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the Complete Review

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Murakami Haruki
at the
complete review:

biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Name: MURAKAMI Haruki (村上春樹)
Nationality: Japanese
Born: 12 January 1949
Awards: Shinjin Bungaku Prize, 1974
Junichiro Tanizaki Prize, 1985
Yomiuri Literary Prize, 1996

  • Graduated from Waseda University
  • Owned and managed a jazz club, 1974-1981
  • Visiting Professor at Princeton University

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of translated titles

Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

  • Hear the Wind Sing - novel, 1979 (風の歌を聴け, trans. Alfred Birnbaum, 1987; Ted Goossen, 2015)
  • Pinball, 1973 - novel, 1980 (1973年のピンボール, trans. Alfred Birnbaum, 1985; Ted Goossen, 2015)
  • A Wild Sheep Chase - novel, 1982 (羊をめぐる冒険, trans. Alfred Birnbaum, 1989)
  • Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - novel, 1985 (世界の終りとハードボイルド・ワンダーランド, trans. Alfred Birnbaum, 1991)
  • Norwegian Wood - novel, 1987 (ノルウェイの森, trans. Alfred Birnbaum, 1989; authorized 2nd trans. Jay Rubin, 2000)
  • Dance Dance Dance - novel, 1988 (ダンス・ダンス・ダンス, trans. Alfred Birnbaum, 1994)
  • South of the Border, West of the Sun - novel, 1992 (国境の南、太陽の西, trans. Philip Gabriel, 1999)
  • The Elephant Vanishes - stories (trans. Jay Rubin and Alfred Birnbaum, 1993)
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - novel, 1994 (ねじまき鳥クロニクル, trans. Jay Rubin, 1997)
  • Underground - non-fiction, 1997/8 (アンダーグラウンド and 約束された場所で, trans. Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel, 2000)
  • Sputnik Sweetheart - novel, 1999 (スプートニクの恋人, trans. Philip Gabriel, 2001)
  • After the Quake - stories, 2000 (trans. Jay Rubin, 2002)
  • Kafka on the Shore - novel, 2002 (海辺のカフカ, trans. Philip Gabriel, 2005)
  • Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - stories (trans. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, 2006)
  • After Dark - novel, 2004 (アフターダーク, trans. Jay Rubin, 2007)
  • The Strange Library - novella, 2005 (ふしぎな図書館, trans. Ted Goossen, 2014)
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - autobiographical, 2007 (走ることについて語るときに僕の語ること, trans. Philip Gabriel, 2008)
  • 1Q84 - novel, 2009/2010 (trans. Jay Rubin (vol. 1 and 2) and Philip Gabriel (vol. 3), 2011)
  • Absolutely on Music - conversations (with Seiji Ozawa), 2011 (小澤征爾さんと、音楽について話をする, trans. Jay Rubin, 2016)
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage - novel, 2013 (色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年, trans. Philip Gabriel, 2014)
  • Men without Women - stories, 2014 (女のいない男たち, trans. Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen, 2017)
  • Novelist as a Vocation - non-fiction, 2015 (職業としての小説家, trans. Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen, 2022)
  • Killing Commendatore - novel, 2017 (騎士団長殺し, trans. Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen, 2018)
  • 村上春樹 翻訳(ほとんど)全仕事 - non-fiction, 2017
  • First Person Singular - stories, 2020 (一人称単数, trans. Philip Gabriel, 2021)
  • Murakami T - non-fiction, 2020 (村上T, trans. Philip Gabriel, 2021)
  • 街とその不確かな壁 - novel, 2023

Please note that this bibliography refers only to Murakami's titles that have been translated into English and is not necessarily complete.

