The first book I ever read by Haruki Murakami was called Kafka on the Shore. Only recently translated in Dutch at that time, it was a long novel featuring talking cats, raining fish and lots of weird American pop culture references. It had two intertwining plots and blew me away. It was, as for many people, the beginning of an obsession. Reading Murakami used to feel like you were part of a secret club. Whenever you saw someone on the train reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, you would smile in silence, showing respect for the fellow fan.
After the obscure cult success of Norwegian Wood, many translations in English and other languages followed. I read everything I could get my hands on. The great thing about discovering a new author that has been active since the eighties is the amount of work suddenly available to you. Murakami is probably the only author with a large oeuvre that I have read completely; ranging from the trilogy of the rat to little gems like Sleep. Fans can be put in several divisions: you have the sensitive, melancholic fans, that adore Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart for their heartbreaking love stories. You have fans that prefer the weird science fiction side of Murakami, those who like Hard Boiled Wonderland and the brilliant trilogy 1Q84. Lastly you have fans of, well, everything basically, that devour the trilogies, short stories and novels with unsatisfiable greed. I probably belong in the last category. Being master of ingeniously intertwined plots and suspense, but at the same time being able to describe characters and love affairs in the most tender way, is a very rare combination in a writer. But what makes his work so attractive to readers here is the combination of Eastern mythologies and familiar Western pop culture. No European writer would dare to write such fantastical things as Murakami and still be taken seriously. The writer himself is very private and does not like to associate himself with other writers. His interest is mostly in music and crime novels. Murakami once owned a jazz bar called the Peter Cat. Some years ago I walked into a small second hand bookshop in Angel, London. As usual, buying a scruffy paperback of Sputnik Sweetheart started a conversation. “I always think that some day when I walk into a jazz place he will be sitting at the bar,” said the bookseller. “Just sitting there, listening to the music.” Written by Rianne Groen Owner of Galerie Rianne Groen