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"An excellent exploration of what makes an undeniably talented author unique": Review of 'The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami'

By James Orbesen

The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami by Matthew StrecherPerennially snubbed for literature’s brass ring, the Nobel Prize,Haruki Murakami nevertheless is regarded as one of the finest living writers. For many Westerners, Murakami is their first contact with Japanese literature. And that’s quite interesting, considering the author’s conflicted, maverick-esque status in Japanese letters, and his lack of willingness to fit in and play by established rules.

Matthew Carl Strecher, professor and Murakami devotee, has much to say about this tension in his latest work, The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami. Strecher neatly maps out the impression the young Murakami made on the hidebound world of Japanese literature, and its overarching literary guild, one entrenched by respect, routine, and what literature ought to do.

Many established critics were nonplussed from the beginning by his new style, or rather nonstyle, which signaled a rejection of the Modernist urge toward literary language, and some found his prose lacking in depth. Others found his characters’ disaffected urban lifestyle too detached for their taste. Murakami was just a little too ‘cool’ for their comfort and failed to measure up to standards of intellectual social critique that had marked Japan’s great writers since the 1960s.

It’s an inauspicious start for one of such talent. However, brilliance can often be misunderstood or misapplied. Breaking ground requires breaking eggs. That sort of refusal to fit into systems or to toe the party line expresses itself again and again in Murakami’s work, highlighted with real insight and gusto by Strecher. After all, this is the author who, when accepting the prestigious Jerusalem Award, opted for an unconventional speech, consciously confronting his lettered peers and their artifices of power and influence:

Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others—coldly, efficiently, systematically… Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.


Continue reading the review here.