The Essence of the Japanese Mind: Haruki Murakami and the Nobel Prize


Amanda Lewis in the LA Review of Books:

BRITISH ODDSMAKERS Ladbrokes gave 64-year-old Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami a 3-1 chance of winning the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. Last year, they had it at 8-1. He didn’t get it this year, losing to Alice Munro, but he has a good shot in 2014 or 2015. If he wins, he’ll be the third Japanese writer to receive the prize, but he is nothing like the two men who came before him.

The first — Yasunari Kawabata, in 1968 — was cited by the Nobel Committee “for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind.” The second — Kenzaburō Ōe, in 1994 — once wrote that, “The role of literature, insofar as man is obviously a historical being, is to create a model of a contemporary age which encompasses past and future, a model of the people living in that age as well.”

Murakami, however, does not write to capture “the essence of the Japanese mind,” and his characters are not meant to be “a model” of any era or group.

“I fully believe it is the novelist's job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories,” he said when accepting the Jerusalem Prize in 2009, rejecting the conventional notion of Japan as not only racially homogenous but also somehow intellectually and emotionally the same from mind to mind, from prefecture to prefecture.

In fact, from his debut in 1979 until the early 1990s, Murakami wrote bestselling Japanese novels that were almost aggressively un-Japanese. And the Tokyo literati, particularly Ōe, hated him. Hated that his magical tales dripped with brand names and references to American pop culture. Hated that he wrote his first novel out in English before rewriting it in his native language. Hated that he never wrote about war.

More here.