Friday, 15 December 2006

Haruki Murakami continues to fascinate Western readers. In Opinion Journal Emily Parker, an assistant editorial features editor at The Wall Street Journal, interviews the writer in his Hawaii home and comes away feeling frustrated that he doesn't make more of an effort to provoke a serious debate about Japan's murky past.

Themes of history and memory clearly run through Mr. Murakami's books. Yet he seems loath to analyze his own work for political messages or historical lessons, saying that he just wants to "write a story." But if Mr. Murakami feels so strongly about facing the past, and so concerned about the future of his nation, why doesn't he address these issues more explicitly in his writing, using his prose to shake Japan out of its historical amnesia? The novelist answers that sending overt political messages is simply not the job of a fiction writer.

Parker also evinces some surprise at Murakami's normality — as a Japanese.

Even as he chooses to spend much of his time in Honolulu, Mr. Murakami appears to reveal the punctilious ways of his homeland. (He reminded me to take off my shoes before entering his home, an airy Hawaiian residence that offers a breath of quiet and anonymity for the celebrity writer. Then he promptly sat down at a light wood table--in formal repose--and looked at me expectantly, waiting for the interview to begin.) And as if to confirm this impression, the Kyoto-born Mr. Murakami says that, in some ways, he is 100% Japanese. "The difference," he says, "is that I'm kind of individualist."

Murakami's difference is actually legendary to afficionados. He refuses to run with the pack and this puzzles the Japanese intellectuals who would otherwise compete to celebrate his celebrity in the West. The usual suspects who appear on TV chat shows are another breed or, rather, Murakami is.

But one thing's for certain: there's nothing fake or superficial about him, and his insistence on the outward forms of Japanese civility indicate to me his deep sincerity. This is a good, long interview that is worth reading if you have any interest in Japan at all. It highlights the differences in attitude that serve to make Western commentators — such as your truly — question whether Japan is actually a free society, in the profound and compound sense that we normally understand when the phrase is uttered.

Thanks to BookFox for the heads up.


Anonymous said...

Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite writers. I prefer the Chines translated versions of his works to English translated ones though.

Matthew da Silva said...

You're lucky you can read Chinese!