Mispraising Murakami (guest post by Jake Waalk)

[So I asked a friend and frightfully brilliant writer and reader Jake Waalk to write a post on Murakami. I cannot read him in Japanese, and while I have some opinions of his work (none charitable), they are all based on flawed translations. I don’t really know his work not the contexts in which it should be read. Since Nobel season is coming up, however, I am anticipating the same, mildly exasperating hyperbole about his work. I do not even remotely have the competence to argue this point, however. Jake Waalk does. This essay is not about Murakami’s work as it is about the way we read and praise Murakami in the West. Please enjoy this essay.]

10423647_10204438039891693_2575797347110217778_nSo I had the honor of being asked to write a piece on Haruki Murakami, perhaps given the lead up to the Nobel Prize for Literature and the continued buzz around his name. Murakami’s fans are numerous in the West, as evidenced by the huge sections of his books in U.S. bookstores, an almost unheard of saturation of a translated author in the famously insular American literary scene. Japanese literature particular has always been a fringe even in the small malnourished country that is translation in United States. The tendencies in the Japanese literary culture towards ambiguousness and moral ambivalence have also meant that traditionally, Japan has been an exceptionally poor fit for the aggressively idealistic American culture. While I speak mainly with experience over the United States, Murakami’s fans have increased in Europe as well, and as such the task has fallen on me too offer up a little context on the author from, to help out my friend, mediocre poet and blogger shigekuni. The purpose in writing this brief essay is not so much to deconstruct or breakdown Murakami’s literary merit—something I am not well enough versed in his work to do anyway—but is rather to address certain issues surrounding the author’s popularity and to address his place in contemporary Japanese literature.

I start then, with a parable, albeit an imperfect one, but I ask readers please go along with me for a minute. I will use an American example: imagine going abroad and visiting bookstores, talking to readers, and the only thing anyone ever talks about is Dave Eggers. At all the bookstores Eggers’ books fill up entire shelves in translation, with only one or two other books by an American author at all, one lesser Faulkner and maybe a late Hemingway, crammed beside everything Dave Eggers’ has ever written. Eggers remains virtually the only living American author anyone in this imaginary place has ever read and will talk about. I have just outlined the experience of Japanese people with Haruki Murakami. None of this was to disparage Dave Eggers, a solid writer who has done much to invigorate the American literary scene and support the genre of the short story writer. I chose Eggers name because he is a relatively well-known middling author in the realm of living writers in that country, though one with a solid cult following and perhaps more recognized by the group of readers that also read Murakami.

The parable works, because regardless of how surprising his Western fans may find this, Haruki Murakami is a middling author in Japan, one with a mixed relationship to the country’s literary establishment, which has more often than not passed him up for major awards and rarely ranks him at the top echelon of living writers. Murakami’s Japanese critics make many claims against him; his writing is boring and simplistic in its use much kanji (Chinese characters) or that he fails to use kanji with the level of cleverness and wordplay expected of an author skilled in the use of the Japanese language as a literary tool. Murakami also comes under criticism for his political apathy, his lack of much of a moral vision one way or another, and many perceive his surreal or playful themes to be childish or the products of a shallow worldview (though it cannot be said that Murakami has no defenders in the Japanese literary community, they are just definitively in the minority). Ostensibly, the hope of the parable was to highlight a certain oddness, and even condescension present in Murakami’s popularity abroad, especially since almost no Murakami reader I have ever spoken to has read anything else of Japan’s vibrant and extraordinarily diverse modern literary heritage, from Natsume Soseki to Junichiro Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima, Kawabata Yasunari, Kenzaburo Oe, and Kobo Abe to name just a few older writers, all dead save the Nobel Prize laureate Oe (yes, for all the complaining about Murakami not having won, there is currently a living Japanese laureate whom virtually no one in the U.S. has read). And it’s not a matter of translation; all of the above authors have been well-translated into English, just good luck finding them in a bookstore, though you will find a good half-dozen Murakami books.

Modern Japanese literature is another topic—and one where I think context is most needed and most lacking among Western readers. For example, Haruki Murakami is, in my opinion, not even the best living Japanese writer named Murakami, an honor which goes to Ryu Murakami, an author about the same age, who has won virtually all of Japan’s most prestigious prizes: The Akutagawa Prize, the Yomiuri Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, the Naoki Prize, two Noma awards—Ryu Murakami is both a popular writer and critically acclaimed, with several of his key works like the fantastic Coin-Locker Babies in English and yet little-known and little-read. Ryu Murakami has written about a range of contemporary issues in Japan from compensated dating, to hikikomori (shut-ins) and his work is imbued with a gritty violence and social critique of Japanese society, with an entire body of work seemingly centered around very relevant cultural issues (he’s also something of a celebrity and like Haruki has deep ties and interests in music as well as literature).

