Haruki Murakami appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday 23rd August in a special event to discuss his classic novel, The WInd-Up Bird Chronicle. On Sunday 24th August he appeared in another event, dedicated to his career, and his new book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Intrepid Geekzine UK reporter, and Murakami fangirl, Kate West, went along to see the great man in action.
It is rare that Haruki Murakami gives interviews, making the chance to see him be interviewed in person that extra special. This was his first time appearing at the festival, though I hope for other’s sakes, not the last.
Murakami requested that there be no filming, and no photography, so sadly I can’t show you how ridiculously cool he looked. He had on a t-shirt with a record on it under a loose shirt, with another loose plaid shirt over the top, and dark jeans; he looks much younger than his 65 years. I can imagine him sitting alone in a bar sipping whisky watching the people around him go by.
Entirely as expected, Murakami came across as spectacularly intelligent and charismatic, and I’ll admit it was to my surprise that only once was his translator needed. It turns out it shouldn’t really have been a surprise, as Murakami mentioned his love of translating literature as a hobby, a fact I was previously unaware of.
Amongst many others, he has translated the entire works of Raymond Carver, a favourite author of his. He went on to explain that he translates as a way to experience the way that other writers work and experience the world. I’m paraphrasing here, but as a way to ‘step into another’s shoes.’ He was quick to clarify though, ‘not in high heels’…
He also referred to himself as an ‘engineer’, and said that he has never once experienced writer’s block; a statement which surely filled many in the audience with jealousy. When asked if it were possible that his daily routine can be thanked for this, he readily agreed. Murakami’s love of running as part of that daily routine was mentioned; he said that “running is the perfect speed” at which to get to know a city such as Edinburgh. Walking being too slow, and travelling by car being too fast. (What I wouldn’t have given to have passed Murakami on a daily jog around the city although I suspect though that he is a much early riser than I…)
He also mentioned that the rain had not deterred him, even though the change of temperature from Japan to Scotland made him feel that he was “missing the summer”. That gentle sense of humour that I always feel runs through his books is certainly present in the man himself, and is something that he says he hopes is felt in his new bestseller Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. The novel sold a million copies in its first week on sale alone in Japan.
His latest novel centres on the titular Tsukuru Tazaki; a young man cast out from his small tight knit community of five friends, who then fails to form meaningful relationships in his adult life before meeting Sara, a woman who encourages him to discover the reason for his exclusion. When asked about the characters in his books Murakami said that he feels that although the stories tend to centre around the male characters, it’s the women in his books who ultimately help them towards the end goals. He enjoys writing the female characters, and at this point said he couldn’t help noticing all the women in the audience. Which of course set the audience giggling. I can’t be the only one to have walked out of this event with a good-sized crush on Murakami…
One of the questions asked by an audience member was which character he most relates to (something got a little lost in translation), and Murakami answered that he liked Ushikawa, a character from 1Q84, a small part of the character description given in 1Q84 reads thusly: “His teeth were crooked, and his spine was strangely curved. The large crown of his head formed an abnormally flat bald area with lopsided edges. It was reminiscent of a military heliport that had been made by cutting away the peak of a small, strategically important hill.”
This again got a laugh; for those of you who don’t know the character, Ushikawa is a fairly odious man. He is a determined investigator, but ultimately morally ambiguous in the face of a monetary reward and self-preservation and, as stated above, an uncomfortably strange man to set eyes upon. When the real meaning of the question was explained to him, Murakami cited the talking cats in Kafka on the Shore.
Seriously, what is not to love about this guy?
If you haven’t read any Murakami and think you might find him an interesting read (you will) I recommend as a first read Kafka on the Shore. It’s the first book of his I ever read, and it made me want to go out and read everything he had ever written, which for the most part, I now have.
I’m going to wrap up this piece with a wee bit of information that will see me sat in a whisky bar in the not so distant future sipping a drink I’ve never had before whilst reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle like the ridiculous fan-girl that I am; Murakami favours Laphroaig and Jura whisky.
Kate West, former bookseller, ardent geek and kick ass barmaid.
You can follow Kate on Twitter : @twoscoopsfresh
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami is OUT NOW in hardback, published by Harvill Secker, official RRP £20 (but shop around, you’ll find it cheaper than that).