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Found in Translation

by Jay Rubin

Mr. Rubin, who is a professor of Japanese Literature at Harvard University, has also written Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, a book for other fans who want to know more about the reclusive Murakami. Through biographical information and literary analysis, Rubin assesses Murakami’s fiction in a uniquely insightful and very personal way. The following are some excerpts from this fascinating work. From Chapter 1: Prelude Murakami is a lover of music – music of all kinds: jazz, classical, folk, rock. It occupies a central position in his life and work. The title of his first novel commands the reader to Hear the Wind Sing (Kaze no uta o kike, 1979), and one magazine went so far as to publish a discography of all the music mentioned in his writing, a project later expanded into a substantial book. Murakami owned a jazz bar for seven years and he continues to add to his collection of more than 6,000 records. He is constantly going to concerts or listening to recorded music. It is a wonder that he did not become a musician himself – though, in a way, he did. Rhythm is perhaps the most important element of his prose. He enjoys the music of words, and he senses an affinity between his stylistic rhythms and the beat of jazz, as he noted in a talk at the University of California in Berkeley: "My style boils down to this: First of all, I never put more meaning into a sentence than is absolutely necessary. Second, the sentences have to have rhythm. This is something I learned from music, especially jazz. In jazz, great rhythm is what makes great improvising possible. It’s all in the footwork. To maintain that rhythm, there must be no extra weight. This doesn’t mean that there should be no weight at all – just no weight that isn’t absolutely necessary. You have to cut out the fat." For Murakami, music is the best means of entry into the deep recesses of the unconscious, that timeless other world within our psyche. There, at the core of the self, lies the story of who each of us is: a fragmented narrative that we can only know through images. Dreams are one important way to come into contact with these images, but often they surface unpredictably in our waking lives, are briefly apprehended by the conscious mind, then return just as suddenly to where they came from… From Chapter 13: The Music Plays On Turning 50 on 12 January 1999 did not seem to bother Murakami as much as turning 40 had. He continued to run in marathons and produce novels and stories and translations and non-fiction at such an undiminished pace that no book written close to the fact can hope to be more than a progress report. The Yomiuri Prize for The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was followed in July 1999 by the Kuwabara Takeo Prize, named in honour of a great literary scholar and awarded for outstanding non-fiction. In this case, the work was Murakami’s second volume on the sarin gas attack, The Place That Was Promised. As we saw in Chapter 12, Murakami published his reaction to the Kobe earthquake in the form of short fiction, which emerged in the collection after the quake in 2000. By then he was working on his tenth novel, which appeared as the massive, two-volume Kafka on the Shore (Umibe no Kafuka) in the autumn of 2002. In November of that year, the Kodansha publishers began to bring out a continuation of Murakami’s collected works in seven volumes, providing another level of canonization to his oeuvre. Murakami the translator fulfilled a long-standing dream in April 2003 with the publication of his translation of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. It and Kafka on the Shore almost had to compete for display space in bookstores, and soon they were joined by Young Kafka (Shonen Kafuka), Murakami’s fourth compendium of email correspondence with readers. This differed from the earlier email volumes both in its bold “cartoon book” format and in being focused on a single novel. In a move emblematic of Murakami’s acceptance as a world-class literary figure, the British publisher Harvill Press brought out Birthday Stories: Selected and Introduced by Haruki Murakami, containing eleven American, British and Irish short stories plus one new story by Murakami himself. The release of this book of stories on the birthday theme was timed to coincide with Murakami’s own fifty-fifth birthday on 12 January 2004… Jay Rubin’s Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words is published by Vintage, 2002.