In an apartment in the Aoyama neighborhood of Tokyo, there is a man in front of his computer and Brahms is playing in the background. We cannot see or hear him because we are in Barcelona and the interview is done 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 him 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 maybe I saw them from the window (“the sky is clear”, he says) while he responds to us. This elusive man with the press is the author of hard-to-forget books, such as Tokyo blues, Kafka on the shore or 1Q84, among many others. Now he has just published a new book of short stories, First person of singular (Tusquets / Empúries). The interview is translated from the Japanese by Juan Francisco González Sánchez, also responsible for the Spanish version of the book.
“It seems autobiographical but it is not: it is a simulation, a stage set, a novelistic trick”
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 happening 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 a plot line. 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 tankas come from, those poetic compositions that a character writes in the story? Rough stone, cold pillow? Have you written them?
I had never written that poem of traditional meter, the tanka, before, but 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, the tankas that appear in the book are not the work of any mysterious young woman, but my own handwriting.
“A circle with infinite centers and without circumference” is the concept faced by the protagonist of the story Cream, a strange form that he ends up placing in his consciousness. Why such a shape?
I’ve always had a hard time with geometry, so you put me in trouble with such a question …
Cream It 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.
The fascination is found in not knowing what one is going to find when turning the next corner
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 to moving forward 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 bring them together in Charlie Parker plays bossa nova , about the appearance of a supposed 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.
With the Beatles, title of another story, yes it is a real album. This band already gave title to a novel of his, Norwegian wood, also known as Tokyo 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.
I had never written tankas, and one night, suddenly, in an hour, I did twelve, and I integrate them here
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.
I am writing to you from Barcelona, where there are two football teams, FC Barcelona and Espanyol. Sometimes what happens to the second is what happens to his baseball team, according to that story that draws 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 it stops at feminine 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.
My aesthetic criteria is peculiar: I see ugly people that others see beautiful … and vice versa
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).
The Confessions of a Shinagawa monkey They are the most fantastic in the book. Have you dosed or retained items of this type in this compilation?
When I write, I am carried away by the mood of that moment; I never consider directing the helm of the novel towards a fixed course. Only once finished, could I tell you which port I have arrived at. Drawing navigation charts before I start writing is not part of my way of dealing with this art.
How has the Covid pandemic affected you, in your habits and daily life?
The life of the writer has not been as affected by the coronavirus as other areas, at least on the surface. It is a life of solitude in front of the desk. Now, if you ask me if it has affected me beyond that surface, in a more profound way, in order to answer you, I would need to start writing a new novel.
Although your literature is not political, you have been committed to various causes, for example you donated the 80,000 euros of the International 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.”
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. To whom both are granted is in the hands of people outside of me. And one of my principles is to worry only about what it 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.
We wish to thank the author of this article for this outstanding content
Haruki Murakami: “It is not acceptable to limit individual freedom for a supposed social benefit”