Quake II

Haruki Murakami vs. the End of the World

The roots of Murakami's insecurity, his outsider status, are local. When the Tokyo anti-war protests collapsed at the end of the '60s, and the formerly anti-authoritarian peaceniks quickly and obediently joined Japan's large corporations, the young Murakami felt betrayed. To avoid becoming another salaryman, he borrowed money and opened a jazz bar with his wife.

But his sense of imminent disappointment amid persistent dreams found its way into his fiction. And now Murakami suddenly matters a lot. The author of over 30 books (fiction and nonfiction) in his native language, 10 of which have appeared in English, and the Japanese translator of such American notables as Capote, Fitzgerald, and now Salinger (he has just completed the newest Japanese edition of The Catcher in the Rye, a novel he calls, "very dark—the author can't decide if he likes open systems or closed systems, freedom or control"), is virtually everywhere.

"Murakami is the first Japanese novelist I know who has been able to straddle East and West," Japan-based writer Pico Iyer tells me from his hotel room in Kyoto. "He disarms us by writing as if he were just down the neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin, or San Antonio. He calls upon those elements of the global consciousness—pasta, Charles Mingus, Raymond Carver—that seem to float above any particular ground and so speak to Everyplace."

A week after our meeting, Murakami flies to New York. The first thing he will do is lay flowers at ground zero. Then it's a mix of rare public appearances: a reading, an interview, a signing. "Then I'll go to Academy Records and . . . what's that store near the Strand?"

"Footlights?" I proffer.

"Yes. I want to buy some records. There are some musicians, you'll buy anything they make, right? They never disappoint you." He folds his hands again and squints at the glaring Tokyo skyline. "That's what I want to be, I think. Someone who never disappoints."

Murakami will appear at Shine on September 27 at 7 p.m. and at the Union Square Barnes & Noble on September 28 at 11 a.m. For more information, call 1-877-847-TNYF.

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