Few authors have captured the world’s imagination like Haruki Murakami. The Japanese author, who at 29 ditched his day job running a jazz bar in Tokyo to write, is now recognised globally for his surrealist novels, which retain an air of magic and whimsy despite their sobering themes of human isolation.

Since he published his first book in 1979, Murakami has won accolades and awards for his work, including the World Fantasy Award, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Jerusalem Prize and many others; in 2000, The Guardian referred to him as being “among the world’s greatest living novelists”.

With such a vast oeuvre – Murakami has published over a dozen novels, not to mention his short stories and non-fiction – it can be daunting to know which of his books to read first. Here, we’ve chosen a handful of his most notable works to help guide you.

A Wild Sheep Chase (1982)

Why not begin at the beginning? The English-speaking world was introduced to Murakami early on with this bizarre, magical realist story about the convoluted hunt for a VIS (Very Important Sheep), in which mysterious letters, significant photographs and perfectly-formed ears abound. The search takes our hero from the urban haunts of Tokyo to the remote and snowy mountains of northern Japan, where he confronts the confines of tradition and demons deep within himself.

Norwegian Wood (1987)

If you’re less enamoured by Murakami’s surrealist side, try this deceptively simple, bittersweet and beautiful tale of young love and loss, told against the backdrop of student revolts in 1960s Tokyo. Norwegian Wood turned Murakami into a literary superstar in Japan, and is his bestselling title throughout the world. If you find the thought of Murakami’s more massive tomes intimidating, this is a great place to start. It was also adapted into a film by Tran Anh Hung in 2010.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995)

This early career masterpiece ticks every Murakami box – mysterious women, vanishing cats, wells, menacing villains, supernatural influences – not to mention wisdom, ingenuity and powerful storytelling. On publication, it drew comparisons to Raymond Carver, Don DeLilloThomas Pynchon and even David Lynch. Many have likened 2017’s Killing Commendatore, Murakami’s most recent novel, to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in its mesmerising style and tone.

Kafka on the Shore (2002)

Named by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2005 the year it was published in English, more recent work Kafka on the Shore finesses all of Murakami’s best qualities – his humour, his magical realism, his love of music – into one novel. It’s also one of his most beautifully told tales, as it weaves back and forth between two major character plots until a number of the book’s small details combine, resulting in a single, major outcome that affects both characters.

Absolutely on Music (2011)

If you’ve already read some of Murakami’s fiction, you might be interested to know more about the author – and where better to go than this co-authored book of conversations between Murakami and his friend Seiji Ozawa, the globally acclaimed music conductor. Murakami’s passion for music is evident throughout, from their conversations about Brahms to Glenn Gould, but it’s the insights about creativity and cross-medium connections that make the book a must-read.

Men Without Women (2014)

If you’re still hesitating, why not start small and try a short story? Murakami’s briefer works offer microcosms of his artistic vision and inventiveness, and Men Without Women is his most recent collection. Across seven tales, Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and The Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.

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