Whenever someone has made progress studying a foreign language and asks which author they should try reading in that language, I always recommend the same one: Haruki Murakami. Though perhaps an obvious choice for students of Japanese, his mother tongue and the language in which he writes, his work has now made it into about fifty different languages in total. His stories’ globally appealing style, their abundance of non-Japanese cultural references, and their translation-ready prose style (legend has it he overcame an early bout of writer’s block by writing his first novel in what English he knew, then converting it back to Japanese) make them work just about as well in French, Polish, Turkish, Hebrew, or Mandarin as they do in the original.
When first reading novels in a foreign language, it helps to start with ones you already know from your own; undistracted by the plot, you can then focus exclusively on the mechanics of the words and sentences delivering it. Given Murakami’s enormous popularity (not to mention the evangelical nature of many of his readers) most enthusiasts of current fiction will already have read or at least encountered a few of his books. I first found my way into his work, as many do, through his first big bestseller Norwegian Wood, the vaguely autobiographical tale of a college student in 1960s Tokyo caught between two young ladies, one his dead best friend’s countryside sanatorium-committed ex-girlfriend, the other a lively and independent urbanite. From there I went on to read all of Murakami’s books available in English, then started over again with Tokio Blues — Norwegian Wood in Spanish.
During that re-reading of his oeuvre — or rather, obra — Murakami published a few more novels. The year before I moved from Los Angeles to Korea, I showed up at Skylight Books for the midnight release of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, his most recent. My girlfriend managed to snag the last signed copy they had, but I think the effort still establishes my own fan credentials. All of us around the world thrilled to the news that Murakami’s next novel, a “very strange story” called Killing Commendatore, will go on sale in Japan just a few weeks from now. Translations will surely follow over the next year or two, and the English one will bring that language’s Murakami book total up to twenty: fourteen novels, three short story collections, two non-fiction books, and a novella. That number makes Murakami look decently prolific, or at least I thought it did until I came to Korea.
Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.