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Haruki Murakami   Sputnik Sweetheart    
Haruki Murakami    
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  Haruki Murakami's affecting novels often begin with a flat tone that sets deceptively low expectations before the power of his writing sneaks up to grab the reader by the lapels and refuses to let go. They are often a fascinating window into modern Japan (indeed, turning many Western preconceived notions on their head), but they are universal in that they always illuminate some facet of the human condition in a way that blurs borders, defies categorization and inspires one to marvel at the grace of the writing.

Murakami draws wonderfully nuanced, unforgettable female characters who are difficult not to fall in love with. Midori, a young college student from the elegantly simple bildungsroman Norwegian Wood is one example. She is full of joie de vivre, charming idiosyncrasies and is a brilliant, and somewhat shocking, conversationalist. In fact, it is her many conversations with the male protagonist, Watanabe, that are the beating heart at the center of the book. Finishing the novel is bittersweet, because it unfortunately means losing Midori and being left to always wonder what paths her life might have taken. Norwegian Wood exploded Murakami's readership in his native Japan, eventually selling over 4 million copies and causing the writer to escape to a Greek island for a few years. This escape may have had a hand in the inspiration of Sputnik Sweetheart, Murakami's new novel which tells the story of a young Japanese teacher's quest to unravel the mystery surround the disappearance of his friend, another eccentric young woman, on an island off the coast of Greece. Both novels speak eloquently to the difficulties and joys of human connection and the plague of loneliness in contemporary society.

His writing is wonderful kaleidoscope of 20th century literature, mixing Sam Spade-era noir, biting social satire, occasional fantasia, existentialism, and eccentric love stories, all driven by a narrative voice that effortlessly seduces. A lesser writer offering a similar pastiche might be lazily pigeonholed as quirky, but Murakami is a writer at the height of his powers, who rises above such easy labeling and simply begs to be read.

Haruki Murakami is truly one of the most exhilarating writers at work today, and reading his novels is an endeavor that quickly becomes addictive. In this issue of Bold Type, excerpts from both Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart have been lovingly chosen for your reading pleasure.

--Larry Weissman
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  Photo credit: Marion Ettlinger

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