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What others have to
say about
Murakami Haruki:

  • "And yet, despite his disclaimers, despite his three-year self-imposed exile in the Mediterranean, despite -- or because of -- his alienation from rootless, monied Tokyo, Murakami is very much a writer of modern Japan, nostalgic for missing idealism, aghast at sudden wealth. For in his Japan, the old has been destroyed, an ugly and meaningless hodgepodge has taken its place, and nobody knows what comes next." - Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post (25/12/1989)

  • "(His) bold willingness to go straight-over-the-top has always been a signal indication of his genius (.....) A phenomenon in Japan, Murakami is a world-class writer who has both eyes open and takes big risks. A gifted translator, he has introduced Fitzgerald, Carver, Irving and Theroux to the Japanese audience. Murakami himself deserves similar attention from this side of the Pacific." - Bruce Sterling, The Washington Post (11/8/1991)

  • "There are no kimonos, bonsai plants or tatami mats in Murakami's novels. His work (...) is shot through with a reverence for Western culture, particularly American pop culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Except for references to place names and certain foods, Murakami's protagonists might as well be living in Santa Monica (.....) Products of an affluent, educated culture, they exhibit a curiously American style of ennui and are always bemoaning their shallow, materialistic lives." - Lewis Beale, The Los Angeles Times (8/12/1991)

  • "Whereas the characters in early-twentieth-century Japanese fiction could and usually did choose traditional Japanese ways, Murakami knows that no such choice is possible now. Japan has come too far. If a conflict still exists, his characters are not engaged in or even aware of it. So enmeshed are they in the forms of Western, and particularly American, culture that they accept these forms as integral to contemporary Japanese life. Nonetheless, their essential Japaneseness is never truly lost in spite of what the works appear to say." - Celeste Loughman, World Literature Today (Winter/1997)

  • "The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has built an international following because his stories move so effortlessly between the surface reality of materialistic yuppie life and the horrors of a sensitized imagination. His tools are a flatly realistic prose (influenced by Raymond Carver, whom Mr. Murakami has extensively translated) and what you might call a psychological metaphysics. His first-person narrators are at once reliable and half-crazy." - Philip Weiss, The New York Observer (1/2/1999)

  • "The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is one of the most compellingly original voices in world literature. (...) Murakami is, in many ways, the shape of 21st-century fiction to come. Using the narrative mechanisms of Hollywood noir, he explores, in a surreal way, the metaphysical anxieties of our age while retaining a mordant grasp of its mass-consumed realities. His fiction belongs to no genre but has the addictive fluency of the best genre fiction." - Scott Reyburn, New Statesman (15/11/1999)

  • "(T)here is a basic plot-line in almost all his novels that is a bit jading." - Ian Hacking, London Review of Books (19/10/2000)

  • "For Murakami, truth lies outside the regimented world of human speech. His novels often emphasize the value of music as an antidote to the narrowness of spoken words. Music anchors his characters' worlds, but also illuminates them, and the discography embedded within his writing is a key to its interpretation." - Henry Hitchings, Times Literary Supplement (11/5/2001)

  • "Mysterious disappearances and equally unexplained sadness, even madness -- such is the gloomy psychological landscape in which Haruki Murakami sets his novels. Geographically, it is Tokyo, but it might be any of the worldís vast, unforgiving cities, where people get lost like tears in the rain and finding love is sometimes as hard as solving Rubikís cube in the dark. (...) This is not to say that the books are no good. Reading Murakami is an unsettling, disorienting experience that can leave you feeling, well, immeasurably empty." - The Economist (17/5/2001)

  • "You don't have to be Martin Amis to be provoked by Murakami's narrators, with their propensity to cliche and fondness for hackneyed, low-pressure generalisations about life (.....) To describe Murakami's characteristic mode of expression as childlike would be unfair to children: his clunky yet oddly weightless prose often seems to aspire to the banal. (...) And yet there is something bold and exhilarating about Murakami's writing, and always has been" - Julian Loose, New Statesman (4/6/2001)

