Introduction to a series of posts about Murakami Haruki (from 2012)

I’ve spent the last month rereading all of Murakami Haruki in English in preparation for a course I’ll be teaching in the fall.  Now, Murakami Haruki is one of my top two or three favorite writers, and somebody I’ve been reading loyally for exactly twenty years now, both in Japanese and in translation.  But it just so happens that I haven’t been reading him during the last few years since I started this here blog.  Frankly, after Kafka on the Shore I needed a little time apart from Mr. Murakami;  I read his next two (After Dark and Strange Tales from Tokyo), but never got around to 1Q84 until this summer.  And this is why I haven’t blogged about him before.  But this time through his (English) oeuvre, I’ve been making fairly extensive notes, and now I’m going to post them.

Caveat:  As I say, I’ve been reading Murakami in both Japanese and English for a long time now, but since the class I’m teaching will be relying on translations I wanted to give the translated corpus a concentrated read-through.  That’s the basis for the posts that follow.  Accordingly, I won’t, with a very few exceptions, be commenting on how the translations differ from the originals.  There’s a lot to say on this subject, both on micro level (the stylistic choices of his three English-language translators) and the macro level (the way some of his translated work is also, and without any indication, significantly abridged).  But I won’t be saying it here, for the most part.  I will say, with reference to the micro level, that Murakami’s writing is of a nature that works better in translation than that of some other writers – i.e., it depends more on plot and imagery than on rhetoric, and what rhetoric it does employ tends to lend itself well to an English rendering – and that on balance Murakami has been exceedingly well served by his three English translators (Alfred Birnbaum, Jay Rubin, and Philip Gabriel).  That’s my honest opinion.

Caveat, pt. 2:  Okay, I lied.  There’s one point about Murakami’s presentation in English that I’m going to be a little particular about, and that’s the order and context in which his short stories have been presented.  In Japan, Murakami’s short stories appear in a number of smaller collections (usually 6-12 stories);  if you read these in order in Japanese you’re more or less getting his short stories in chronological order.  You’d still have to pay attention to the dates in which they were published in magazines, because with a couple of the collections there’s some chronological overlap, but by and large, since these things are still in print, they make it easy to track his development in the short story form, and to see where his stories fit into his full-length novel chronology.  In English the best (arguably) of his short stories have been presented in two big anthologies, The Elephant Vanishes (hereinafter EV) and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (hereinafter BW), where they’re presented with no indication as to the order in which the stories were written or published, or even what Japanese collection they’re taken from.  I can understand why they were presented in big anthologies in English (although I don’t understand why the publisher doesn’t include the original dates), and EV and BW each has a certain internal consistency that makes them appealing.  But for this project I wanted to read the short stories in order, too, and so that’s what I did.  I note after each one the month and year of original (magazine) publication, as well as the English and original Japanese collections it’s found in.

Thus, if you read these posts in order, starting with this one, you’ll get my humble-yet-arrogant take on Murakami’s (almost) Complete Works in English in Chronological Order.