Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Top 20 Books, #12

Coming in at #12 is Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Murakami is considered the premier fiction writer in Japan today. He has a cult following. I picked up my first Murakami book at a sale at the South Pasadena Library back in 1994. I had heard of Murakami through The New Yorker. The book I picked up, A Wild Sheep Chase, was like nothing I had ever read. I was hooked.

Somewhere in the sequence of reading everything by Murakami in English, I picked up Hard-Boiled Wonderland... . It was nothing like his other books and blew my mind. Among diehard Murakami fans in America, it is considered a dark horse favorite. It hurts to list it as high as #12. As I write this, I want to rank it higher. It's indescribingly good in a haunting way. It is one of the rare novels I have read that has so thoroughly sucked me into its cortex. It's a very cerebral experience. Here is a brief description purloined from amazon.com:

"The last surviving victim of an experiment that implanted the subjects' heads with electrodes that decipher coded messages is the unnamed narrator of this excellent book...Half the chapters are set in Tokyo, where the narrator negotiates underground worlds populated by INKlings, dodges opponents of both sides of a raging high-tech infowar, and engages in an affair with a beautiful librarian with a gargantuan appetite. In alternating chapters he tries to reunite with his mind and his shadow, from which he has been severed by the grim, dark "replacement" consciousness implanted in him by a dotty neurophysiologist. Both worlds share the unearthly theme of unicorn skulls that moan and glow. Murakami's fast-paced style, full of hip internationalism, slangy allegory, and intrigue, has been adroitly translated."

I know, I know, it sounds weird. It is, but he writes in such a matter-of-fact way that the weirdness seems natural.

If you've never read Murakami, I hesitate to recommend this one first. Save it for later. Read instead, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, which was Murakami's "breakthrough" book in the U.S., published here in 1997. His recent Kafka on the Shore, from earlier this year, is also quite good. Once you've decided whether you like Murakami or not, then read Wonderland... . It will remain with you forever.

I could go on and on about Murakami and will most likely do so in future posts. In the mean time, welcome yourself to his world.

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