Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On Haruki Murakami for The New Yorker

The Harukists, Disappointed

The annual autumn buzz here in Tokyo for the Nobel Prize in Literature was more intense last week than in any years past. The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, whose global audience and literary stardom confound conventional publishing wisdom (he’s not American, doesn’t write in English, and not a single vampire or wizard appears in his oeuvre), has been in the running several times, but this year he topped everyone’s list of favorites. Leading up to the word from Stockholm, early evening local time, a major domestic TV network aired a segment in which Murakami readers worldwide expressed their love for him and his books in a babel of languages. One Chinese reader declared that the latest China/Japan spat over disputed island territories had zero impact on China’s love for Murakami, despite the author’s recent newspaper article calling for both sides to lay off the liquor of nationalism. (Some Japanese newspapers were reportedly banned in China last month, so the reader may not have seen it.)

Speaking of liquor: At least one bar in Tokyo hosted a special Murakami Nobel gathering for so-called “Harukists,” the label at home and abroad for Murakami’s most ardent fans. They were shown clutching copies of his books and framed photographs of the author, and half-finished glasses of wine and beer. Only the World Cup and the Olympics have occasioned similar events in the past. For the first time, oddsmakers, scholars, critics, readers, and publishing pros in and beyond Japan seemed united in nodding their belief that this was “his year.” But it wasn’t. China’s Mo Yan won, and the disappointed Harukists managed only sighs, followed by half-hearted applause for their neighbor’s accolade. “I’m very happy the winner was someone from Asia,” one female Harukist told the Mainichi newspaper on her way home, polite to the end.

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