Several dozen Japanese people stood in line on Wednesday evening to buy the fifteenth novel of the world-famous writer Haruki Murakami at the stroke of midnight. After a six-year hiatus, he first published the prose entitled The City and its Uncertain Wall only in Japanese. The Czech translation by Tomáš Jurkovič will be published by the Odeon publishing house next year, its editor-in-chief Jindřich Jůzl told Aktuálně.cz.
AFP describes how people waited outside the Tokyo flagship store of the Kinokuniya bookstore chain on Wednesday evening. Inside, in addition to the shelves, prints of Murakami’s novel were laid out on a table right at the entrance. Some visitors cheered and applauded while shopping, according to the website of Japan’s public broadcaster NHK. Seventy-four-year-old Murakami, who made famous the bestsellers The Norwegian Wood or Kafka on the Coast, is one of the world’s most widely read writers. His works have been translated into more than fifty languages, including Czech, in 2006 he received the Franz Kafka Award in Prague. So far, he last published the novel Komturova smrt six years ago.
He called the novel in Japanese Mači to, sono futashikana kabe, i.e. the same as his early and unknown prose, which he published in the literary monthly Bungakukai in 1980. Her hero learns about a city surrounded by high walls, in which there is a library, a girl lives in that library and she takes care of old dreams. Part of this story was subsequently used by the novelist in the 1985 book End of the World & Hard-boiled Wonderland.
However, decades later, Murakami does not consider either the original prose or the End of the World & Hard-boiled Wonderland to be very successful. “I published them unfinished, and I always regretted it. At that time, I could only write very limitedly, and it was evident in those novels,” he says in an interview that he now gave in the offices of his publishing house to several media outlets, including the AP agency.
He admits that he first wrote The City and its Precarious Wall as a beginner. In 1979, he only had the first novel Hear the Wind Sing, for which he won the Gunzo prize for debuting authors. “I still didn’t know how to properly write novels,” he summarizes today. While then he also wanted to tell adventure stories, today he prefers to describe the inner lives of others at a leisurely pace, comparing his then and present self.
Still, he was reminded of the City and its precarious Wall once in a while. He considered him a wasted opportunity. “It was in my head like when a tiny bone gets stuck in your throat,” he compares. He kept thinking about returning to the central motifs of wall and shadow and rewriting them. He finally did this at the beginning of 2020. At that time, Asia already started to feel fears about the pandemic a few months before Europe and the USA, and the writer chose self-isolation. “Because of the coronavirus, I practically didn’t go out, I spent most of my time at home, which led me to take more care of myself. That’s when I thought of pulling this story out of the drawer,” he says.
“We thought globalization would change the world for the better. Instead, chaos came,” says Haruki Murakami. | Photo: ČTK / AP
He first began to rewrite his own, forty-year-old prose. However, the text kept growing under his hands until it was not a remake, but a completely new novel. It is 672 pages long and, in addition to a radically retold introduction, contains two extensive new parts.
The first-person hero first describes a journey to a city surrounded by high walls, where he goes on the recommendation of his high school sweetheart to find his true self. In the second part, he returns to the real world and becomes the director of the library in the city of Fukushima. There he meets not only his mysterious predecessor, but also a mysterious teenage boy and people who, as a result of certain traumas, find it difficult to integrate back into society. Everything culminates in the third part.
According to the Japan Times, the reader meets the protagonist as a seventeen-year-old and gradually follows him until he is 40 years old. The coming-of-age and trauma part of the story may be related to Murakami’s feelings about the pandemic. At the time, the writer expressed his concern several times about how the isolation caused by the coronavirus will affect the mental health of young people and how it will irrevocably change them.
He wrote the news from January 2020 to last December. During that time, many mutations of the coronavirus not only spread around the world. At the same time, Great Britain also left the European Union, the threat of using nuclear weapons appeared again, the Russian war in Ukraine began, and, for example, debates on social networks are more heated than ever before, the writer enumerates. It’s the most he says about politics in the entire interview. “Several of my books have become bestsellers in Russia, but six of them have also been translated into Ukrainian. I believe that the readers of my books do not wish for any war in the slightest,” the Asahi Shimbun quoted him as saying.
According to Haruki Murakami, we live in a time when society is shaken by one change after another. “We thought that globalization would change the world for the better, that social networks would contribute to its democratization. Instead, chaos came, as if we had opened Pandora’s box. The question of whether to stay safe within your walls or to step outside them became more important,” he thinks. over the key theme of the book.
Taking a step into the world beyond the wall, which can also be a metaphor for encountering something new or unknown, requires determination, faith and physical fitness, according to the novelist. “You have to exert all your strength, otherwise you won’t get to the other side,” illustrates the writer, in whose prose people often physically climb underground, to the bottom of a well or go to the underworld. Metaphorically speaking, they thus descend into the imagination or their own interior, where they struggle with memories, traumas or erotic fantasies, Aktuálně.cz wrote some time ago.
