The underappreciated Murakami and his flirting years with the Nobel Prize

Again this year, hardcore Haruki Murakami fans had to give up on their hopes. Their beloved writer, the best-seller author who published millions of copies translated in over 50 languages, has been passed over by someone else in the race for the world’s most prestigious literary award.

In all likelihood, the flirting between Murakami and the Nobel Prize is bound to continue for a long time. Harukists – as are called Murakami’s fans – are counting on it, as are the British bookmakers and the publishers that possess the translation rights for his works. After three years of being a favorite, the name of the 65-year-old author from Kyoto will probably be included among the Ladbrokes quotas…and passed over, once again, by some “outsider”.

When all began, in fall 2012, there were only two contenders. Murakami’s rival was Chinese author Mo Yan. In the end, after a period of strong political tensions between China and Japan as well as Tokyo’s nationalization of a handful of islands (known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese), Mo got the upper hand.

The following year, Murakami topped everyone’s list of favorites again. The Japanese and international media reported how harukists were gathering in vaguely esoteric meetings in cafes and bookshops – the ones that were open: when the Nobel Prize winners were announced, at 1 pm Italian time, it was already 8 pm in Japan. Their hopes were dashed again, the bottles of champagne stayed unopened. Alice Munro got the Prize, leaving millions of Murakami’s most ardent fans hoping for some sort of “alphabetic justice” for the following year.

So here we are again, on October 10, 2014: Murakami, who had just published in Europe and in the US his last work Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, had been the favorite for three years in a row. But French author Patrick Modiano won with his “art of memory” – as described by the Swedish Academy. The wonderful realism of Murakami’s writing style has lost again.

Murakami is not necessarily looking for further awards or a bigger fame. Last year’s announcement that his new book had been released was enough to unleash a storm of pre-orders in bookshops. His new novel sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan. According to Japanese media, the author does not seem to fancy the limelight and media attention; he actually prefers to stay away from the publishing world.

In an article published in 2013, the Japanese magazine President described him as leading a normal life, away from the typical abusive and self-destructive lifestyle of some other Japanese writers (like Yukio Mishima, for example, even though the two belong to entirely different generations).

A life devoted to writing, with no social obligations that the average Japanese worker has to deal with daily.

I think that this image of “reluctant superstar” has contributed to form around Murakami a reputation that goes way beyond his literary talents. The announcement of Modiano’s victory prompted the stocks of the major bookshops in Japan to drop heavily, showing that Murakami is also a great source of business.

What made Murakami the perfect candidate for the Nobel Prize, however, is the attention that the English speaking world has focused on the Japanese author. It is noteworthy that the English version of Murakami’s novels are published by Random House, the largest book publisher in the world, which easily explains the author’s success in the Western world.

In 2015, perhaps, harukists from all over the world will finally be able to open that bottle of champagne. Everyone will already be overwhelmed by the huge media hype that will in turn penetrate the walls of the Swedish Academy. After that, there will be nothing but silence.

traduzione a cura di Sayuri Romei

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