Ryu Murakami aside, contemporary Japanese literature has many other immensely talented and respected authors, including many prominent female writers. There is Yuko Tsushima, the daughter of the famous author Osamu Dazai (who committed suicide with his lover in 1948). Tsushima’s novel Laughing Wolf is available in English and offers a very unique take to a young girl’s empowerment through her elopement with the older boy she develops an interest in. The novel, which cannot be reviewed here, makes skillful literary use of The Jungle Book to create a strange relationship between young girl and older boy, that of brother and sister. It is a relationship based on a rejection of ties to the broader world of humans, forged by an affinity and connection with death: the suicide of the girl’s father, which the boy witnessed as a small homeless child. The novel is phenomenal, and Tsushima has been a consistent literary presence for decades, yet is almost untranslated into English. There is Ogawa Yoko whom I have not read, but who has won most of the Japan’s most prestigious literary awards and is often talked up as one Japan’s premier authors, by no less than Kenzaburo Oe for example. Another that I have actually read is Kaori Ekuni, a bestseller with some serious critical gravitas, whose Twinkle, Twinkle was a light, but funny and interesting love triangle between a woman who didn’t want an actual marriage, a gay doctor needing an out for his family and work, and his long-time lover. There is even the bubbly and decidedly more lightweight Banana Yoshimoto. Other names that have come in inquiring about leading Japanese authors beyond my reading are Toshiyuki Horie, and several Japanese people I have spoken to think Yasutaka Tsutsui might be the most important living sci-fi author in the world right now. Another author completely unavailable in English but quite influential in Japan is Noboru Tsujihara [note: after I posted Jake’s essay, @maorthofer corrected this on Twitter: “Tsujihara not untranslated @thamesriverwpc did Jasmine in 2012″], and the not quite-so-undertranslated Genichiro Takahashi has published many influential works and developed a strong literary reputation.

The list-making serves a very important purpose, as part of the reason I have been asked to write this essay is to explain my experiences with Japanese people and talking about Haruki Murakami, and to bring in any other anecdotal experiences I’ve already since I started living in Japan (to teach English through the JET program). I don’t particularly like anecdotes, so I am going to rush through them without lingering on anything for too long. When I did a presentation (in Japanese) for JAPN102, I chose to do it on literature and explicitly left out Haruki Murakami. When the class started discussing it, the Japanese teacher (a fortyish, well-educated woman from Tokyo), stood up and with her typical laconic bluntness said that Haruki Murakami wasn’t very important, and that I had specifically chosen (Soseki, Yasunari, Mishima, and Oe), others very important to Japanese literature and read by most Japanese in high school literature classes. When it came time to apply to JET, I mentioned some of the same authors again and highlighted my larger interest in Japanese literature and its culture as a reason for wanting to work and study further in Japan. For the JET program, the second stage entails a three person interview with the [American] program coordinator at what Consulate-General you apply for, a JET alumni, and a Consulate-General employee who is Japanese.

The Japanese Consulate-General official on my committee brought up my list and mentioned that most American’s only talk about Haruki Murakami and asked me why I thought he had not won the Nobel Prize. I gave an honest answer that Murakami did seem to embody the sort of politics and zeitgeist the committee often prefers in its picks, and I noted that he also lacks the profile in his home country that most Prize winners generally have. The answer noticeably impressed the official (and by noticeably I mean he complimented me on it), and I ended up getting the spot. In Japan, one of our prefectural supervisors turned out to have studied literature in college and we ended up talking about writers. He was ecstatic that I had heard of Kenzaburo Oe, and his English grew excited and a little fragmented as he tried to talk about a complicated subject such as Oe, saying “What he does, is genius. He is a genius. Very difficult to read, even for Japanese.” He seemed to have little interest in Haruki Murakami, and at point said Murakami wasn’t a particularly important writer. My school principal and district superintendent were also impressed that I liked Oe, who engenders a lot of respect even from some political conservatives. Both talked about books with me as best as I could manage with my limited Japanese, without ever mentioning Haruki Murakami.