  • "Murakami has long been obsessed with subterranean realms; his stories often wander into physical and psychic netherworlds. At the becalmed center of even his most extravagantly plotted fiction lies a steadying imperative: to make sense of the senseless. (...) Murakami not only renders the banalities of day-to-day life with a precision that borders on the tactile, he somehow evokes the queasy coexistence of something unnameable and altogether more bizarre." - Dennis Lim, The Village Voice (12/6/2001)

  • "Characters in novels tend to change incrementally; Murakami's shed personalities more easily than tears. (...) In Murakami's increasingly astral scenarios, the human self has become a disturbingly malleable thing." - Daniel Zalewski, The New York Times Book Review (10/6/2001)

  • "The most perturbing -- and attractive -- aspect of Murakami's books is that they usually amount to far more than the sum of their parts. They resist definition, yet they seem to stand for an unnamed something - they seem to have a life outside themselves." - Julie Myerson, Daily Telegraph (16/11/2002)

  • "Haruki Murakamis Werke entziehen sich solchen Obduktionen, denn seine Bücher sind Musik. Sie sind die Variationen des immergleichen Themas, und eine Geschichte, eine Handlung, ein Plot, sind völlig nebensächlich." - Sibylle Berg, Die Welt (20/3/2004)

  • "In Japan, Haruki Murakami is the most influential and imitated novelist of his generation. I would not be surprised if his novels, which have the weightless and accessible resonance of great pop songs or genre movies, turned out to have a similar influence in the West. Murakami writes cool, fluent and addictive meditations on the strangeness of ordinary life, brilliantly evoking the coexistence of the mundane and the dreamlike." - Theo Tait, Sunday Telegraph (16/1/2005)

  • "He has been compared to the American minimalists Chandler and Carver, but the comparison is inapt; minimalists believe in getting the details right, whereas for Murakami the details are an impediment to seeing the whole picture. This isn't an aesthetic decision so much as a claim about morality: The forest is good, and the trees are evil." - Paul Lafarge, The Village Voice (18/1/2005)

  • "Though his work abounds with references to contemporary American culture, especially its popular music, and though he details the banal quotidian with an amiable flatness reminiscent of Western youth and minimalist fiction in the hungover nineteen-seventies, his narratives are dreamlike, closer to the viscid surrealism of Kobo Abe than to the superheated but generally solid realism of Mishima and Tanizaki." - John Updike, The New Yorker (24/1/2005)

  • "Is it possible, however, that Murakami is a bit too likeable ? The flipside of such hipness is a suspicion that his novels are not terribly profound. It is true that they make frequent and extravagant gestures towards profundity -- but that is not the same as actually being so. (...) For all their cleverness and surface complexity, his novels are essentially works of escapism." - William Skidelsky, New Statesman (24/1/2005)

  • "He writes uncanny, philosophical, postmodern fiction that's actually fun to read; he's a more serious Tom Robbins, a less dense Thomas Pynchon. Like those two, he mixes high and low culture, especially ours" - Steven Moore, The Washington Post (30/1/2005)

  • "He isnít always so blunt, but itís apparent in everything he writes that the project of both his work and his life is the quest for a continuity of self, for a thread that, pulled taut, could put all those "convoluted extras," along with everything that really matters, on a straight line: a bullet train named Murakami. What he has to guide him is nothing more (or less) than the sound of his own voice, which tells him, and his readers, approximately who he is, for the moment. And over the years he has developed and sustained a remarkably distinctive narrative tone: calm, wry, intimate, gently interrogative." - Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review (17/9/2006)

  • "It may well be, indeed, that the most intriguing thing about Murakami's fiction is precisely the fact of its success. Whatever one thinks about his distinctive brand of everyday weirdness, there is no denying the fact that it appeals to a vast number of readers around the world. It's not just that he is hugely popular in his home country, where he has sold more than eight million books (in a total population of 127 million). Murakami's work has also managed to capture, and captivate, a truly global readership." - Christian Caryl, The New York Review of Books (1/3/2007)

