After Dark with Murakami

Many of us are excited about Stephenie Meyer's upcoming Breaking Dawn. Her Twilight series is Harry Potter huge -- even if the latest cover of Entertainment magazine was slightly unnerving. Does Robert Pattinson really need to look so pale in order to play Edward Cullen?

This week I'd like to mention another author whose latest work always gets me excited -- and which always gets purchased as soon as it's available: Haruki Murakami, possibly the best known Japanese writer of fiction here in North America.

Recently I finished his 2007 work, After Dark. (PopMatter's review is here.) It's more like a novella than a fully fleshed out Murakami novel. I enjoy his magical realism style, and the fact that he always surprises me. I can never tell what is going to happen because much of the action is illogical, or completely bizarre. Elements of the supernatural, and unlikely coincidences of connection are par for the course.

After Dark takes place in the middle of the night in Tokyo, when most people are safely ensconced in their homes, sleeping quietly in preparation for a new day, and unaware of the frequent strangeness of the nighttime hours. The book presents a community of those who are more at ease when day turns into night; their stories are loosely interconnected. Here, Murakami writes as though he perceives the action as a screenplay. The narrative voice is like a camera, moving about the scenes, cutting from location to location, deliberately including some angles and excluding other portions of the set.

An initially unremarkable young woman, Mari, spends her nighttime hours avoiding company and reading in a fast food restaurant, while her sleeping beauty sister, Eri, lies at home in perfect repose -- which has lasted for two months. Mari is asked by a complete stranger who has heard she speaks Chinese to come to a love-hotel and translate for a Chinese prostitute who has been attacked by a client who conforms to every stereotype of the typical hardworking Japanese businessman, except for his tendency to savage violence. Meanwhile, in Eri's room, tidy and austere but for the lovely girl sound asleep in the bed, some sort of electric energy has entered the chamber and the accompanying current threatens to either disturb her unfathomable sleep, or to harm her as she lies innocently at peace.

After Dark, things are not as they seem, and Murakami never offers an explanation for the strangeness of the Tokyo night, as these stories are loosely interwoven.

Kafka on the Shore which was published in translation in 2006, was my first and remains my favorite Murakami novel. Since a friend lent me The Elephant Vanishes, a short story collection from 1994, I have been totally hooked and read just about everything Murakami has written that is available in English.

Who is your favorite foreign-language author?

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