great author). I am not expecting an impressive novel here—not a novel so relevant as 1Q84, Kafka, or The Chronicle. The new novel with its long title (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, as the back cover of the Japanese edition suggests) is a short one, whereas Murakami's best novels are very long, and they don’t arrive in an unbroken sequence. So I assume that we are most likely going to read a very good novel, with passages and atmospheres and settings that are somehow preparatory for a longer and more impressive novel to come, as has already happened more than once with this exceptional author. Although I am finding Norwegian Wood boring, there are long beautiful passages and similes which are the source of his secure style in the subsequent great novels.

The faithful readers of Murakami have been wondering what is being debated in this new book, they have been eager to read it, of course. At midnight long lines of customers crowded the stores to get their copy of the book in Tokyo, and elsewhere in Japan. If Murakami were just a commercial author, I wouldn't spend my time following his literary works. I am indifferent to fame in the arts. But he is not that superficial, nor merely trendy. Murakami doesn't sell garbage, and doesn't sell his views for money. He works to sow doubts and contradictions in the daily life of common people, with meaningful references to great contemporary issues and the past, and always reminding that seeds come from flowers, fruits, and plants of some kind, the social one included. He does so with such a fine language and mastery of plot that few authors can brag of being able to do so with as much success today. This is the reason why I too am waiting for his new works, and for their Italian and English translations.

Nicola d'Ugo

Thanks to Alfred Corn for the revision of the original draft.

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