Anecdotal evidence is just that, subjective and underwhelming and I would never try to position it as a powerful argument by itself, which is why I have also tried to contextualize Haruki Murakami first. However, I must also say that there has been a remarkably consistent response to Haruki Murakami by Japanese people across most of my experiences, particularly among those well-educated and having had experience traveling or living abroad. Hence my parable about Dave Eggers, with which I hoped to offer American readers a way of identifying with the sentiment of these Japanese, to offer a way to understand that sense of disconnect, oddity, and perplexion that most Japanese greet Haruki Murakami’s broad popularity in the West while almost all other Japanese writers languish unread and unknown.

This is a problem that Haruki Murakami himself recognizes, and he has been involved in projects to introduce Americans to other Japanese writers, but there is undeniably something about him as a writer that, despite a huge popular following in Japan (if only more literary and profound authors solid out million round printings in a few weeks in the United States, where almost no one seems to read outside the endless formulaic drudgery of writers like James Patterson and book club novels) has usually left him on the outside of intellectual and critical respect in Japan. Murakami himself said it in an interview, “I’m kind of an ugly duckling. Always the duckling, never the swan.” Murakami divides, and his type of very simple style with clear and minimalist sentences defies the standards of Japanese literature, where inventiveness, word play, and complexity aren’t just valued, they are considered the evidence of linguistic competence and a writer’s style. Murakami can come off as calomel to many readers and critics in Japan, and as I cannot personally weigh in on that matter with any depth, I will only reiterate that given how Japanese works as a language, this is a fair criticism.

Murakami is not, as John Wray laughably describes him in an interview for The Paris Review, “arguably the most experimental Japanese novelist to have been translated into English.” To Wray I say, read Kobo Abe, several times a serious contender for the Nobel Prize, who wrote truly bizarre, surrealistic fiction like The Woman in the Dunes or Kangaroo Notebook. Read Kenzaburo Oe, who is, in his own fashion, incredibly unique and experimental in the complex ways he twists and contorts Japanese, and his characters, who eventually morph into all-grown-up post-atomic bomb Huck Finns. The hagiography of Murakami by well-read critics who nonetheless know next to nothing about Japanese criticism is a pet-peeve of mine, and yet a recurrent theme for Murakami. The issue is that a reader can think that “the meaning of those symbols remains hermetic to the last” (Wray) or could take the position that they are nice emotive symbols used by a creative mind, but without having any meaning at all, being purely a sort of flash, glib manipulation sans a mature ideology or social commentary behind them (I am paraphrasing a central line of criticism of Murakami in Japan). And I suspect the reason for his popularity has to do more with Wray’s very next comment, highlighting Murakami’s numerous Western pop culture influences. Haruki Murakami, rather than breaking the rule of American literature’s insularity, merely proves it, because it seems that an essential part of his appeal lies in the unique appropriations of and applications of Western pop culture that make his work accessible and which follow certain in vogue stylistic conventions. All the while Murakami admittedly reads little of Japanese literature, and has a huge disconnect from the country’s extremely rich literary heritage—a disconnect which in Oe’s work is violent, deeply personal, and a matter of schism and betrayal while remaining ever present, just bubbling beneath the page just as his Nobel lecture inverted and built off Kawabata’s Nobel lecture. In Murakami this disconnect is merely a sign of disinterest.

I am not however making a final critical judgment of Murakami himself. I have only read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and I was modestly impressed by it. My critical judgment is of Murakami’s popularity in the West, and I am more interested in indicting certain aspects of the American literary community that inflate Murakami into the greatest and most unique bit of literature to ever come out of Japan while lacking appropriate knowledge and background to make that kind of value judgment. The endless times I say I love Japanese literature and am then asked about Murakami have come to annoy even me, and while I won’t use a meaningless strawman word like hipster, I can identify a big source of Murakami’s popularity is in white, educated, urban demographics, particularly younger people—what might be called the yuppie community. My indictment is more a matter of how vapid the culture of this community—one of the best educated and most culturally invested, often in admirable ways, areas of American society. For all its pretensions towards originality, novelty, and multiculturalism this community has an incredibly narrow and often discriminatory sense of aesthetics. Murakami’s popularity seems to speak to how this group gravitates to translated authors with similar styles and references to the American authors they read, and a rather self-serving appropriation rather than an open-minded exploration of global cultures and new perspectives.

