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The Murakami Factor

The 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature went to Peruvian author Llosa. But Japan’s most celebrated contemporary writer must surely stand a chance in the future.

In November 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, thereby laying down the foundations for the now always globally anticipated Nobel Prizes, which were officially awarded for the first time in 1901 and which have just been completed for this year with the awarding of the Peace Prize.

Since its inception, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to 107 Nobel Laureates. The newest writer to hold the title was announced October 7 by a 5-member committee in Norway — Peruvian novelist, poet and journalist Mario Vargas Llosa, who will also receive an approximately $1.3 million cash prize.

But while 74-year-old Llosa’s win was deemed well-deserved and timely recognition by some, it clearly came as a complete surprise for others—a widely cited estimate by UK-based gaming company Ladbrokes had put him at the bottom of their list for likely winners. Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o was the Ladbrokes favourite, with US author Cormac McCarthy and Japan’s Haruki Murakami close behind.

If the latter, Japan’s Haruki Murakami, had won, he would have joined the ranks of celebrated Japanese laureates, such as Yasunari Kawabata (1968) and Kenzaburō Ōe (1994), who I’ve mentioned here before.

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Nobel Laureate or not, 61-year-old Murakami will always be a superstar of postmodern literature. His most noted novel, Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori), has recently been made into a film in Japan while 1Q84 (Ichi-kyū-hachi-yon), his most recent work, has sold 3.8 million copies since its release last year, becoming the top-selling hardcover book in the country to-date.

Murakami’s books are also internationally acclaimed, with many of his novels and short stories having been translated into English. I'm currently reading a collection of his short fiction in English, which includes titles such as his 1981 The Kangaroo Communique (Kangarū tsūshin) and On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning (Shigatsu no aru hareta asa ni 100-paasento no onna no ko ni deau koto ni tsuite). I’ve noticed while reading this particular compilation Murakami’s tendency to really strip down his work, despite the zany and surreal subjects he ties in. The tone in parts is crisp and sharp. And the stories have also managed to linger vividly in my mind for some time after I've finished them—a testament to his ability to evoke strong visual images through his narrative and descriptions.

And while there's undoubtedly more to come from Murakami in terms of literature, since Nobel Prize re-nominations are permitted, there remains a chance the celebrated writer will also one day get his hands on the title.