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Book Reviews

Murakamis work, specially his novels divide the critics into two main categories.

On one hand those who praise his style as 'revolutionary' and 'captivating' with a unique bi-cultural touch and puritiy.

On the other hand there are those that call him boring and predictable. Main arguments are that his novels are very much alike in style and that he obsessively uses brand names and music references in nearly all his work.

A nice example on how the critics-community is divided when it comes to Murakami happened in June 2000. In the TV programme 'Das literarische Quartett' (the most important of its kind for German Literature) the discussion about Murakamis 'South of the Border..' and 'Wind-up Bird' heatet up in a way that was never seen before.

Marcel Reich-Ranicki, THE critic in Germany praised the books while one of his counterparts, Sigrid Löffler (Austria) found the stories to be 'Literary Fastfood unworthy of attention' and 'pornographic'. The intense argument finally led to the break up of the TV show as such - after having been broadcast for over 20 years.

 

'The Complete Review' has listed some general Pros and Cons and Quotes about Murakamis work. Excerpt:

Pros:
- Wildly imagined and yet in many respects comfortingly familiar stories
- Good character development
- Big themes, but almost never bogs down in the ponderous
- Conveys modern ennui very well

Cons:
- Editorial meddling with the translations, including some radical cuts
- Different translators
- Predictable characters, basic character traits, occurrences
- Constant pop-references (especially American ones)

 

And yet, despite his disclaimers, despite his three-year self-imposed exile in the Mediterranean, despite -- or because of -- his alienation from rootless, monied Tokyo, Murakami is very much a writer of modern Japan, nostalgic for missing idealism, aghast at sudden wealth. For in his Japan, the old has been destroyed, an ugly and meaningless hodgepodge has taken its place, and nobody knows what comes next.  
  Fred Hiatt / The Washington Post / 25.12.1989
     
His bold willingness to go straight-over-the-top has always been a signal indication of his genius (.....) A phenomenon in Japan, Murakami is a world-class writer who has both eyes open and takes big risks. A gifted translator, he has introduced Fitzgerald, Carver, Irving and Theroux to the Japanese audience. Murakami himself deserves similar attention from this side of the Pacific.  
  Bruce Sterling / The Washington Post / 11.8.1991
   
There are no kimonos, bonsai plants or tatami mats in Murakami's novels. His work (...) is shot through with a reverence for Western culture, particularly American pop culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Except for references to place names and certain foods, Murakami's protagonists might as well be living in Santa Monica (.....) Products of an affluent, educated culture, they exhibit a curiously American style of ennui and are always bemoaning their shallow, materialistic lives.  
  Lewis Beale / The Los Angeles Times / 8.12.1991
   
Whereas the characters in early-twentieth-century Japanese fiction could and usually did choose traditional Japanese ways, Murakami knows that no such choice is possible now. Japan has come too far. If a conflict still exists, his characters are not engaged in or even aware of it. So enmeshed are they in the forms of Western, and particularly American, culture that they accept these forms as integral to contemporary Japanese life. Nonetheless, their essential Japaneseness is never truly lost in spite of what the works appear to say.  
  Celeste Loughman / World Literature Today / Winter 1997
   
The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has built an international following because his stories move so effortlessly between the surface reality of materialistic yuppie life and the horrors of a sensitized imagination. His tools are a flatly realistic prose (influenced by Raymond Carver, whom Mr. Murakami has extensively translated) and what you might call a psychological metaphysics. His first-person narrators are at once reliable and half-crazy.  
  Philip Weiss / The New York Observer / 1.2.1999
   
Mysterious disappearances and equally unexplained sadness, even madness -- such is the gloomy psychological landscape in which Haruki Murakami sets his novels. Geographically, it is Tokyo, but it might be any of the world’s vast, unforgiving cities, where people get lost like tears in the rain and finding love is sometimes as hard as solving Rubik’s cube in the dark. (...) This is not to say that the books are no good. Reading Murakami is an unsettling, disorienting experience that can leave you feeling, well, immeasurably empty.  
  The Economist / 17.5.2001

   
You don't have to be Martin Amis to be provoked by Murakami's narrators, with their propensity to cliche and fondness for hackneyed, low-pressure generalisations about life (.....) To describe Murakami's characteristic mode of expression as childlike would be unfair to children: his clunky yet oddly weightless prose often seems to aspire to the banal. (...) And yet there is something bold and exhilarating about Murakami's writing, and always has been  
  Julian Loose / New Statesman / 4.6.2001
   
Murakami has long been obsessed with subterranean realms; his stories often wander into physical and psychic netherworlds. At the becalmed center of even his most extravagantly plotted fiction lies a steadying imperative: to make sense of the senseless. (...) Murakami not only renders the banalities of day-to-day life with a precision that borders on the tactile, he somehow evokes the queasy coexistence of something unnameable and altogether more bizarre.  
  Dennis Lim / The Village Voice / 12.6.2001
   
The most perturbing -- and attractive -- aspect of Murakami's books is that they usually amount to far more than the sum of their parts. They resist definition, yet they seem to stand for an unnamed something - they seem to have a life outside themselves.
 
  Julie Myerson / Daily Telegraph / 16.11.2002