Haruki Murakami has won the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature, as the jury in Oviedo announced today. The Japanese writer adds a new literary recognition to his list of awards, which already has the prestigious Franz Kafka (2006), the Jerusalem (2009) and the Hans Christian Andersen for Literature (2016), among others. Not so with the Nobel, for which he considers himself the eternal candidate, as until now he was also the candidate for the Asturian award, since his name had been around for years.
The jury has made him worthy of this distinction for "the uniqueness of his literature, its universal reach and its ability to reconcile Japanese tradition and the legacy of Western culture." All this "in an ambitious and innovative narrative that has been able to express some of the great themes and conflicts of our time: loneliness, existential uncertainty, the dehumanization of large cities, terrorism, but also the care of the body or one's own reflection on creative work".
Likewise, "his voice, expressed in different genres", has been highlighted, since "it has reached very different generations". For all these reasons, "Haruki Murakami is a great long-distance runner in contemporary literature," he concludes.
Influenced by surrealism, his work has been translated into more than fifty languages and focuses on themes such as loneliness and alienation. His most successful novel is Norwegian Wood (1987) —Tokio Blues, in Spanish—, whose protagonist is Toru Watanabe, an executive who is taken back by an old Beatles song to the turbulent Tokyo of the late sixties. The fame that the book brought him led him to leave Japan and move to different cities in Europe and the United States. However, he returned to his country in 1995, after the Kobe earthquake and the sarin gas terrorist attack carried out by the Japanese Supreme Truth sect in the Tokyo subway. Events about which he would end up writing some time later in After the earthquake and Underground.
His latest book is The City and its Uncertain Walls (The city and its uncertain walls, in Spanish), which has already reached Japanese bookstores and is expected to do the same soon in other countries. Published simultaneously on paper and in electronic format, it is his first novel in six years after the two volumes of La muerte del commendador. According to Shinchosha, his Japanese publisher, the book "reflects the Murakami world 100% and makes the soul tremble."
His love for letters comes from afar. The son of a Buddhist priest and an Osaka merchant, both parents taught Japanese literature, so since he was a child he was always surrounded by books. Reading Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan would mark his career, as he himself has recognized on numerous occasions. These and other American and Western authors influenced his work and distinguished him from other Japanese writers, which has led the Japanese literary establishment to question whether or not his work is truly Japanese, due to its heavy pop influence and so characteristic tone of humor.
Music is another of its great influences that becomes evident throughout its pages. There are many letters and references to which the Japanese author uses both in his texts and in his titles. In addition to Norwegian Wood, there are, for example, South of the Border, West of the Sun —Al sur de la frontera, al oeste del sol, in Spanish—, whose first part is the title of a song by Nat King Cole.
The Princess of Asturias Award for Letters is the fifth of the eight international awards that the Foundation convenes annually. According to its regulations, all of them are intended to recognize "the scientific, technical, cultural, social and humanitarian work carried out by people, institutions, groups of people or institutions in the international arena". The Prize for Literature is awarded to "the work of cultivating and perfecting literary creation in all its genres".
The jury was made up of Santiago Muñoz Machado, as president; Sergio Vila-Sanjuán Robert, as secretary; Xosé Ballesteros Rey, Blanca Berasátegui Garaizábal, Anna Caballé Masforroll, Gonzalo Celorio Blasco, Jesús García Calero
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Each Princess of Asturias award is endowed with a sculpture by Joan Miró —representative symbol of the award—, an accrediting diploma, an insignia and the cash amount of 50,000 euros.