Murakami spoke Sunday in Odense, Denmark, the birthplace of Andersen, the 19th-century fairy-tale writer. His speech, titled “The Meaning of Shadows,” cited Andersen’s dark fantasy “The Shadow,” a story about a scholar who loses his shadow but is eventually taken over by it and killed.
“No matter how high a wall we build to keep intruders out, no matter how strictly we exclude outsiders, no matter how much we rewrite history to suit us, we just end up damaging and hurting ourselves,” Murakami said.
His speech was somewhat abstract, but Japanese media have interpreted the wall and intruders as references to refugees arriving in Europe and the protectionist response.
“It’s not just individuals who need to face their shadows. The same act is necessary for societies and nations,” Murakami said, according to a full transcript of his speech published by the Asahi newspaper.
As in Andersen’s lifetime, “we have to, when necessary, face our own shadows, confront them, and sometimes even work with them,” he said. “That requires the right kind of wisdom and courage. Of course it’s not an easy task. Sometimes dangers arise. But if they avoid it people won't be able to truly grow and mature.”
|Japanese writer Haruki Murakami (center) arrives with Odense Mayor Anker Boye (right) and Councilman Jane Jegind for a reception in Odense Town Hall on Sunday. (AFP-Yonhap)|
Worst case, he said, “they will end up like the scholar in the story ‘The Shadow’ destroyed by their own shadow.”
Murakami, 67, usually shies away from the public, but he has spoken out on issues such as global peace and nuclear energy. He began writing while running a jazz bar in Tokyo after finishing college. His 1987 romantic novel “Norwegian Wood” was his first best-seller, establishing him as a young literary star. Recent best-sellers include “1Q84” and “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.”
When the award committee chose Murakami, it said his imaginative prose embodies a global view and his capacity “to mix classic narrative art, pop culture, Japanese tradition, dream-like realism and philosophical discussion makes him a fitting heir to the Andersen legacy."
The award carries a prize of 500,000 Danish kroner ($74,000), as well as a bronze sculpture and a diploma. Previous winners include “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling and Salman Rushdie, who wrote “Midnight’s Children” and “The Satanic Verses.”
In closing his speech, Murakami said doing away with shadows only leaves “a flat illusion,” and he urged people to “learn to live together with your shadow,” a remark interpreted as a caution against attempts to rewrite a painful past.
“If you don’t, before long your shadow will grow ever stronger and will return, some night, to knock at the door of your house,” he said. “Outstanding stories can teach us many things. Lessons that transcend time periods and cultures.”