Murakami coverUnless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you’ve heard of the author of the hour: Haruki Murakami. The heavily western-influenced Japanese author recently released Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and is scheduled to release The Strange Library later this year.

I was first introduced to him during a typical “What should I read next?” talk with a friend who recently returned from Japan. I’m embarrassed to admit that I WAS apparently living under a rock and hadn’t heard of Murakami before. I immediately crawled out of my cave to find that all of sudden the guy was everywhere. Time for me to join those in the know. I requested the one book that was available the soonest at the library, 1Q84. Keep in mind that I’m a member of Multnomah County Public Library, the country’s leading library system in terms of circulation of books and various media AND the book came out in 2011 and I still had to wait two weeks for the book to be available. I knew if I had to wait that long, something special was coming.

In those two weeks, my exposure to all things Murakami went into overdrive. I saw an article in the local newspaper about a new pop-up restaurant in Portland that dedicated a nine-course menu to Murakami’s latest novel. For $85 you too can enjoy a culinary journey for the mouth and mind. Powell’s, the mammoth landmark bookstore in Portland, arranged not one, not two, but three displays in the bookstore dedicated to Murakami. You couldn’t turn a corner in the store without running into the guy. What was it about him that made him the man of the hour?

Turns out, he’s just a regular guy. He owned a jazz bar in his twenties and didn’t begin writing fiction until age 29. And like any young writer, he struggled to find his voice. He transitioned over the years from common stories of collective traumas to deeper, personal accounts, seemingly desperate to branch out from traditional Japanese themes. He touched on hard subjects like loneliness and alienation while adding a twist of stylistic humor. He quickly gained popularity outside of Japan with the success of his first two novels. Soon, film and music adaptations knocked on his door. With that came heavy criticism. He’d made it. But not without flak from the Japanese literary community. He chose to isolate himself from author circles, which in my opinion, gave him the freedom to write more personal accounts and develop strong individual characters.

So, I’m starting with 1Q84 and hope to work my way through the newer stuff soon (pending library waitlists). Knowing my reading speed, it may take awhile to get through them. 1Q84 is 925 pages. If Murakami can keep me, the woman who has no qualms about quitting a book midway through, reading for all 925 pages, he’s won me over too. One can only assume larger literary prizes await. Did someone say Nobel Prize?