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staff picks fall

The surreal world of Haruki Murakami

Murakami is one of my favorite authors. He is masterful in blending surreal, dreamlike events and characters into lives of mundane, often lonely young men and women. His writing makes you look at the world differently, and can make you look out for the spectacular in the everyday.

IQ84 – Murakami’s most grand work, it weighs in at over 1000 pages and was originally released as three volumes in Japan. IQ84 is a story about a cult, supernatural “little people”, an assassin, a math teacher / ghostwriter, a teenage girl / best-selling author and an eerie parallel universe with two moons. This book takes everything that makes Murakami great, and just gives the reader more of it.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami’s most current novel is also his most realistic, mature, and probably my favorite. It tells the story of 36 year old Tazaki (whose surname roughly means “to build”) in Tokyo who designs train stations and a group of friends (who all have colorful last names) that suddenly cut him off during college for reasons he can’t imagine. Like most Murakami characters he lives a solitary, simple life; deeply wounded by this until he is spurn into action, and he travels back to his hometown and around the world tying up loose ends with his old group along the way uncovering some shocking secrets and realizing that no matter what you do, sometimes people can grow apart. It is a magnificent coming of age tale that doesn’t hold your hand or answer all your questions.

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche – A departure from his usual work, this book has Murakami writing nonfiction, exploring the circumstances around a deadly terrorist attack in Japan in which a cult released sarin gas in the subway at rush hour. Murakami interviewed people on all sides, cult members, victims, first responders and family members in an effort to go beyond what he viewed as sensationalist media coverage. Common themes of isolation and disconnectedness from society emerge from both the victims and the cult members. Underground is an interesting look at an important event in modern Japanese history, as well as a look into the Japanese mindset.

Kafka on the Shore – Arranged in the form of two seemingly unrelated plots that eventually find each other, Kafka on the shore is the story of a teenage runaway, a mentally handicapped man who can speak with cats, a transgender librarian, and a truck driver who was kicked out of the Japanese Self Defense Forces. Like most Murakami books it deals with the shadow of the legacy of World War 2 in Japan, the power of music, and lots of cats. The characters are an interesting departure from his usual young men.

Norwegian Wood – Titled after the Beatles song, Norwegian Wood is a tale of lost love against the backdrop of the social upheaval of 1960s Japan. The characters of the book deal with death, loss and accepting the consequences of their often poorly made decisions. This was the book that catapulted Murakami to celebrity status in Japan, and was a smashing success amongst adults and teenagers. The book was also adapted into a film released in 2010.

Lewis Parsons

Lewis Parsons is a librarian in Research and Information Services at the Sawyer Free Library.