Even so I can’t help but cautiously hope Haruki Murakami’s popularity in the West does good things. That even in small ways it internationalizes; leads people to other Japanese writers; that its use of surrealism and genre components helps break down rigid barriers on what constitutes “literature” and that it does help blur the line between popular fiction and the literary (a division already often blurred in Japan). Bob Duggan has one of the most balanced responses to Murakami, calling him the “Thelonious Monk of Fiction” and Nathaniel Rich has written one of the few, thorough critical responses to Murakami in America, published in The Atlantic, outlining the numerous lines of tropes, clichés, and simplistic themes repeated throughout Murakami’s novels and takes aim even Murakami’s skill with language and his “ultimately inconsequential” plots and “robotic” dialogue, though Rich like me, still takes something interesting from Murakami, and like Nathaniel Rich I will say there are some interesting aspects to Murakami’s writing even with the spotty skill—mainly a sense that Murakami is a formulaic genre fiction writer writing alone in a unique personal genre of his own invention.

In Japan, Murakami remains a second-string literary figure—something he thinks would be unchanged by a Nobel Prize—but his fan base is avid, and his writings, replete with aimless loneliness, alienation and desire, speak to a broad experience of complicated and stressful postmodernity in Japan (as do numerous other authors, some like Ryu Murakami doing it better and with greater creativity and linguistic competence than Haruki Murakami). As such there really is no middle ground; you are either a fan, hate him, or utterly ambivalent. From personal experience, I would say ambivalence is most common. There are other more worthy candidates from Japan for the Nobel Prize for Literature (the poet Shuntaro Tanikawa for instance), but Murakami remains a perennial favorite, perhaps buoyed by the often liberal English translations and the sense that he represents a novel style of writing. I feel that Haruki Murakami is a lightweight contender, and would have the least gravitas of any winner since the baffling selection of Orhan Pamuk in 2006, and many of his Western fans would do good to explore a world of Japanese literature that is so much deeper, stranger, and more complex than Haruki Murakami.

*

Jake Waalk is currently living in Shinano, Nagano, where Kobayashi Issa was born and died. You can reach Jake via email (jawaalk[at]gmail.com) or in the comment section of this post. I suppose you can also hunt him down on facebook. He’s an excellent human being and a brilliant reader. ISBN.

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20 thoughts on “Mispraising Murakami (guest post by Jake Waalk)

    • Me, too. That’s why I asked Jake. Have you noticed my almost shockingly regular posting of reviews by the way?

    • however, I wonder how seriously one should take his opinion:
      “The Nobel Prize selection process is highly subjective and produces hit and miss results […] One must wonder, for example, about recent winners such as […] Tomas Transtromer. On the other hand there are laureates on the list who seem beyond question: […] Steinbeck […]”
      WTF?!

  1. but:
    “Would Haruki Murakami ever win? Nathan concedes that Murakami is prolific, original and a grand designer. […] He could easily win the prize and is certainly a more important novelist than many others who already have.”

  2. I’m late to the party as always. Thanks for the correction on Tsujihara. The John Nathan essay is curmudgeonly and pretentious. While it makes a good criticism of Mishima in a way I wish I had been able to phrase it (something about how Mishima’s characters are always too rigidly held in place by his Big Ideas about them and what they were to stand for), his comments about Kawabata are just asinine and I feel deeply incorrect considering the importance and influence Kawabata has had over Japanese literature.

    Most asinine were Nathan’s comments about Oe, essentially saying, “Because he didn’t become the kind of author I thought he should become, he’s got a mixed legacy and never reached his full potential.” A late of generic criticisms and very little detail or context from Nathan as he basically takes a dump on every Japanese writer he’s asked about other than Soseki. I really need to write a review of Teach us to outgrow our madness; and am curious if it could be published here too.

  3. I’ve read a lot more Haruki Murakami than any other Japanese writer, but this is something I’ve intuited for a long time. His many positive appraisals usually seemed a bit off. As is the constant insistence that he should win the Nobel Prize. I read him because it feels good reading him, because he gets me going through tough tracks, but he doesn’t challenge me, nor is he especially socially enlightening in the way most recent Nobel laureates are. I know that my opinion is hardly valuable, but it’s nice to have a bit of it validated.

