When he wrote his first novel, Haruki Murakami confessed in a lecture, friends called to complain because the book made them want to drink. And when he writes, his words have a music all their own, much of it learned from jazz. Jay Rubin, a self-confessed fan, has written a book for. A review, and links to other information about and reviews of Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words by Jay Rubin.

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Jay Rubin is an American academic who is well known for his translations of Japanese literature, including works by Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Natsume Soseki.

‘Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words’ by Jay Rubin (Review)

We follow Murakami through his less-than-stellar school days and his riot-interrupted time at university, finding out about his early marriage and his years running a jazz club along the way. He was never a typical Japanese writer, showing little interest in his native literature or culture, preferring instead to experience American novels and jazz which will come as little surprise to anyone who has read any of his books. Eventually though, he decided to try his hand at writing — and the rest, as they say, is history….

Rubin shows how Murakami was the first of a new breed of writers, one who unlike his predecessors was in tune with the new Japan: As well as this difference in style, Murakami was also a literary outsider in other ways.

He was not a member of any literary group very unusual for a Japanese authorand his books were initially frowned upon by such heavyweights as Kenzaburo Oe. However, this difference was not quite as marked as first appears. In fact, for those not overly familiar with Murakami, his work as a literary translator may come as a bit of a shock.

According to Rubin, he has translated dozens of American novels and short story collections and has been responsible for a resurgence in the popularity of American literature in Japan.

Well, some of you may have noticed that there are a fair few wells, tunnels and corridors in his books…. Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words is an excellent book and one I enjoyed immensely. Part of the fun lies in recognising the stories Rubin is discussing — and there are a lot of them.

I was able to frequently refer to the many books on my Murakami shelf to jog my memory and spent a lot of time rereading certain short stories.

On the whole, Rubin a close friend paints a very favourable picture of the writer and any mention of his wife Yoko verges on hagiographybut I was a little troubled by a couple of images. He could also be accused of writing for the sake of writing as his output is truly phenomenal and covers all kinds of areas and genres. I recently saw a comment on the January in Japan blog where someone signed up for the challenge, and like a good host I popped over to check out the blog.

The blogger was Carola of brilliant yearsand she had just published a post — one in which a link was given to a translation of a rare Murakami work.

As a writer, I don’t really rate Murakami that highly, but he fascinates me as a cultural product of Japan, so completely hijacked by America — particularly the way translation has smoothed over any parts that are too Japanese. If you’re really keen on Murakami, you should read Rebecca Iay book about him.


This article pretty much sums up her hsruki, though: Alex — I definitely think that you need to know the books Rubin is talking about if you’re going to get the most out of this — otherwise, it’s just somebody talking about books you haven’t read…. Matt — Murakami is a cultural product, and in a way his writings are a combined effort of the original text plus creative translating and editing which then make a new text.

Interestingly, ‘1Q84’ which got a fairly lukewarm appraisal in the west was the only one of Murakami’s long books which was translated without major cuts….

Thanks for the link — I had heard of this book, and I would definitely like to get another, more distanced, view at some point. As mentioned in the post, Rubin does come across as being inside ‘Team Murakami’ a little…. I definitely intend to read this book as part of my self-set ‘Murakami Challenge’. Translating is such an interesting business so I really want to find out what my favourite author’s translator thinks.

I’m also curious murakammi the less positive claims about Rubin himself. So far I’ve read almost everything by Murakami in English so I never really noticed, but I heard the English translations are actually quite poor compared to German and Dutch translations.

I read this a while ago, I remember enjoying reading about Murakami meeting Carver, which made me inadvertently track out a few Carver’s to readand also Rubin mentioning, if I remember rightly, that Murakami used to run a website and that he’d used to answer reader’s questions personally — can’t really visualize that happening now, would be good though!.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book when I read it and agree with you concerning you should have read a few of his works first. Will do my usual shout out that to really understand Murakami you should read his nonfiction work Underground. Carola — I think by poor, people may mean incomplete. This book gives some insights into how the translations have been managed. If anything, I’ve heard that Murakami’s translators into English make him look good!

I have a falling harruki with Murakami. I did really like some of his books but not so others. I’m a big Murakami fan, but the more I read, the more I see his flaws.

However, the good bits for me far outweigh the negatives. Definitely agree that his English translators make him look good harruki he’s so popular in Japan, no editor will go near his work with a ten-foot pole. Which is probably why 1Q84 is so bloated.

Anything that has a stamp about Murakami Muraakmi read it. But this sounds a little confusing and also translating a translation feels overdone. I’d rather hear it from Murakami what those tunnels and wells signify though.

Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words – Jay Rubin

Difficult to get this one at the public library. May have to resort to purchasing it. Jo — Definitely worth a read, especially if you’ve read a lot of Murakami’s work. This was the first I’d heard of it. Thanks for the comments! I had heard this before. Sounds like I really have to pick up Rubin’s book.

I checked out the Dutch edition of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicles after reading The Bakery Attacks in Dutch I am really beginning to appreciate the Dutch translators and it has approximately more pages than any English edition… I wonder if that means it’s more complete. I’m definitely tempted to read that one as opposed to the English version.


Translations are an interesting case for sure. Apparently, Book 3 consisted of a lot of ‘here’s what’s happened so far’ information, and for the English single-volume version it was heavily edited. And Rubin had a strict page limit! By the time ‘1Q84’ came around, Murakami was famous enough for the book to be translated in its entirety…. I have a feeling that both approaches are wrong. The Japanese refusal to edit can’t be good, but chopping out hundreds of pages doesn’t sound great either.

Perhaps there’s a healthy middle somewhere…. And I must say I completely agree with you. To be honest, one thing that bothered me about 1Q84 is that it kept repeating information, especially in Book 1 he kept describing Tengo’s earliest memory over and over and over, for example. I guess it’s clear that that book was translated completely…. The more I hear, the more I want to pick up Rubin’s book early. This book is for people who have already read most of Murakami’s fiction.

Thanks for posting about this book — I’ve never come across it before and it sounds so interesting. I hardly know anything about Murakami’s life, but this seems like a good place to start. Lucy — Definitely a good one to start with provided you’ve read a lot of his stuff. I think I have to get this. I have read six Murakamis, currently plowing my way through 1Q For me his writing talents are really second rate, it’s the general atmosphere of his works that draws in.

Doesn’t mean I’d say no to good writing and some editing here and there, of course! You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. Alex — I definitely think that you need to know the books Rubin is talking about if you’re going to get the most out of this — otherwise, it’s just somebody talking about books you haven’t read… Like Like.

As mentioned in the post, Rubin does come across as being inside ‘Team Murakami’ a little… Like Like. By the time ‘1Q84’ came around, Murakami was famous wnd for the book to be translated in its entirety… I have a feeling that both approaches are wrong. Perhaps there’s a healthy middle somewhere… Like Like. I guess it’s clear that that book was translated completely… The more I hear, the more I want to pick up Rubin’s book early. Riv — Yes, a little editing would do wonders for some of his works… Like Like.

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