A Lot Of Problems

A short essay from Haruki Murakami’s Murakami Radio.

I decided to write my first novel just before I turned thirty for no particular reason, and it just so happened that it won the award for Best New Author from a literary magazine. I never wrote a practice novel. Everything I’ve written has been published and sold. At the time I thought, “I guess that’s just the way it goes,” but looking back on it now I was an impudent little jerk.

Look, I’m not trying to boast. I’m writing what really happened.

I received word that I’d been selected for the award, so I traveled to the town of Otowa to meet the editor in chief of the publishing house. Then I met with with Head Of Publishing (or whatever you call him). It was your standard business introduction with all the proper niceties. Then he said, “Your novel’s got a lot of problems, but best of luck with it.” He said it in this tone like he was spitting out something gross he’d accidentally gotten in his mouth. I thought this guy was a total piece of work, this “Head of Publishing” or whatever you call him, and that it was no way to talk to me. A normal reaction, I think.

He probably spoke to me that way because my novel South Of The Border, West Of The Sun was causing a lot of controversy. Even within the publishing house some people felt like it was tawdry and undeserving of being called “literature.” And you know what, they might be right. But even though they’d argued about it, they gave me the award. At that point you’d think that the guy could have pulled it together and acted more nicely to me.

But as I sit here today in my garden, the sun setting, I take a deep look back on my life and realize with certainty that I did have a lot of problems, both in my life and my novels (and I still do). I have lots of problems, my novels have lots of problems, and there’s nothing I can do about people talking about me behind my back. This way of thinking is freeing. No matter how I or my work is critiqued, I can respond by saying, “I’m very sorry. You see, I’ve got a lot of problems.” This might be an inappropriate analogy, by it’s a lot like the way people respond to typhoons and earthquakes. They cause trouble for everyone, and yet people are resigned to deal with them because that’s just the way things are.

The other day I received a letter from Germany. South Of The Border, West Of The Sun had been discussed on a popular book review television program. The well known literary critic Miss Leflah weighed in: “These sorts of things should be banished from appearing on this show. It’s not literature. It’s nothing more than literary fast food.” Upon hearing this, the eighty year old host of the show stood up and passionately defended the novel (thanks!). Miss Leflah got upset, stated that she wouldn’t be caught dead appearing on such a wretched show, and gave up her post of over twelve years as a regular commentator. The letter I received was a request for my comments on the matter. I’d like to issue the following warning to everyone: “As I’ve said before, I’ve got a lot of problems.”