Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 18, 2024

Over the summer I do a lot of reading. I’m not bogged down with readings for class, and becoming absorbed in a novel on the beach gives me a sense of satisfaction and calm that I rarely get during the semester. This past summer I read one of Haruki Murakami’s books, having heard his name quite often but not knowing anything about him. I’ll spare you the hyperbole, but I was shocked.

Murakami is a Japanese writer who began publishing in 1979 and still publishes works today. His books have become bestsellers and award-winners in more countries than just his own. While his novels are originally written in Japanese, they resonate with a broader audience since Murakami was raised with a lot of Western influences on his life, especially in terms of the literature he read.

Murakami’s books have been classified as surrealist, science fiction, magical realism and more. This genre confusion certainly applies to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which I read. The book is actually so confusing and crazy that giving a summary seems impossible, but I will try to sketch the basic ideas.

A nameless human encrypter does a job for a shady old scientist obsessed with bones as we find out about the human encrypters that work for the government and those who have basically turned to the dark side and steal information. We smell a little corruption in the air in terms of this government.

We switch back and forth, however, between this story and the tale of a small town with “Beasts” outside, passively dying of the cold, and humans inside, just as passively letting their Shadows, and thus their minds, be cut off from them to die. The newcomer to the Town struggles to maintain a connection with his Shadow.

Spoiler: when we find out that the human encrypter and the newcomer are the same man getting lost within his own mind, the code “the end of the world” being how he transfers between the two states, everything simultaneously makes a lot more sense and becomes way crazier.

Despite the confusion of beginning to read about two worlds in which nothing is explained and about which no context is given, Murakami’s mesmerizing writing and the development of this fantastical portrait of human consciousness are thought-provoking in a way that satire and science fiction are meant to be. They are as beautifully fascinating and morbidly engrossing as magical realism or surrealism.

While Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was not the kind of light read one might expect to bring to the beach, and it certainly wasn’t calming, I found myself captivated enough last summer to plan to read more Murakami during the coming trips to the beach. He has the potential to become a classic author, and I highly recommend that you give him a try.

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