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There’s a sense of wonder to Haruki Murakami novels. Sometimes it’s the quiet, lonely mystery that pervades everyday life, and other times it’s a full-bore interdimensional mystery that the book may or may not ever get around to solving. He tells these stories with a propulsive sense of forward movement but composes them largely in small details. We read about every errand characters run and every quiet afternoon spent reading, and as an essay by Elaheh Nozari on The Awl notes, we often read the details of almost every meal the characters eat.

Throughout his large bibliography, Murakami pays a surprising amount of attention to meals, hungers, and dining habits, and it’s an intriguing lens through which to understand his fiction. On one hand, the seeming mundanity provides a counterpoint to the emotional and sometimes metaphysical calamities that befall his characters. On the other hand, even while procedural in detail, these meals are a window into the interior lives of these characters, sometimes even foreshadowing plot developments.

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Nozari teases out this running theme throughout several of Murakami’s books, including Dance Dance Dance, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, and Kafka On The Shore. Doing so isn’t so much an academic exercise in tracing a single theme through his books as it is a reason to evaluate the way we all actually eat. She writes:

He describes with incessant detail his characters eating and preparing food, and their behaviors immediately become familiar to us when we view them through this lens. We’ve all experienced Yuki’s cravings for junk food when we feel empty inside, Tengo’s mesmerizing waves of calmness as we cook dinner at home after a stressful day, and both Torus’ sense of loneliness and yearning when we eat a meal alone that we’d rather be eating with someone we care about.

It is up to you to determine what this says about your own habit of eating handfuls of rice directly out of the rice cooker even while it is still scalding hot. The entire essay goes into much greater detail; perhaps it holds the answers.

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