The 25 Most Influential Books of the Past 25 Years: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

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The latest issue of mental_floss just hit newsstands. Rosemary Ahern's cover story chronicles 'The 25 Most Influential Books of the Past 25 Years.' This week, we'll be revealing five of those influential books here on the blog. And if this puts you in a subscribing mood, here are the details.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

by Haruki Murakami (1994)

The Book That Lost Nothing in Translation

If there's one author who bridges the cultural divide between the United States and Japan, it's Haruki Murakami. The 60-year-old Kyoto native started writing relatively late in life, at age 29, and it was America's national pastime that inspired him. While attending a baseball game in Tokyo, Murakami saw American Dave Hilton hit a home run. At that precise moment, a feeling of warmth spread across his body, and he had a revelation: He needed to write. On his way home, Murakami bought a fountain pen and some paper. Six months later, he'd completed his first novel.

Murakami's early works are filled with characters who reject the conformist pressures of Japanese society and embrace Western culture—particularly jazz. In fact, Murakami owned a jazz club in Tokyo for years, and the music deeply influenced his writing. "Sentences have to have rhythm," he notes. "In jazz, great rhythm is what makes great improvising possible."

Murakami's books were an immediate hit with Japan's alienated youth, but his writing appealed to international readers, as well. In the United States, his work revealed a side of Japan that bucked traditional depictions, and he has since become one of America's favorite writers. Murakami has also helped to elevate the popularity of American novelists in Japan. His translations of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, and Truman Capote are immensely popular in a country where those writers were once obscure.

In spite of his accomplishments, the Japanese literary establishment dismissed Murakami as a lightweight for years. But all that changed in 1994 with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. A grand-scale epic, the novel is a Chandleresque detective story that touches on a forgotten chapter of WWII—Japan's doomed campaign in Manchuria and the plight of Japanese prisoners of war in Siberian gulags. The novel was awarded the prestigious Yomiuri Literary Prize and presented to him by Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe, formerly one of Murakami's harshest critics. Naturally, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was also a hit in the United States, solidifying Murakami as the literary tie that binds East and West.

More Influential Books

Thinking in Pictures (The Book That Explained Autism from the Inside Out)
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And the Band Played On (The Book That Forced Us to Acknowledge AIDS)

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February 26, 2009 - 3:20am
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