I was introduced to Haruki Murakami by a young colleague more than a decade and a half ago. The first book I read was "The Wind -Up Bird Chronicle." The first few pages of that book about an out of work man who is interrupted from making pasta by an intriguing phone call, and then goes out in the neighbourhood searching for his lost cat itself made me fall in love with Murakami's world. A world, set in reality, where a simultaneous possibility of moving to the fantastical side is just around the next corner. A place where the real coexists with the magical. Something that the literature terms 'magical realism'. A world where seemingly meaningless, random and ordinary things get connected to reveal a deeper truth, which gives meaning, existence and grounding to the life of the protagonist involved.
All his protagonists tell their stories in first-person narrative. This is another thing that appealed to me. I loved getting embroiled in the existential crisis and the search for identity his characters were going through. It always became my own search.
Another thing that I love about his books is the way he tells his story. It is a slow, languid and at times meditative, slow-burn style of storytelling, where his love for cats, jazz and western classical music is always present. Being with a Murakami book is akin to being on an untouched island where things happen at a slow pace. Even though the island is located amid a busy, fast-paced world.
We missed celebrating his January 12 birthday (he turned 73) but that does not mean that we miss out on an opportunity to let our readers miss out on being part of the wonderful world of Haruki Murakami.
Even though I have read all Murakami books (14 by last count), including the non-fictional 'What I talk about when I talk about running", here is my list of essential Murakami books that one must-read. Norwegian Wood, his most popular book, is my least favorite Murakami book. In fact, it is a book that is most unlike Murakami. 'Kafka on the shore' is another that is one of the top books for many Murakami book lovers' lists, but not on mine.
The wind-up Bird Chronicle
This is my most favoured Murakami book. Most Murakami lovers would put this book in their top five choices. Alternative realities, lost memories, a dry well in an abandoned urban house, a vanished wife and a lost cat. And yes, a hotel that exists in a parallel world, where all the answers would be found. Finally, a protagonist who irons his shirts to counter bad mood. It's a book that is, core Murakami.
This is the thickest Murakami book. It is a rare Murakami book with a female lead. A book set in urban Japan about a hired assassin, religious cult, dark world and sexual power. The book draws you into the lives of two strangers who must eventually meet to find an end to their search.
A wild sheep's chase
It is real but still has a surrealist feel to it. A book that takes you to rural Hokkaido, the coldest part of Japan and a plot that is fueled by the political-business syndicate for power and money. It has a pronounced Kafkaesque feel to it and conversations with a Sheep Man. And yes, of course, a search.
Dance Dance Dance
It is a story that features a man's search among a mouldy Dolphin Hotel, a girl with ears so beautiful that they change the entire world when they come into view, and a film superstar who has everything but still feels empty. Here again, the sheep man appears, but this time in the darkroom of the Dolphin Hotel, from where he guides the protagonist on his search.
South of Border, West of the Sun
The book carries an analogy about Siberian Tundra, explaining the title. A farmer working in a field in Siberia with an endless horizon all around stuck in a daily cycle. That is when something within you dies. I loved it. The book essentially explores the impact one's childhood experiences have on one's adult life and marital relationships.
Note: On the occasion of World Book Day, this story has been replugged.