  • "Haruki Murakami is that seemingly oxymoronic thing, a mainstream experimentalist. His career, like his novels, is a continual paradox. The novels, with convoluted structures and indeterminate endings, are a postmodernist mťlange of fantasy worlds, dystopias, alternate realities and genre pastiches, all overlaid on an unsuspecting contemporary Japan. They are the sort of fiction that usually attracts a cult following, but Mr. Murakami's cult spreads across the globe. (...) To grasp Mr. Murakami's strange success, it's essential to understand the continuum of Japanese writing that he smashed. (...) The unpredictability of Mr. Murakami's inventions is constantly offset by the dullness of his prose. One of the most purely negative consequences of his rupture with tradition is his indifference to trying to write with anything approaching beauty." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal (15/10/2011)

  • "Murakami's success speaks to a hunger for what he is doing that is unusual. Most characters in the modern commercial genre called "literary fiction" take for granted a certain unexamined metaphysics and worry exclusively about the higher-level complexities of circumstance and relationships. Throughout Murakami's oeuvre, on the other hand, his characters never cease to express their bafflement about the nature of time, or change, or consciousness, or moral choice, or the simple fact of finding themselves alive, in this world or another. In this sense, Murakami's heroes and heroines are all philosophers. It is natural, then, that his work should enchant younger readers, to whom the problems of being are still fresh, as well as others who never grew out of such puzzlements -- that his books should seem an outstretched hand of sympathy to anyone who feels that they too have been tossed, without their permission, into a labyrinth." - Steven Poole, The Guardian (18.10.2011)

  • "Murakami possesses many gifts, but chief among them is an almost preternatural gift for suspenseful storytelling." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post (19/10/2011)

  • "Murakami really does stand alone, as much a "foreign element" as his heroes: a sport, an outlier, sui generis, inimitable, if often imitated. Which other author can remind you simultaneously of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and JK Rowling, not merely within the same chapter but on the same page ? Viewed through the "postmodern" lens, his exemplary blend of a light touch and weighty themes, of high literature and popular entertainment, ticks every box. Posh and pop, sublimity and superficiality, history and fantasy, trash and transcendence: they switch positions and then fuse as the metaphysical speculations of an Ivan Karamazov meet the death-defying adventures of a Harry Potter." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (21/10/2011)

  • "Aside from the strictly realist Norwegian Wood (1987, translated 2000), Murakamiís mature fiction generally displays two steadfast qualities. The first is a very open and clear prose style -- one of the friendliest of any major novelist. The second is a hypnagogic, frequently bewildering plot. Murakami has likened novel-writing to a waking dream and, in a sense, what his stories resemble is a man (his leading characters are typically male, and narrate in the first person) trying to report his dark dreams back as unpretentiously as he can. The novelsí most arresting quality is this combination of intelligent earnestness with a sensibility that touches on genuinely unnerving subject matter -- the latter amplified by the former." - Ben Jeffery, Times Literary Supplement (18/11/2011)

  • "Itís true that he isnít a writer to go to for three-dimensional depictions of reality. His characters tend to be variations on a limited number of figures: a passive yet stubbornly resourceful male protagonist; a wife with an unguessed-at hinterland; a kooky, flirtatious, sexually unavailable girl; a mysterious, confident, sexually available older woman; a creepy, slick professional man and so on. He seems to have a Chandler-like rule for constructing storylines: when in doubt, instead of bringing in a man with a gun, have someone recount a disturbing dream or vanish or unexpectedly do something sexual. And though his writing works well in English, it sometimes comes out a bit inertly, with assorted tics depending on which of his translators is at work. (...) At his best, he also has a compulsive storytellerís ability to hustle the reader over the threshold of assent and create a feeling of being led into a coherent inner landscape." - Christopher Tayler, London Review of Books (15/12/2011)

