Japanese author Haruki Murakami touted as Nobel Prize front runner

Japanese author Haruki Murakami touted as Nobel Prize front runner

PanARMENIAN.Net - It’s Nobel season again, and Japanese author Haruki Murakami is being touted as the front-runner to win the Swedish Academy’s prestigious prize for literature, an article published at The Wall Street Journal said.

The 64-year-old novelist, known for his surrealistic, experimental stories and frequent references to Western pop culture, is the 3-1 favorite, according to U.K. bookmaker Ladbrokes.

The announcement is expected either Oct. 10 or 17, as the academy says it always takes place on the second or third Thursday of October. The exact date is posted on the Nobel website on the Monday preceding the announcement.

Murakami’s novels, such as “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World,” have won critical acclaim and a huge following both in Japan and abroad. He has won a number of Japanese and international awards for literature.

But while his name has been floated for the Nobel in the past, it has always eluded him. He was considered a favorite in 2012, but Chinese author Mo Yan won instead.

A win by Murakami this year following Tokyo’s selection as host of the 2020 Olympic Games could give Japan’s psyche a lift, having been mired in gloom due to decades of economic stagnation.

Born in Kyoto in 1949 during the post-World War II baby boom, Murakami has been regarded as a voice of his generation, with works exploring themes of loneliness and alienation in the modern world. His 1987 novel “Norwegian Wood” established him as a leading figure in postmodern literature. His works have been translated into dozens of languages.

Murakami himself translates works from English to Japanese by his favorite Western authors, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver — a process critics say has influenced his style.

He is also a rarity in Japan’s shrinking publishing industry — an author who sells well. His latest novel, “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage,” published in April, sold more than a million copies in its first month. The English translation is expected on shelves next year. Tsuneo Matsushita, assistant manager of the Sanseido bookstore in Tokyo’s Jinbocho district, said his shop opened three hours early, at 7 am, the day the novel came out to greet the hordes of fans eager to get their hands on the book.

“Murakami’s novels generate massive sales compared with other authors,” he said. “Whenever he releases a new novel — be it every three or five years — there’s an upsurge in interest,” he said, adding that Murakami’s previous three-part novel, “1Q84,” was greeted with similar fervor in 2009 and 2010.

“A Nobel win would likely ignite new-found interest in his past works,” Matsushita added. Two Japanese authors have won the Nobel in the past — Yasunari Kawabata in 1968 and Kenzaburo Oe in 1994.

But while Oe’s books often dealt with social and political issues such as minority struggles and nuclear power, Murakami’s novels aren’t so political, said Chuo University literature professor Takeshi Usami.

“His works may have been perceived as lacking a strong thesis or purpose, and maybe that’s one reason he hasn’t won the Nobel prize yet.”

Murakami stays out of the public eye and rarely makes political statements. But when territorial tensions arose between Japan and China last year, he warned in an opinion piece for the Asahi Shimbun that stoking nationalism over such disputes was like drinking “cheap liquor.” It gets you drunk fast and leaves a bad hangover.

Upon receiving the Jerusalem Prize for literature in 2009, he gave a speech interpreted as criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Some critics said he made the remarks with the Nobel in mind, since the award itself is often considered a political statement.

Murakami is well-known for his love of music, and used to operate a jazz bar called Peter Cat in Tokyo with his wife before becoming an author. His novels are filled with references to jazz, classical and popular Western music. He is also an avid runner who competes in marathons.

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