Author Haruki Murakami says the pandemic and the war in Ukraine are creating walls that divide people

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese writer Haruki Murakami says walls are increasingly being built dividing people and countries after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic stoked fear and skepticism.

“With feelings of suspicion replacing mutual trust, walls are continually being erected around us,” Murakami said at Wellesley College in late April. This speech, “Writing Fiction in the Time of Pandemic and War,” was published Wednesday in the literary magazine Shincho Monthly published by Shinchosha Co.

“Everyone seems to be faced with a choice: to hide behind the walls, preserving security and the status quo or, knowing the risks, to emerge beyond the walls in search of a freer value system,” did he declare.

As the protagonist of his new novel.

“The City and Its Uncertain Walls” was released in April in Japan and an English translation is expected in 2024. The protagonist, as described by Murakami, faces a difficult choice between two worlds: an isolated city surrounded by tranquility, without desire or suffering, and the real world beyond the walls filled with pain, desire and contradictions.

The novel is based on a story he wrote for a magazine shortly after becoming a novelist, but was never published in book form. He said he knew he had important ideas and put it aside because he wanted to rewrite it.

Some 40 years later, he discovers that “this tale corresponds perfectly to the time in which we live”.

Murakami began rewriting the book in March 2020, shortly after COVID-19 began spreading around the world, and finished it two years later as the war in Ukraine came to a head. a year.

“The two great events combined and changed the world dramatically,” he said.

The sense of security that accompanied a common belief in globalism and mutual economic and cultural dependence “collapsed with Russia’s sudden invasion of Ukraine”, Murakami said, sowing fear of similar invasions elsewhere. . Many countries, including its Japan, have since strengthened their military preparedness and budgets.

As war continues with no end in sight, so do the high walls built around people, between countries and individuals, Murakami said. “It seems to me that the psychic condition – if someone is not your ally, they are your enemy – continues to spread.”

“Can our mutual trust once again overcome our suspicions? Can wisdom overcome fear? The answers to these questions are entrusted to us. And rather than an instant response, we are bound to undergo a thorough investigation which will take time,” Murakami said.

He says that while there’s not much a novelist can do, “I sincerely hope that novels and stories can lend their power to such inquiry.” It’s something that we novelists look forward to.

Murakami has made other efforts to encourage people to reflect, fight fear or break down walls. He hosted the radio program “Music to End War” a month after Russia invaded Ukraine. His Japanese translation of “The Last Flower,” former New York cartoonist James Thurber’s 1939 anti-war picture book, will be published later this month by Poplar Sha.

Did the protagonist stay inside the walls? “Please try to read the book yourself,” Murakami said.

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