Monday, 16 February 2009

Haruki Murakami is awarded the Jerusalem Prize I put on a nice shirt and my second best suit and drive to the International Conference Centre in Jerusalem last night.

Of course, it wasn't entirely without controversy - this is Israel, after all. The International Solidarity Movement had published an open letter to Murakami-San, suggesting that to accept the award would be akin to cheerleading on behalf of the Israeli Government. Or stuff like that.

But even this was all very muted, not at all like the almighty fuss that blew up last year when Nadine Gordimer was invited to participate in the International Writers Festival.

(Side issue - to head off some of the more pointed criticism, Ms Gordimer agreed to visit Al-Quds University to speak, with a small group of students, about the role of a writer in times of conflict. I tagged along for the day. Whilst waiting for her to arrive, I chatted with an engaging, if slightly impressionable young man. He wasn't entirely certain why he had been gang pressed into attendance - he was a business major, he explained, and wasn't realy a fan of literature - and was really crestfallen when Ms Gordimer arrived and she turned out to be...well, not black, basically. But that's another matter altogether.)

Of course, the problem with occasions such as this is that one never knows what is going to happen - not all media appearances can be stage managed, and I bet there were a few people wary of Mr Murakami launching into a passionate denouncement of the Zionist Entity before ripping the citation to shreds and...ok, I'm getting carried away. In the event, Murakami-San was extraordinarily gracious, making a witty (he described novelists as professional liars, before extended the category to include Generals, Diplomats and Politicians - with dearest Shim-Shim sitting not quite six feet in front of him - but he did have a smile on his face as he said this), generous (thanking the people of Israel for the high regard in which they hold his writing) and thoughtful speech.

"When I was asked to accept this award," Murakami said, "I was warned from coming here because of the fighting in Gaza. I asked myself: Is visiting Israel the proper thing to do? Will I be supporting one side?

I gave it some thought. And I decided to come. Like most novelists, I like to do exactly the opposite of what I'm told. It's in my nature as a novelist. Novelists can't trust anything they haven't seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands. So I chose to see. I chose to speak here rather than say nothing."


"If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals.

I have only one purpose in writing novels; that is to draw out the unique divinity of the individual. To gratify uniqueness. To keep the system from tangling us. So - I write stories of life, love. Make people laugh and cry.

We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it's too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us - create who we are. It is we who created the system."

There isn't very much one can add to this.

I've never driven to Jerusalem alone before, and I spent most of my way their worrying about getting lost. I didn't, as it happens, but I did spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to exit the fiendishly labyrinthine car park at the convention centre on my way out. And I hadn't been drinking, either. Driving back, I listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis and wondered why most things in life couldn't be so sweet, or so simple.

If you haven't read Murakami before, I warmly recommend The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, or Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Norweigian Wood, whilst very moving, isn't representative of his ouvre, and perhaps should be left to later.

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