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Saturday, Nov 16, 2019

Here are 4 books by Haruki Murakami that will change the way you look at literature

Haruki Murakami takes his readers through grief, tragedy, happiness and loneliness – all-in-one go – with some jazz, The Beatles or Bach and Beethoven tuning alongside.

books Updated: Jun 15, 2018 17:05 IST
Prerna Madan
Prerna Madan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
If Haruki Murakami’s novels are about the stolen moments of life, his short stories are like episodes from a Richard Linklater movie.
If Haruki Murakami’s novels are about the stolen moments of life, his short stories are like episodes from a Richard Linklater movie.(Illustration: Shutterstock)

We love books. But no matter how much we read, there are always dusty shelves and stories – real or fictional – that we still haven’t opened our eyes to.

So every month, we’ll write about a topic, an author or a series that catches our attention. Whether it is James Bond or Scandinavian noir, the idea is to celebrate bestsellers across the world and discover more about the unknown faces behind forgotten books.

Bookworm or not, we promise there’ll be a little bit for everyone, because after all, books are forever.


There’s something strange in the after effect of reading a Haruki Murakami story. It’s as if time stands still when the last line has run out, the last word read and the last letter comes to a stop with a sombre period. And then a feeling of utter helplessness washes over as the realisation of nostalgia, fate and tragedy come to the fore together.

This is what a Murakami story does – with some jazz, The Beatles or Bach and Beethoven tuning inside your mind.

The Japanese author’s masterstroke is his ease of prose and the way he, with all his literary awards to showcase, topples the notion of intellectual elite. The beauty of his work lies in fantastical stories that are embellished in reality and his lonely, nomadic characters that are left searching for the green light in the ruins of themselves.

Also read: Four books by British author Sue Townsend that will leave you in splits

Here are four books by Murakami you ought to read if you haven’t already:

Sputnik Sweetheart

Laika comes to mind when I first think of Sputnik, the Russian satellite that was carrying a rescue dog who was used for space research. The satellite was never found, and Laika lives immortalised in her sacrifice.

The title says it all, doesn’t it? A shot of melancholy and the impending sense of doom have been hinted before the story has even begun. In retrospective tones, the narrator – known only as K – tells the story of Sumire, the obsessively stubborn writer who falls in love with an older woman Miu. It sounds like an utterly normal story until a tale of divided soul and dream-like sequences where people vanish into worlds not their own. This is Murakami holding his reader hostage to a range of emotions, an act of Greek tragedy he seems to have perfected without the drama.

Men Without Women

If Murakami’s novels are about the stolen moments of life, his short stories are like episodes from a Richard Linklater movie – mere conversation connects people, reveals their flaws, and weaves them into memories. Rain platters down and the moon shines its imperfections into the night as companions to Murakami’s solitary characters. The stories -- even within 10-20 pages -- are no short of magical adventures but they vary from the novels in one striking manner: There’s a flicker of hope for the lost souls finding themselves again.

Norwegian Wood

It’s understandable why this is one of Murakami’s most discussed novels. There’s love that is destined to fall and friendships meant to fail, and the survivors who are left with embers of irreplaceable loss. Toru Watanabe loses his great love to a depression but there are still people who save him; Midori – the bizarre, chirpy characters who keep reappearing in Murakami novels -- among them. All of this occurs in the backdrop of the 1960s student movements in Japan.

This is one of the most gripping Murkami novels, simply because the story takes you along in waves. It gives a glimpse of absolute happiness and then crushes it with pure sorrow. And in the end, it leaves a glint of hope for those who have fallen to life’s adversities.

Here’s a sample:

Still leaning against the handrail, I studied the firefly. Neither I nor it made a move for a very long time. The wind continued sweeping past the two of us while the numberless leaves of the zelkova tree rustled in the darkness.

I waited forever.

Long after the firefly had disappeared, the trail of its light remained inside me, its pale, faint glow hovering on and on in the thick darkness behind my eyelids like a lost soul.

More than once I tried stretching my hand out in the dark. My fingers touched nothing. The faint glow remained, just beyond my grasp.

Kafka on the Shore

Other Murakami novels may be uncanny, but Kafka on the Shore is utterly perplexing. Like Mikhail Bulgalov’s The Master and Margarita or Alice in Wonderland series, Kafka on the Shore borders on the thin line between madness and reality. A runaway kid, talking cats, fishes falling from the sky, and dancing in the rain make up its surreal elements. But other times, the story retains its love for music as therapy and its lone characters looking for a place to call home.