Also in the novel, the boundaries between reality and the dream world are gradually blurring more and more. “The novel asks how strong is the wall that separates us from the other world,” Murakami told Japan’s Kyodo news agency. “Novels in general have the function of being able to break through the walls separating the conscious from the subconscious,” he adds. At the same time, it reminds us of the existence of literal walls dividing society, such as the one in Berlin or the security barrier separating Israel from the West Bank. “Walls can have different meanings. It depends on who is locked between them,” the writer points out.
He considers the shadow to be as important a symbol as the wall in his novel. The latter can represent one’s subconscious or alter ego, a kind of “negative image”, thanks to which a person gets to know himself better. “When I write a novel, I try to dive just this deep into myself,” explains the author of the book.
Just as the boundaries between reality and the dream world dissolve in it, the hero is also no longer sure where he ends and where his shadow begins. “Especially in the second and third parts, the story gets complicated and you can’t tell the reality from the shadow. This was also the most difficult for me to tell, I had to rewrite it several times,” admits Murakami.
According to the Japanese newspaper Nikkei, the library is the key setting for all three parts of the story. “Even as a teenager, I really liked going to libraries. I liked the smell of books there,” describes the man of letters. “However, it wasn’t until I became a writer that I really started reading Japanese novels. Until then, I only knew foreign fiction. My parents taught Japanese literature and, as an only child, made high demands on me, so I set myself apart from them in this way. I tried to to have as little in common as possible,” jokes the seventy-four-year-old native of Kyoto, who grew up reading novels by Kurt Vonnegut, Gustave Flaubert or Jack Kerouac.
I don’t know how many novels I have left, says seventy-four-year-old Haruki Murakami. | Photo: ČTK / AP
Before making a living as a writer, he sold music albums in a store. For eight years, until 1982, he ran a small jazz bar in Tokyo prefecture.
He created several of his best-known novels, including the bestseller Norwegian wood, in the same way as a novelty, i.e. by reworking an older text of his own. In this respect, Murakami is close to a jazz musician who takes a well-known melody and starts improvising on it, compares the Japan Times.
At the same time, today the writer is more critical of his early works than before. He describes practically all his works from the last millennium as imperfect in some way. He only became more confident as a storyteller around the turn of the millennium, when he wrote the novel Kafka on the Shore. He published it in 2002. “Today, I was already seventy years ago and I don’t know how many novels I still have left. This time, I had an even stronger urge to devote myself fully to writing and devote as much time to it as it needs,” he says.
Physically, he feels fit, he goes jogging every morning, he has completed 40 marathons in 40 years. “Translating, running and collecting old vinyl records,” he lists his hobbies. “This leaves me with no time for nightlife, which is perhaps only a good thing. I recently went to a popular Tokyo drinking district for the first time in my life, only because I was drawn there by a visitor from abroad,” he illustrates.
Haruki Murakami did not appear in public or give interviews for a long time. He has made a few exceptions in recent years, including playing jazz on the radio during pandemics to encourage the Japanese. He also spends a lot of time translating Anglo-American literature into Japanese, where he says he relaxes and gathers inspiration. “After a few months I always get the itch to write something of my own,” he adds.
He never attended events like the midnight launch of his new books, but he couldn’t this week either. The writer has been lecturing at the American girls’ university Wellesley College since January. It is located in the state of Massachusetts and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright or presidential candidate Hillary Clinton graduated from it. “I accepted the invitation because I really don’t get many offers to teach at girls’ universities,” he says. Students at the seminar read his novels, in which female characters appear, and then analyze them with the writer and discuss related topics, adds the AP agency.
The queue outside the Tokyo flagship store of the Kinokunija bookstore chain for Haruki Murakami’s new novel. | Photo: Kyodo / Profimedia.cz
Meanwhile, the Japanese are starting to live his new novel. Šinčóš publishing house published it in a circulation of 300,000 copies, which is significantly less than the previous prose Komturova smrt. It was published in Japan in 2017 in two volumes, with a circulation of 700,000 and 600,000 copies.
Nevertheless, there was interest in the City and its precarious Wall right from midnight on Wednesday. For example, AFP spoke to 39-year-old Shunsuke Mitsumoto, one of the first to stand in line outside the Kinokunija bookstore. “I’ll start reading it as soon as I get home. Even if I want to enjoy every sentence, I’ll probably read it in one sitting,” says a reader who is a member of a reading club dedicated to Murakami’s books.
Another girl in line, 28-year-old Chikako Muramatsu, reminds us that Haruki Murakami is one of Japan’s most popular writers. “Many of his readers are about as old as my parents. But even among my peers, I still know a lot of his fans,” he adds.
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