Haruki Murakami on the Spirit of the Boston Marathon

If you’re as much a fan of Haruki Murakami as I am, then you know how much of an avid runner he is. He’s run more than two dozen marathons in his life. But the Boston Marathon is his favorite. Writing in The New Yorker, he reflects on the spirit of the Marathon with the April 2013 bombings in mind:

What’s great about marathons in general is the lack of competitiveness. For world-class runners, they can be an occasion of fierce rivalry, sure. But for a runner like me (and I imagine this is true for the vast majority of runners), an ordinary runner whose times are nothing special, a marathon is never a competition. You enter the race to enjoy the experience of running twenty-six miles, and you do enjoy it, as you go along. Then it starts to get a little painful, then it becomes seriously painful, and in the end it’s that pain that you start to enjoy. And part of the enjoyment is in sharing this tangled process with the runners around you. Try running twenty-six miles alone and you’ll have three, four, or five hours of sheer torture. I’ve done it before, and I hope never to repeat the experience. But running the same distance alongside other runners makes it feel less grueling. It’s tough physically, of course—how could it not be?—but there’s a feeling of solidarity and unity that carries you all the way to the finish line. If a marathon is a battle, it’s one you wage against yourself.

Running the Boston Marathon, when you turn the corner at Hereford Street onto Boylston, and see, at the end of that straight, broad road, the banner at Copley Square, the excitement and relief you experience are indescribable. You have made it on your own, but at the same time it was those around you who kept you going. The unpaid volunteers who took the day off to help out, the people lining the road to cheer you on, the runners in front of you, the runners behind. Without their encouragement and support, you might not have finished the race. As you take the final sprint down Boylston, all kinds of emotions rise up in your heart. You grimace with the strain, but you smile as well.

I love Murakami’s message on how to cope with the pain, and how to remember the victims of the Boston bombings:

For me, it’s through running, running every single day, that I grieve for those whose lives were lost and for those who were injured on Boylston Street. This is the only personal message I can send them. I know it’s not much, but I hope that my voice gets through. I hope, too, that the Boston Marathon will recover from its wounds, and that those twenty-six miles will again seem beautiful, natural, free.

Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject.

Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is His The Brothers Karamazov

In an excellent New York Times Magazine piece on Haruki Murakami, Sam Anderson meets with the writer to talk about his latest book being released in the United States: 1Q84. I have pre-ordered it months ago from Amazon.com (you should too), and I can’t wait to read it.

Below, Anderson vividly describes the book and how 1Q84 is Murakami’s The Brothers Karamazov (I’ve read it when I was in high school):

For decades now, Murakami has been talking about working himself up to write what he calls a “comprehensive novel” — something on the scale of “The Brothers Karamazov,”one of his artistic touchstones. (He has read the book four times.) This seems to be what he has attempted with “1Q84”: a grand, third-person, all-encompassing meganovel. It is a book full of anger and violence and disaster and weird sex and strange new realities, a book that seems to want to hold all of Japan inside of it — a book that, even despite its occasional awkwardness (or maybe even because of that awkwardness), makes you marvel, reading it, at all the strange folds a single human brain can hold.

Reading the piece, you come to learn how humble Murakami is. The Little People are characters in 1Q84, and Anderson notes how the idea just came to Murakami:

“The Little People came suddenly,” he said. “I don’t know who they are. I don’t know what it means. I was a prisoner of the story. I had no choice. They came, and I described it. That is my work.”

And in case you’re wondering: do Murakami’s dreams resemble his novels?

I asked Murakami, whose work is so often dreamlike, if he himself has vivid dreams. He said he could never remember them — he wakes up and there’s just nothing. The only dream he remembers from the last couple of years, he said, is a recurring nightmare that sounds a lot like a Haruki Murakami story. In the dream, a shadowy, unknown figure is cooking him what he calls “weird food”: snake-meat tempura, caterpillar pie and (an instant classic of Japanese dream-cuisine) rice with tiny pandas in it. He doesn’t want to eat it, but in the dream world he feels compelled to. He wakes up just before he takes a bite.

This part about translation is fascinating, I think:

Murakami has consistently denied being influenced by Japanese writers; he even spoke, early in his career, about escaping “the curse of Japanese.” Instead, he formed his literary sensibilities as a teenager by obsessively reading Western novelists: the classic Europeans (Dostoyevsky, Stendhal, Dickens) but especially a cluster of 20th-century Americans whom he has read over and over throughout his life — Raymond Chandler, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut. When Murakami sat down to write his first novel, he struggled until he came up with an unorthodox solution: he wrote the book’s opening in English, then translated it back into Japanese. This, he says, is how he found his voice. Murakami’s longstanding translator, Jay Rubin, told me that a distinctive feature of Murakami’s Japanese is that it often reads, in the original, as if it has been translated from English.

But as Anderson later notes, Murakami’s “entire oeuvre…is the act of translation dramatized.”

I am currently reading Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance. It might take me some time to finish reading 1Q84, as it’s over 900 pages (Murakami’s take on his book: “It’s so big…It’s like a telephone directory”). I’ve never been to Japan, but reading Murakami’s fiction makes me want to visit. But as you learn from Anderson’s piece, Murakami’s Japan is different from actual Japan in so many ways.

On a final note, do not miss the interactive feature that goes along with Anderson’s piece.

Haruki Murakami on Writing

I recently finished reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (I loved this book; I am still thinking about how to write a review), and it made me think about his style of writing and what things in his life have inspired him.

Many of my questions were answered in this absolutely fascinating interview with Haruki Murakami posted in Paris Review.

The entire interview is worth reading, but I highlight three of the most notable parts below…

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