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Tokyo Prose
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Velisarios Kattoulas
Pop Master
    
     
  November 25, 2002
  TIME Asia Magazine

Japan's literati may sneer at Haruki Murakami, but his latest novel has sold 460,000 copies in two months—and he's revered overseas.
 
 
War crimes, nationalism, teenagers, the World Cup, second-rate writers, third-rate politicians: no matter what he's discussing, Haruki Murakami appears strangely, almost disconcertingly placid. During nearly three hours of conversation, emotion flickers across the face of the most popular Japanese writer since Yukio Mishima precisely once. After a wry put-down of a rival novelist, his eyes sparkle with mischief and his lips curl into a smile. But Murakami's words—both written and spoken—are a different matter. Listen to them carefully and you soon realize he is brimming with passion. As American novelist Jay McInerney puts it, Murakami captures "the common ache of the contemporary head and heart."

In East Asia, his lyrical fictional style has spawned a legion of imitators dubbed "Murakami's children." In South Korea, where his books often hit best-seller lists, 50 volumes of his work have appeared in translation, including novels, short stories, travel pieces, essays and interviews. "Readers develop empathy for Japanese of their age through Murakami's books," writes Noriko Kayanuma, a professor of Japanese literature at Choong Euk National University in South Korea. "They realize that Japanese young people have similar sentiments, worries and problems." In the West, too, admiration is growing.
 
 
"Is he the voice of our age?" asks Jay Rubin, a professor of Japanese literature at Harvard University and author of a recent Murakami biography. "Who knows? But judging by the reactions of people from different cultures, you can say his work has that great amorphous thing that makes literature live."

But writers, like prophets, are sometimes dishonored in their own countries. So it is with Murakami. He is commercially successful. That can be a curse in Japan, where the literati distinguish condescendingly between "pure" literature and fiction for the masses.
 
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