‘Every disease is susceptible to being imagined’: exclusive with Haruki Murakami

We spoke with the acclaimed, always close to the Nobel, Haruki Murakami about his book of short stories “First Person of the Singular”.

by Xavi Ayén.

In an apartment in the Aoyama neighborhood in Tokyo, there is a man in front of his computer and Brahms is playing in the background. He pauses in his daily life to answer an interview that is not carried out by video call or telephone but in writing. The stars, you know, can choose that kind of thing, and the Japanese Haruki Murakami is. If we liked to make lists, for example, that of ‘the ten global writers on the planet’, one of them – and one of the few non-Anglo-Saxons – would undoubtedly be this Japanese born in Kyoto in 1949.

We imagine the bustle that surrounds it in Aoyama, an area of ​​clothing stores, technology and restaurants, with many young people on the street, dressed in avant-garde way on the weekend and more formally on school days (there are several universities and schools there) … Murakami may see them from the window (“the sky is clear”, he says) while answering us. This elusive man with the press is the author of hard-to-forget books, such as ‘Tokio blues’, ‘Kafka on the shore’ or ‘1Q84’, among many others. Now he has just published a new book of stories, ‘Primera persona del singular’ (Tusquets).

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Haruki Murakami exclusively with Chilango

Courtesy: Planeta Libros.

Is this one of your most autobiographical books? Here it seems that it tells intimate things.

It may seem that it is full of autobiographical elements, but that does not mean that one should take it as having happened exactly as it is written. I started from the idea of ​​biographical simulation, that is, to make the fictional gears that I go to to weave the plots to be perceived by the reader with a halo of biographical reality that, in reality, is nothing more than pure deception. It is true that one can find, sprinkled here and there, details and details that I experienced in my own life, but they are the least. Believe me: this is just a novelistic trick.

Where do the tanka, those poetic compositions that a character writes in the story ‘Rough stone, cold pillow’? Have you written them?

Never before had he elaborated that poem of traditional meter, the tankaBut it turned out that one night I had the whim to write one and, said and done, in about an hour I conceived a dozen of them. I did it with no purpose in mind, but rereading them a few months later I came up with the possibility of using them as the basis for a story. So, indeed, tanka that appear in the book are not the work of any mysterious young woman, but rather my own handwriting.

‘Flor y nata’ begins as a Kafkaesque story and ends up being something else, with a moral included. When you start writing, do you already know the ending?

Both when approaching the stories and the novels, I never anticipate the outcome that I am going to give them. In that preconceived irresolution lies much of the very grace of the writing process. The fascination is in not knowing what to find when you turn the next corner. I don’t even know myself. Now, whatever awaits the protagonist, I always try to make it a transforming element for the character.

1639958967 966 Every disease is susceptible to being imagined exclusive with Haruki
Photography by Iván Giménez.

This story is clearly about the meaning of life. But really, everyone else too, right?

This story tries to emphasize that the ignorance that one has of himself as an individual, in his early youth, should not be an obstacle for the forward transition through life. We have no choice but to move forward despite our ignorance of what we are, and the story shows this need in the figure of a perplexed young man before himself. It is a story of initiation in which the protagonist is put to the test and guided, perhaps carried away, by the circumstances and by those around him.

Music and writing are very different languages, but you unite them in ‘Charlie Parker plays bossa nova’, about the appearance of a supposedly unreleased album where the jazz musician dared with this Brazilian style.

I wrote this story from the title, trying to stick to a story that justifies it. In fact, I often write based on the title; I come up with this first and decide, later, to adopt it and create a story around it. It is a trick that works as a stimulant for my imagination.

Do you listen to music while you type? Which one?

The first thing I require when I start writing is silence. I don’t even use background music, except when I write something else, something non-literary, like this very moment. In cases like this, I tend to go for classical music, rather than jazz or rock.

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‘With the Beatles’ is a real album. This band already gave title to a novel of theirs, ‘Norwegian wood’ (‘Tokio Blues’ in Spanish). What was your relationship with the Beatles?

The 1960s was the decade of my youth, and for me and for the rest of my generation, the music of the Beatles was a decorative element in our lives, as common as the wallpaper that used to cover the walls of the households. His music was part of the natural landscape of daily events, and this is what I set out to tell.

Here, the narrator shows his amazement at the aging of the girls, he sees how beautiful women transform into old women and that disturbs him more than his own old age. Has something like this happened to you?

Yes. As for me, I can admit and accept, to some extent, that the traces of old age take hold on my face with the passing of the years, or any other change linked to age. But noting the deterioration of the passage of time on the body and face of others makes a deep impression on me, difficult to accept and assimilate.

His narrator does not do badly with the girls, although he is not very forward and sometimes even shy. Why?

He had never noticed it. Why will it be?

Memory dislocation disorder, which a character suffers from, does it really exist?

Who knows if such a disease does not really exist. Any disease that can be imagined could also have an existence in the real world, don’t you think? I, at least, think so.

You say that your baseball team is the worst team in Tokyo, and you draw a beautiful poetics of the second boys. Are you attracted to the figure of the loser?

One of the advantages of cheering on a second-row team, like mine –which has sometimes had more fans of the visiting team than their own in the same stadium– is that you usually find the stands half empty and there are no unnecessary waits at the time to buy tickets. Such a team gives you the opportunity to learn the beautiful art of defeat, which is deeper than that of victory.

In ‘Carnival’ he stops at female beauty, describing an ugly woman, without euphemisms of any kind, but attractive for other things. Could you have written that story when you were young?

Sometimes, I have the feeling that my aesthetic criteria do not quite coincide with those of ordinary mortals. Those people who are attributed unquestionable beauty are often not particularly beautiful in my opinion, and, conversely, those who are supposed to be ugly are not so much for me. This mismatch has allowed me to live the odd peculiar and interesting experience, and the writing of this story was, in a way, an opportunity to reflect on such experiences.

Are you criticized for not being politically correct? I think of the story of the ugly woman, or of several of her novels …

I have been writing novels for more than 40 years and I have clearly perceived a remarkable evolution in terms of what is considered or is not considered politically correct and, due to these changes, some of my early works may not enjoy a press today too good among a certain sector of readers. In any case, I do not use social networks nor am I, therefore, aware of who criticizes me or exactly for what reason (and, of course, I am pleased that I do not know).

Although your literature is not political, you have been committed to various causes, for example you donated the 80,000 euros of the Catalunya Prize to the victims of Fukushima. What social or political issue are you worried about right now?

I consider it important to oppose movements and proposals that, with the law in hand, reduce and limit individual freedom for the sake of a supposed social benefit. It does not seem acceptable to me neither in my country nor in others. As Martin Luther King noted in his day: “Let’s not forget that everything Hitler did was legal.”

Does it bother you that your name comes up so much in relation to the Nobel Prize? Would you like to win it?

When it comes to the prizes, there are succulent ones and there are stunted ones. Who to grant both is in the hands of people outside of me. And one of my principles is to only worry about what is in my power to decide or what I can intervene on… So, you see, I am quite an individualistic person.

What project are you working on?

Let me not reveal the secret.

Haruki Murakami’s “Primera Persona del Singular” is on sale now and you can get your copy through Planet Books.

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‘Every disease is susceptible to being imagined’: exclusive with Haruki Murakami