Haruki Murakami is not a household name in North America. Yet
But like soccer or Robbie Williams. he is a pretty big deal everywhere else.
Don’t get me wrong. He has established a cult presence on the North American continent. Although the “cult” label may not be appropriate for an author who has had his books translated into 50 languages and sold millions of copies around the world. He has been published in The New Yorker, has had film adaptations of his novels like 2012’s Norwegian Wood and stage plays adapted from his novels, most notably Kafka on the Shore.
I came across one of his books, A Wild Sheep Chase (first published in Japan in 1982, translated into English and released in 1989) in the local library while looking for Alice Munro and signed it out, having seen references to his work in various media. Plus he lists Raymond Chandler as one of his favorite writers (mine, too) and has translated most of Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe mysteries into Japanese.
I thought A Wild Sheep Chase was cool, surreal, refreshingly different and intriguing. Hey, would I pull the wool over your eyes. (Sorry! I couldn’t resist. I’m a glutton for PUNishment.) Even if I did not understand all of it (I chalked it up to magical realism, which Mr. Murakami uses liberally in his work.)
Encouraged, I checked out The Elephant Vanishes. a collection of short stories by the esteemed Japanese author and promptly found myself running to a blog to see what the various stories are really about. Fortunately, there are quite a few blogs dedicated to his work written by frustrated writers, former college students, retired university professors and other literary types.
Here is a link to one such site: http://quarterlyconversation.com/haruki-murakami-short-stories
I also checked out a copy of Nobel Prize winning author Alice Munro’s 2012 collection of short stories, Dear Life.
This collection of stories by the famed Canadian writer is, by and large, bittersweet with many of the tales spanning decades (a Munro trademark). Unlike Mr. Murakami’s short stories, the narrative style in Ms.Munro’s stories seems to be more straightforward and accessible. The plot resolutions are sometimes ambiguous, leaving the reader to ponder the endings or invent their own resolutions. Other times, the endings are unexpected – perhaps not what we wish for the characters. And make no mistake – her vividly drawn characters are depicted with subtle but true to life brush strokes. Readers can appreciate her narrative finesse and gift for character and/or dive for reflected wisdom, meaning, metaphor and symbolism swimming just beneath the polished surface of the text. I have heard it said that Ms. Munro chooses every word carefully when constructing each story. I never knew what that meant until I read some of her work.