Where To Start With Haruki Murakami

Where To Start With Haruki Murakami

Which book should you start with?
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When it comes to the author Haruki Murakami, finding a book to start with can seem like a bit of a daunting task. Over the course of his career as an author he has written 14 novels, 4 short story collections, a novella, and several nonfiction works. He is one of the most internationally well-known authors from Japan, with The Guardian’s Steven Poole writing that Murakami is, “among the world’s greatest living novelists.”

Murakami's works live and breathe surrealism. The worlds he creates are populated by talking cats, labyrinthine libraries, strange disappearances, and casual "end of the world" conversations. He fits into a genre called "magical realism" where mundane life finds itself interlocked with the strange and absurd, where the supernatural and sci-fi creep into the everyday world, and where things are almost never what they seem. So with all of that being said it can be difficult to find a book to start with that is both palatable to the average reader and nicely representative of Murakami’s overall tone and style.



Whether you're just starting with Murakami or trying to get somebody else into his works it can be tempting to go for his less bizarre and magical books such as “Hear the Wind Sing,” “Pinball, 1973,” or “Norwegian Wood." Alternatively some might feel that diving headfirst into his most surreal stories might be the best idea with “Kafka on the Shore” or "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World."

Though many of these books share common themes and shared elements (just check out this always hilarious Murakami Bingo picture or this drinking game that will kill you) starting with the wrong one can easily turn a reader off from his works, which is a real shame. In my personal opinion the best approach to Haruki Murakami's novels is the middle-of-the-road. When suggesting Murakami to people I tend to start with one of two books: 1999's "Sputnik Sweetheart" or 2004's "After Dark."



"Sputnik Sweetheart" was one of my first encounters with Murakami's novels, before that I'd mostly read his short stories from "The Elephant Vanishes" and "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" in class. To me "Sputnik Sweetheart" is a perfect entry point because of its balance of Murakami's go-to themes. The surreal is present here, but never quite as overbearing as some of his other works, it gives the book an atmosphere that is palatable without losing that cigarette choked style he is known for. The story of Sumire's strange disappearance after a romance with an older woman is fascinating from start to finish and does a great job of making the surreal feel, well, real. There is a mundanity to Murakami's writing that makes even the most absurd events easy to swallow. For me "Sputnik Sweetheart" was the perfect introduction to the world of Haruki Murakami.



"After Dark," in all honesty, is one of my favorites. I own it as an ebook, an audiobook, and a physical copy. That unreal quality of magical realism is present here in force with the almost supernatural atmosphere of nighttime Japan and a young girl waking up trapped inside a television screen. It is a fast, enjoyable read, keeping a brisk pace throughout while still being able to pause for quiet reflection and odd pseudo-philosophy when it feels the need to (it is Murakami after all). Much like "Sputnik Sweetheart" it balances out the mundane with the surreal in a way that is easy to digest and can prepare readers for his more dense works, though 928 page beasts like "1Q84" should probably be saved for later.

Now these are just my suggestions, many people have started with "A Wild Sheep Chase" or "Norwegian Wood," others still think his short stories are the easiest bridges into his longer works, but I believe that if you want to wet your appetite for Murakami these are the best, easiest novels to begin with. Murakami is one of those writers where if you dislike his work that opinion probably won't vary much from book to book, but if you love his work you will likely tear through it voraciously and annoy your friends by trying to talk about him every chance you get (well, that's my experience anyway).



Cover Image Credit: radicalscholarship.files.wordpress.com

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