  4. I do enjoy Murakami Haruki (and Murakami Ryu too for that matter), and I suppose I want him to win the Nobel Prize just because I love Japanese literature in general. After all, my personal favourites are long dead and unlikely to win therefore (Dazai Osamu, Akutagawa, Soseki and even Mishima – for all his flaws, a very exciting writer). But this article is spot on with the Eggers comparison (whom I haven’t actually read much of).

    • One reason I enjoyed the article is that it offered a ton of other interesting writers. Want a Japanese writer to win it? Why not one of those? Personally, as soon as there’s an affordable used copy, I’m reading A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, which sounds absolutely delectable. I think that’s the point of the Eggers comparison as far as I understand it. It’s as if someone came up to you and said “I love American literature and that’s why I’m rooting for Dave Eggers to win the nobel prize” Wouldn’t you say, “Well, that’s nice, but shouldn’t that American Nobel rather go to [insert great writer]?”

    • Yes, although I am not entirely sure that any of the above-mentioned authors have got enough of an ‘oeuvre’, as the Nobel committee might say. It’s more like a lifetime achievement award rather than one singular good piece, however excellent that might be. I really liked A True Novel, by the way, but I think the author has only written two other things, one of which is not fiction.

    • Replying to your comment below:
      I’m not sure what you mean by these authors not having enough of an “oeuvre.” From a rough count, Ryu Murakami has written 32 novels and 13 short story collections, he’s written daily columns in major news papers responding to big questions, written nonfiction books and essays, and directed and wrote movie versions of multiple of his books. If he won, Ryu Murakami would be one of the most diverse artists to win it since at least Dario Fo and maybe even more so than Fo. Ryu is a TV finance show host, director, screenwriter, novelist, journalist, musician, and essayist. He’s been fairly well-translated into both English and French, at least his big novels. Ryu Murakami has worked with Japan’s leading directors and musicians, been involved in landmine removal groups, and his critical acclaim is virtually unmatched in Japan. The Akutagawa award is very competitive, as it goes to the best young/new artist. He’s won all the other big awards to (with different novels), Yomiuri, Tanizaki, multiple Nomas, I really don’t see how anyone could possibly make the argument that Ryu Murakami isn’t viable for lack of an “oeuvre.”

      Yuko Tsushima has been publishing since 1973. She’s written dozens of novels. She’s worked to spread and share Ainu folklore and culture. Gerry Harcourt, one of Tsushima’s English translators, led me to information on how Tsushima for instance, is mainly responsible for getting the Ainu Yukar that had been translated into Japanese, also translated into French, and how her novels show increasing interest in the style of the Yukar narrative poems and historical literature. Both Tsushima and Ryu Murakami have the gravitas and the oeuvre of Novel winners, but I’m not sure the committee is even well-acquainted with them. Lately the picks have gone back and forth between middling, somewhat obscure European authors, and then “Who is the obvious non-European to give this to.”

    • I agree about Ryu Murakami – he would definitely be my choice. But I don’t think the Nobel committee is aware of any other Japanese author. Besides, as you say, they do go for ‘political correctness’ – when they don’t go for the exact opposite of that…

  5. Enlightening essay! I too am under read in Japanese fiction. I only have read a couple of works each by Akutagwa, Soseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata and Mishima in translation. Kawabata and Mishima impressed and I need to read more. Ironically I just finished my first Oe: “Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids” and I found it super engaging on multiple levels. Of Murakami I have only read “Wild Sheep Chase”. I can see why his writing would stack up to your take on why he attracts American readership. I think it does fit our current reading tastes (do we ‘mericans even read non digital content any more?) , appealing to our pop culture based sensibilities. Thanks! I need to give the other writers mentioned a try! I am reluctant to read “Wind Up Bird Chronicle”, as I understand the version in english is seriously truncated. I already keep in mind that reading Japanese literature in translation is a third person experience at best.

    • Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids was my first Oe novel too, and it’s an amazing tour de force. It’s young, raw, moralistic, a fable full of descriptions worth of Rimbaud, yet ultimately tragic and deeply critical of Japanese society, particularly it seems, the inability or refusal to take blame for moral failings. For whatever bizarre reason, the poor, quote filled review I wrote and posted on Dailykos in 2011 is the 6th top search result for “Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids” on google, and that gets into my thoughts a little more on that novel.

