Books

Haruki Murakami says good writing is what he can do to help people in times of trouble

KYODO

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami said Saturday writing good stories is the best he can do for victims of terrorist attacks and natural disasters such as the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

“I was wondering what could I do for the people who have suffered. But I thought, ‘What I can do is to write good fiction,’ ” he said during an event in New York, referring to a number of tragedies, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States and the disaster that devastated parts of Japan’s Tohoku region.

Murakami, 69, said that after the 1995 earthquake that destroyed much of his hometown of Kobe, he “just wanted to write something” and penned a collection of short stories.

He also explained how he wrote the book “Underground” about the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult.

After four years of being in the United States, “I came back to Japan after the earthquake in Kobe and the train attack,” he said. “I felt that I should have come home so there should be something I could do for the people, not for the country.”

“After all, when I write a good story, good fiction, we can understand each other if you are a reader and I’m a writer,” Murakami added.

Although Murakami and his readers may not know each other, “there is a special secret passage between us, and we can send a message to each other,” he said. “So I think (writing good stories) is a way I can contribute to society or people in the world.”

Murakami touched on the 2011 quake and tsunami that also triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in his latest novel “Kishidancho Goroshi” (Killing Commendatore), the English translation of which will be released Tuesday.

He said that after writing the first one or two paragraphs of the novel, he put what he had written in the drawer of his desk. Several months later, he came up with a storyline and finished the work in about 18 months.

His latest novel, which went on sale in Japan in February 2017, was Murakami’s first multivolume novel since “1Q84,” released in 2010.

In the interim, the world-renowned writer released other new works, including the novel “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage,” which achieved bestseller status with its English translation in 2014, as well as a collection of short stories and a book of conversations with Japanese composer Seiji Ozawa.

Saturday’s event, which marked a rare public appearance by Murakami, was sponsored by The New Yorker magazine, for which he has written for many years.

Murakami burst onto the scene in 1979 with a novel titled “Hear the Wind Sing,” which won him Japan’s Gunzo literature prize for up-and-coming writers.

“Norwegian Wood,” a 1987 novel named after a song by the Beatles, catapulted Murakami to fame in Japan and around the world. It tells of a college student’s bittersweet coming of age in Tokyo in the 1960s.

His works have been translated into several languages and he has won several literary prizes, such as the Franz Kafka Prize in 2006, the Jerusalem Prize in 2009, and the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award for 2016.

Often named by publishers among the favorites to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Murakami last month asked that his name be withdrawn from a list of candidates for an alternative prize that was set up after the awarding of the Nobel prize was postponed this year due to a sexual misconduct scandal.