Year-End Special: Kazuo Ishiguro versus Haruki Murakami

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Year-End Special: Kazuo Ishiguro versus Haruki Murakami

Kazuo Ishiguro may have walked away with the Nobel Prize for Literature THIS YEAR, but Haruki Murakami remains as, if not more, poignant a storyteller

By Sydney Atkins

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Published: Thu 28 Dec 2017, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 29 Dec 2017, 1:00 AM

Year-end ruminations often lead me to re-examine the books I have managed to finish reading. Though I am two books short of my good reads target for the year, I am pretty chuffed that I managed a decent list. Chief among them were books by Japanese authors like Haruki Murakami, Yasunari Kawabata and, finally, Kazuo Ishiguro to end the year. By this point, I think it's safe to say I have a bit of a fascination with the Japanese culture.
As it is with actors in Hollywood, there seem to be a number of prolific writers who are relegated the tag of the underdog, always missing that crowning 'Nobel' moment by a whisker. Every year, you read about how Murakami's latest has swayed the critics again, and how it is almost certain that he is going to win the Nobel for his contribution to world literature. Every year, fans' hopes are raised to dizzying heights. 2017 was going to be his year. Cut to when the announcement was made and #KazuoIshiguro was suddenly trending worldwide in a matter of minutes. You can probably imagine Murakami sitting in front of a TV somewhere, placing his glass down in slow motion and clapping, much like Leonardo di Caprio at the Oscars.
While I don't grudge Ishiguro his win (in any case, I have only read two of his works), I will confess that I'd hoped Murakami would end up with the title. It's interesting but difficult to compare these writers who are often pitted as literary antagonists.
Ishiguro seems to be a master of plot whereas Murakami excels in the absurd. Ishiguro's characters use language as a means of dishonesty, cloaking real intentions in wordplay. Murakami's characters say what they mean and talk without inhibition about the private details of their lives in the most distinct, stream of consciousness kind of way. It's not fruitful to compare the two writers. Both have Japanese ancestry but that's where the similarities end.
Murakami holds a special place in my heart. His works are surreal, bizarre and futuristic. His themes are largely 21st century urban issues and, as a result, you begin to see and appreciate the method in what may at first seem like madness.
The question I am often asked when I post about Murakami on social media is, "What is the book about?" I feel there is no correct answer for it. Murakami's novels begin with one story and end up somewhere else, making the original plot untraceable. Through it all, they leave you feeling moved, changed and affected. There is something at the core of his works that I'm unable to convey in words. How do you explain magic realism in 140 characters anyway?
Serious penmanship may not guarantee timeless literature. It's so refreshing that a writer can be free, uninhibited, crazy, surreal and humorous and still manage to be profound, poignant and relevant.
So, why reduce literature to prize fighting? In any case, it is future readers, not the Nobel committee who will ultimately judge the value of the respective works. Congratulations to Kazuo Ishiguro, I am sure it is a well-deserved honour. In fact, I am currently re-reading The Remains of the Day and enjoying his vision of the world. But, if you have not been able to tell from this completely biased piece - Murakami is my favourite of the two storytellers and the idea of cats and dogs communicating with humans can indeed be more moving than an ageing butler rediscovering his roots.
All of this is simply IMO, of course.
(Atkins is a blogger and a Dubai-based educator)

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