      When I met Stephen Snyder at Middlebury (he happened to show us his new translation of, of all writers, Yoko Ogawa who I mentioned in this piece, translating her work The Professor the Housekeeper), and he mentioned that among translators from the Japanese, Haruki Murakami is infamous for giving his translators free range to do absolutely whatever they want. The Wind-Up Bird chronicle, which was the first hit work that made Murakami an American sensation and also raised up Jay Rubin, was originally a series of 3 books, and in consolidating it into one book for American release, 25,000 words were cut. That’s over a hundred pages of text snipped from the story. American publishers and translators took the liberty to cut entire chapters and also to change up the order, rearranging several chapters by moving them up. Heavy-handed editing disguised as translation seems to be the rule for Murakami, according to Snyder at least. There was also a fracas I couldn’t find an article for, (and so didn’t include) where a Murakami story published in the New Yorker had the last 14 or something paragraphs excised by translators, and was reworked to give it an alternate ending (to suit hipster/yuppie American sentiments maybe?), and Murakami got some flack for agreeing to it when it came out that had happened. Pretty sure I’m not making this up, but like I said, I couldn’t find the specifics of the event or any sources to relate and confirm this story.

  6. I’ve only just seen this (a link from a link…), and while I think most of this is well said, I certainly think you’re downplaying Haruki’s work and Nobel chances. I’m someone who has read a fair bit of Japanese literature (please see my site for a selection). In addition to most of Murakami’s work in English, I’ve also tried a fair bit by many of the modern classic writers (Kawabata, Oe, Tanizaki and – especially – Natsume Soseki). Firstly, your experience with what Japanese people think of HM’s work doesn’t quite match up to mine. I know several Japanese readers/commentators who do appreciate his work, and while his early work didn’t win prizes such as the Akutagawa (his success despite this is one thing some establishment figures don’t like about him…), even Oe praised him later in his career. To describe him as a ‘middling author’, or a ‘second-string literary figure’ seems slightly economical with the truth.

    As for other contemporary writers, I’d have to agree to disagree with you. I certainly come down on the Haruki side of the Murakami line, much as I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Ryu’s work (about seven books so far), and I haven’t really found any other potential Nobel challengers, with the possible exception of Ogawa (it’s a mystery why her run of books into English suddenly seems to have ground to a halt, with Hiromi Kawakami being the new flavour of the month). I loved Minae Mizumura’s ‘A True Novel’, but hated her non-fiction book on Japanese and English – she’d certainly need to do a lot more to be considered.

    Which is not to say that I consider Murakami to be a truly great writer knocking on the (rather attractive) doors of the Academy. I’d much prefer Krasznahorkai or Marías, to name just a couple, to take out the prize. However, he certainly wouldn’t disgrace the prize, and he’s no worse a choice than, say, Modiano. Provided that he stays healthy (a fairly good chance) and that no other Japanese writer rises meteorically (possible, but unlikely), he has every chance of getting there eventually.

    Unless, of course, one of the committee members loathes his work as much our dear friend (the host of this blog) does – in which case, he’s screwed 😉

    • Most of these points have to be addressed by Jake, but I just want to make clear that an academy that recently has been pushing (European) popularity and mediocrity over excellence might well award Murakami’s severely mediocre work. I think his chances are actually quite good, which is depressing. I think (and notably, Jake disagrees with me on this) Murakami is an intellectually lazy writer and a very mediocre writer on a line by line, page by page basis. He rivals Auster in the way he overloads his books with sentimental cliché and obnoxious references to genre. For all my criticism of the Modiano award (instead of, say, ten significantly superior writers working in French), Modiano is a careful, deliberate, honest writer. He borrows tools and develops his own, he works on and understands characters and how fictionality and accuracy mesh. He’s middle-of-the-road, but it is, after all, a better road (say, one of those French highways that you have to pay a toll for). I think much of Murakami’s praise comes through a certain reception, through a game of expectations and a lowered bar of expectations due to translation, which you can see not infrequently. I get it if you praise Murakami because you emotionally identify with his themes – a literary master this does not make.

      I have a question: do you disagree with Jakes “Dave Eggers”-comparison? I think it is very interesting and very apt (although IMO, Auster would be more fitting, but I live in a country that thinks Auster and Franzen are frontrunners for the Nobel every year).

  7. I’d say Eggers is not flattering to Murakami – Auster would be better (and more fitting, too). I think we agree both that Murakami could win the Nobel, and that there are better writers out there. I’m still much more positive about his work than you, though, even if I agree that on a line-by-line basis, he’s definitely not great 😉

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