The Books of My Numberless Dreams

The bull in a china shop

Posted on: November 20, 2007

Geoffrey O’Brien: Traditional Japanese literature operates within a network of illusions both literary and historical. Your books have a similar allusiveness, but the allusions are more often to Western classical and pop music, or contemporary brand names. Do you feel you write for readers for whom the old allusions don’t communicate much anymore?

Haruki Murakami: I just wanted to establish some distance from traditional Japanese literature when I started to write at the age of twenty-nine. I wanted to do something different. In other words, I wanted to be a bull in a china shop. But I am fifty-two years old right now and am kind of tired of breaking china — as you might imagine.

But I guess I am too personal or too individual or too egoistic or too busy, or whatever, to ponder tradition or such things. I look around myself, literally, and find something to write. That is all. What I want to write is a good persuasive story. I just want to grab you by the neck and drag you into my world.

GO’B: Your characters seem more interested in healing than in knowledge. Sometimes they find they have remarkable, inexplicable powers, or that they need other people’s powers. But any solutions they seek to the mysteries they become involved in remain elusive, or at least open-ended. Is writing for you implicated in analogous search?

HM: Writing is not a tool to reach the Truth, in my opinion. I write a story in order to look at myself truly. I would like to know what kind of route I would tread when I am involved in it.

GO’B: At crucial points your characters arrive at moments of bifurcation. Lieutenant Mamiya in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle doesn’t know whether he was liberated from a well, or whether he died there and the rest of his life has been a dream. In a pivotal moment of Sputnik Sweetheart, a character looks through her own window and sees herself living a parallel life. People cross lines that cannot be crossed, or break off connections that can’t be rejoined. What’s striking is how you leave open multiple possibilities rather than resolving conundrums in the manner of genre fiction. It’s as if you simultaneously affirmed and denied the existence of fantastic realms. Is it important for you to maintain such a paradoxical coexistence of opposites?

HM: I hate conclusions. Many readers ask me, “What really happened at the end?” I say, “I don’t know, honestly. What do you think? Tell me when you find out.” Some characters in my books do find their own doors. Nobody knows whether that door is fortunate or ominous before opening it. The most important thing is to realize that the door exists.

In fact, all of us are divided — mentally, spiritually, sexually, religiously, politically, consciously, unconsciously, intentionally, unintentionally. Why shouldn’t we leave it as it is? That’s the way we are. Contradiction and ambiguity are our two best, most honest friends. Without them we’d be totally lost.

From an interview in Bookforum, Spring 2001 

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2 Responses to "The bull in a china shop"

Awesome that you posted this!!!! I love Murakami, since I discovered him in Japan in 1993. My first love is Norwegian Wood, but I love them all, I guess… he and Paul Auster really changed my literature tastes… btw, I met Murakami in 1998, in Washington DC, at Poetry & Prose bookstore… he was very nice.

Mine would have to be Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World although Norwegian is up there! Luck you, that you got to meet him.

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