Break on through
The elusive Murakami

Up from the Underground
The healer
The Outsider
The human cost

Roll over Basho
Murakami is seeking new style
Mizumaru Ansei

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The outsider / Salon Interview


The heroes in Haruki Murakami's dazzling, addictive and rather strange novels ("A Wild Sheep Chase," "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World") don't fit the stereotype of conformist, work-obsessed Japanese men at all. They're dreamy, brainy introverts, drunk on culture (high and pop), with a tendency to get mixed up with mysterious women and outlandish conspiracies. Toru Okada, the narrator of Murakami's latest opus, "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," spends a good portion of the novel in luxuriant unemployment -- cooking, reading, swimming and waiting for a series of peculiar characters to pop by and tell him their tragic stories. Since Murakami doesn't hide his identification with his heroes, it's no surprise to learn that he has long felt like an odd man out in his native land, even among other writers. What's more remarkable is the novelist's recent rapprochement with Japan and his countrymen, culminating in the year he spent interviewing victims of the Aum cult's poison gas attack on a Tokyo subway in March 1995..



Murakami says this reassessment began during the four years he spent at Princeton, writing "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle." Besides giving him an impressive command of English, Murakami's sojourn in America had an emotional impact that he finds difficult to articulate even today, two years after his return to Japan. With Wanderlust editor Don George, who stepped in to translate at a key moment, I met with Murakami during his brief West Coast book tour to promote "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle." The novelist's slow, careful responses to our questions seemed more the result of a rare, utterly unself-conscious sincerity (he seldom gives interviews) than any language barrier.


How did you get the idea for "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"?

When I started to write, the idea was very small, just an image, not an idea actually. A man who is 30, cooking spaghetti in the kitchen, and the telephone rings -- that's it. It's so simple, but I had the feeling that something was happening there.



Are you always surprised by what happens in the story, almost as if you were reading it yourself, or do you know where it's going after a certain point?

I have no idea. I was enjoying myself writing, because I don't know what's going to happen when I take a ride around that corner. You don't know at all what you're going to find there. That can be thrilling when you read a book, especially when you're a kid and you're reading stories. It's very exciting when you don't know what's going to happen next. The same thing happens to me when I'm writing. It's fun.


You deal with some topics in this book that are new to you. You have one character describe some truly horrible experiences from World War II. Why did you decide to explore that?

I'd been trying to write about the war, but it wasn't easy for me. Every writer has his writing technique -- what he can and can't do to describe something like war or history. I'm not good at writing about those things, but I try because I feel it is necessary to write that kind of thing. I have drawers in my mind, so many drawers. I have hundreds of materials in these drawers. I take out the memories and images that I need. The war is a big drawer to me, a big one. I felt that sometime I would use this, pull something out of that drawer and write about it. I don't know why. Because it's my father's story, I guess. My father belongs to the generation that fought the war in the 1940s. When I was a kid my father told me stories -- not so many, but it meant a lot to me. I wanted to know what happened then, to my father's generation. It's a kind of inheritance, the memory of it. What I wrote in this book, though, I made up -- it's a fiction, from beginning to end. I just made it up.

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