There are two kinds of readers in this world – ones who have read Murakami, being transformed into his crazy fans and others who haven’t read Murakami, and don’t know what they have been missing. I have been transferred into the former recently; and it’s a deep love and admiration since then. Having read 11 books written by the maestro of despair, loneliness and magical realism fused into real life, I could see some recurring elements in most of his works. Mind you, I am only at the half way mark in reading through all that Haruki Murakami has written, but, I am sure that these elements would recur in those books as well.
What I present below are the things or elements you would find in Murakami’s books and my interpretation of their utility or what they symbolize (not signify: take this Murakami Fans!). I will edit this list post I read rest of the works as well. I welcome your own analysis or some of the elements that I may have missed.
Murakami simply loves cats, wonderful creatures, aren’t they? Why is that all the protagonists either possess cats, talk about them or know some one who has them.
- Cats are the pin-up models for loneliness, and not exactly social creatures
- Cats are selfish, so are most of the characters in Murakami’s stories
- Cats are unpredictable, enigmatic and independent – virtues that are aplenty in Murakami prose
# 2. Metaphor / Allegory
There is a constant effort by the characters to use metaphors and allegories extensively, and sometimes they let you know, the reader, that “hey, in case you didn’t notice, I used a metaphor here”. I simply love the way metaphors / allegories are used in the stories, significantly enhancing the likeability of the prose, and keeps my mind on tenterhooks while reading. Be mindful of the minefield that he has laid, I tell myself.
Why Metaphor / Allegory?
We all have it with in our language arsenal and use them consciously or unconsciously, without branding them as such. We all think of situations, comparison and benchmarks while thinking or talking; most of the emotions that emanates from his prose, are like that.
# 3. Music (Esp. Jazz) and Book References
Doesn’t he love dropping references of American Jazz music of 50s-70s and American books of the same era that he has read? His books compulsorily have that US connection, with he himself having stayed in US at peak of his career. Be it Mozart, Bach, Beach Boys or Beatles, or writers like Carver, Fitzgerald, pages of his books are replete with many artistes and authors that may have shaped Murakami’s life or influenced his writings.
Why Music and Books?
- Books: Murakami has read and done translation of a number of American and European books into Japanese. Amongst these are Carver, Salinger, Kafka, Flaubert, Vonnegut, Dickens and so on. He definitely stands out among various Japanese authors for creating a sort of ‘pop culture’ in which his characters are shown reading or talking about these books. I guess it adds to his appeal internationally.
- Music: Murakami grew up on Jazz and classical music. He also had a coffeehouse and a jazz bar, called Peter Cat, while he was just getting into writing having written a couple of books. His range and knowledge of music comes out very strongly, with almost all characters in his books, major or minor listening to Jazz mostly, or playing piano / guitar.
#4. Death, Suicides and Disappearances
Most minor and some major characters in Murakami novels, do one or more of the following: they die (of natural causes), commit suicide or simply disappear. These characters are often disturbed, depressed or dejected in life, and somehow connected, engaged and share a special relationship to the central character or protagonist. Some of them who died were as young as 17. Some of them disappear without a trace and there is no further explanations on them.
Why Death, Suicide and Disappearance?
I guess this is a major motif to help symbolize vagaries of human nature, the sadness that envelopes them and showcases in general, futility of continuing life. Most of them who die / disappear are living in Tokyo, a fast paced city, which may not suit everyone’s sensibilities; as the pressure of expectations mounts, they cave in. This is also a constant reminder of city vs. town (or rural) life, the busy beings, each one in a race to achieve more and more.
I guess this is a comparison with the “American Dream” of making it big and living happily ever after. As it happened with American Dream, there may be a lot of people in Tokyo who could not catch up what they were chasing. Suicide Rates (18.5/100000, 2015, rank #17) and happiness index (rank #46, 2015) also indicate that things may not be hunky-dory in one of the world’s developed nation.
Beer is the most favored alcoholic beverage in Murakami books, beating whiskey, wine and other poisons hands down. Even Sake, the Japanese rice wine, doesn’t seem to suit tastes of American Pop Culture influenced characters, much. The characters bond over beer, be it set of friends or lovers. There is some minor usage of Coke / Pepsi as well, but the soda or sparkling water beats them hands down. I don’t recall any specific brands being mentioned in case of beer (I recall Chivas Regal though).
I guess Beer is the quintessential social drink world over, especially with young drinkers. With most of Murakami characters below 30 years of age, they seem to prefer Beer. Most of the characters in Murakami books are from middle class background, with limited means, hence, inexpensive beer becomes the poison of choice. I am sure experience of seeing people drink (and sales) at his venture Peter Cat, would have influenced this choice as well.