The Nobel oddsmakers were wrong—again!
Year after year, bookies put their bets on Japanese author Haruki Murakami winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. Instead, the Swedish Academy announced this morning that the honor had gone to French author Patrick Modiano.
2014 was feeling like Murakami’s time: His 13th novel Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimmage hit shelves in the U.S., and his fourth book of short stories, Men Without Women, has been announced. Earlier this week, The New Yorker ran his short story “Scheherazade.” It’s almost as if the Murakami machine—although not the notoriously fame-indifferent author himself—had been subtly campaigning for the win.
But even though Murakami still isn’t a Nobel Laureate, he’s written numerous works that demand to be read (or binged). The 65-year-old author has been writing four hours a day without fail for around 35 years—that’s a lot of lit to go through—so we’ve narrowed down his output to four essential novels that are perfect gateways for newbies:
Norwegian Wood (1987)
Murakami’s fifth novel is the most quintessentially Murakamian, setting up many themes that would become familiar throughout his career: An adrift male protagonist, sudden alienation, love triangles (quadrangles?), dreamlike sex scenes, disappearing women, unanswered questions, the transformative power of music. Norwegian Wood became a runaway success in Japan, and it also made Murakami one of the relatively few Asian authors to achieve wide, global readership.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles (1994)
Perhaps Murakami’s most lauded novel—or at least the one that’s usually listed highest on all-time greatest lists—starts out with an unemployed man looking for his lost cat. It famously won the praise of even Murakami’s harshest critic, Kenzaburo Oe (who won the Nobel in 1994). His search turns into a heady, lengthy journey as he meets an odd cast of characters and witnesses shocking acts of violence. The multiple timelines and the fuzzy line between reality and fantasy can be disorienting, but just go with it.
Kafka on the Shore (2002)
Brutal in parts, fairytale-like in others, this is one of Murakami’s most beautiful and mysterious works. Plus, cats can talk.
The success of this epic established Murakami as a true international superstar. The release of 1Q84 was a global event—in some parts of the world, Harry Potter-like in scope. Probably Murakami’s most aggressively weird novel, this mind-bender explores alternate worlds and the big ideas: death, religion, love. You listening, Nobel committee?