Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

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Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

by Haruki Murakami

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami X
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2006, 352 pages
    Oct 2007, 384 pages

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In addition to writing his own books in Japanese (which have been translated into more than thirty languages), Murakami is a skillful translator of English works into Japanese, including works by Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, John Irving and Paul Theroux.

In 2006, Murakami became the sixth winner of the Franz Kafka Prize, co-sponsored by the Franz Kafka Society and the city of Prague (previous winners include Philip Roth and Harold Pinter). In 2007 he was awarded the Kiriyama Prize for Fiction for Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman but, according to the Kiriyama Official website, "declined to accept the award for reasons of personal principle". The Kiriyama Prize, established in 1996, is a literary award given to books which will encourage greater understanding of and among the peoples and nations of the Pacific Rim and South Asia. Previous winners include Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin for Three Cups of Tea, Nadeem Aslam for Maps for Lost Lovers and Rohinton Mistry for Family Matters.

*The January 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, commonly known as the Kobe earthquake, killed between 5,500 to 6,500 people and injured 26,000. It was the worst earthquake in Japan since the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake that killed 140,000, and holds the unwanted crown as being the most costly natural disaster to befall one country (according to The Guinness Book of Records). The Japanese government was widely criticized for its initial response; by comparison, the public response was overwhelming with about 1.2 million volunteers involved in the relief efforts during the first 3-months. The quake caused an estimated $100 billion in damage, most uninsured, and a 1,000 point one-day drop in the Japanese stock market.

Two months later, some members of the Japanese Buddhist group, Aum Shinrikyo, attacked the Tokyo subways with sarin gas, killing 12, injuring 54 and damaging the sight of almost a thousand others. It was the most serious attack on Japanese soil since WWII. At the time of the attacks the group was estimated to have 40,000 members worldwide, 9,000 in Japan. Despite having changed their name to Aleph, today there are estimated to be under 2,000 members. The sect's leader, Shoko Asahara, was put on trial in 1996 but not convicted until 2004 (primarily due to his uncooperativeness - he refused to enter a plea and would not speak except for occasional incomprehensible mumblings) but he was eventually convicted in 2004, and is currently in prison awaiting execution.

This article was originally published in September 2006, and has been updated for the October 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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