  • "There has always been a strong -- you might even say defining -- tension in the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's fictional world between Murakami the pop surrealist, revelling in off-the-wall fantasies and reality shifts (...), and Murakami the melancholic, tender, lyrical realist (...). Yet the seemingly unreal often coexists with the more plausible, and Murakami's books frequently blend both between one set of covers. The delicacy of the balance between the outlandish and the everyday tends to determine the power, or otherwise, of his novels. The down-to-earth narratives are off-centred by a wry otherworldliness; the fantastic elements countered by an audaciously banal account of daily life." - Jerome Boyd Maunsel, Literary Review (8/2014)

  • "As it exists in English translation, Murakamiís is a sort of flat, anti-style modelled on the Raymonds Chandler and Carver; his books operate in base units of the familiar, from rote phrases to contemporary signifiers like pop songs and brand names, which are then destabilized with the supernatural or the strange." - Pasha Mall, The Globe and Mail (15/8/2014)

  • "Like the hokey vernacular and use of brand names in Stephen Kingís fiction, Murakamiís impoverished language situates us in a realm of utter banality, a simplified black-and-white world in which everything is as it appears. When, inevitably, we pass through a wormhole into an uncanny dimension of fantasy and chaos, the contrast is unnerving. (...) Murakami writes genre fiction -- formulaic, conventional, with an emphasis on plot. But it is a genre that he has invented himself, drawing elements from fantasy, noir, horror, sci-fi, and the genre we call "literary fiction." The other ingredient, which we tend to think of as antithetical to genre fiction, is a hostility to tidy resolution." - Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic (9/2014)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • Wildly imagined and yet in many respects comfortingly familiar stories
  • Good character development
  • Big themes, but almost never bogs down in the ponderous
  • Conveys modern ennui very well

  • Editorial meddling with the translations, including some radical and extensive cuts - as if mere translation wasn't enough to ruin most works already !
  • Different translators
  • Predictable characters, basic character traits, occurrences
  • Constant pop-references (especially American ones)

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the complete review's Opinion

     Oe might have won the Nobel Prize, but it certainly seems that Murakami Haruki is easily Japan's most popular and influential author -- especially abroad. Though his works are largely set in Japan, with only occasional foreign forays, Murakami speaks to a global audience. The modern ennui his characters feel has some specifically Japanese aspects to it, but it is a condition found all across the world
     The mix of Western -- specifically in what his characters read and what music they listen to -- and Japanese elements in his fiction is an effective one: the world as one small village, but one that is uncertain of its identity.
     Murakami's characters don't vary greatly in his books. He has a standard repertoire, and the narrator of his tales, in particular, tends to be similar from book to book. Similarly, the impossibility of love -- of a happy, lasting, intimate relationship -- is also one that crops up again and again. Still, his characters are sympathetic and well-drawn, and one doesn't tire of them. And even if much seems familiar, he does also find new ways of presenting his material.
     There is wild fantasy in Murakami's works, with some taking some decidedly sur- and un-real turns -- but he does it in such an almost blasé manner that the reader willingly accepts it. The stories also remain grounded in the real because the philosophical and romantic points of interest to Murakami are such universal themes. Underneath it all, the works are also surprisingly (and very effectively) sentimental.
     Foreign audiences are, of course, hampered by the fact that Murakami's work is only accessible in translation. A number of translators have had their hand at his work (and at least one book has been translated into English more than once), and apparently there has also been some editorial interference resulting in the cutting of the texts -- so who knows how much of Murakami English-speaking audiences are even getting ? (Others have it worse: there was an outcry recently in Germany, where some of Murakami's works have been presented in translations made from the (already dubious) English translations.) Surprisingly, Murakami -- a fluent English speaker who has translated a number of English-language works into Japanese -- has permitted this sad state of affairs.
     Still, even in abridged translations, Murakami is an impressive and interesting author, well deserving the international acclaim he now receives.

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Murakami Haruki: Murakami Haruki's books at the complete review: Books about Murakami Haruki under review: See also:

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