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Haruki Murakami writes the types of books that demand to be re-read several times. Even after getting through your third re-read, his books still leave you with a huge question mark over your head. That’s what makes Murakami’s novels so interesting and mysterious.
If you want an escape from reality for a bit with a truly unique narrative, make sure to check out these absurd novels by Murakami.
Kafka on the Shore is hands down, my favorite Murakami book. Not to mention that it’s definitely the most boggling—you’ll eventually encounter a personification of the king of fried chicken, a.k.a. Colonel Sanders, as well as Murakami’s rendition of the one-and-only Johnnie Walker.
Anyway, the novel revolves around two characters: Kafka and Nakata. After 15-year-old Kafka escapes from his father’s house to avoid an Oedipal curse, he seeks out his sister and mother. On the other end of the book’s spectrum, you’ll meet Nakata, a strange old man who has a knack for talking to cats.
Although Kafka and Nakata are completely unrelated to each other, their stories intertwine.
In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, you’ll encounter a bizarre mystery that only gets weirder as the novel progresses. The story follows Toru Okada, a man who’s just quit his job. He embarks on a journey to find his missing cat, but that’s not the only thing that vanishes—soon, his wife disappears as well.
During Okada’s search for his cat and wife, he comes across all sorts of interesting people. From the nihilistic teenager, May Kasahara, to a Lieutenant who has witnessed the unspeakable, all of the characters have their quirks. Like other Murakami novels, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a puzzle that slowly comes together towards the end.
The Strange Library reads like an adult picture book. It’s supposedly meant for children, but the plot is sophisticated enough for all ages to enjoy.
The main character (who remains nameless throughout the novella) returns a couple of books to the library. As he looks for a new one on the exciting topic of tax collection in the Ottoman Empire, the librarian tells him to head to Room 107.
From this moment on, the library goes from normal to strange. The protagonist winds up trapped in the basement, alongside a man wearing sheepskin, and a girl who doesn’t speak. Murakami makes you ask: is the main character’s experience a dream or reality?
Does the title 1Q84 ring a bell? That’s right, this book’s title and the plot itself are modeled after George Orwell’s 1984. Murakami’s 1Q84 combines three volumes that comprise the year 1984.
This dense read focuses on two vastly different characters who share an experience that ties them together. On one side, you have Aomame, a woman who finds and kills male perpetrators of domestic abuse. The other character, Tengo, works as both a math teacher and a writer.
At the start of the novel, Aomame begins to realize that the world around her doesn’t seem quite right. She decides that she’s in an alternate reality that she deems 1Q84.
The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki blends the story of Tsukuru Tazaki’s teenage years and his current life. Back in the 90s, Tsukuru had a close group of friends from high school that all had names alluding to a certain color—since Tsukuru’s name doesn’t have a color in it, he’s left “colorless.” When he got to college, his friends stopped speaking to him. This emotionally paralyzes Tsukuru, making him depressed and suicidal.
In the present day, 36-year-old Tsukuru works as an engineer who builds train stations. His girlfriend encourages him to reach out to his old friends, and ask why they ostracized him. This begins his journey of self-discovery and happiness.
If you like books with satisfying endings, then Sputnik Sweetheart might not be for you. The narrator, who’s only referred to as “K,” is a college student who falls in love with his classmate, Sumire, a dedicated writer. Sumire ends up meeting an older, cosmopolitan woman named Miu, and she soon becomes enamored of her.
Sumire takes off with Miu to Greece and suddenly goes missing. When K joins in on the search, he dives into Sumire’s world and discovers that there may be more to reality than he initially thought. By the time most readers (myself included) reach the end of this book, they’re thoroughly confused.
The title Norwegian Wood comes from a 1965 song by The Beatles—when the book’s main character, Toru Watanabe, listens to the song, he’s begins reminiscing about his college life in the 60s. During this time, Japanese students rose against the policies of their government.
When you look back into Watanabe’s past, you’ll see him become infatuated with two women: Naoko and Midori. While Naoko has to cope with the loss of her sister and former boyfriend to suicide, Midori is on the completely opposite end of the spectrum with her energetic and friendly personality.
Unlike other books that Murakami has written, Norwegian Wood lacks the absurdity that typically comes along with a Murakami novel—either way, it’s still worth the read.
Making Sense of It All
You likely won’t understand a novel by Murakami until you read it at least twice—and that’s okay. During each read, you’ll discover something new or notice something that you didn’t see before. Murakami’s books are incredibly satisfying, so I encourage you to stump your brain by reading one.
For more along the same vein, check out the new realities in these absurdist fiction novels.