Murakami defies protests to accept Jerusalem prize
guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 February 2009 11.36 GMT
Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami last night accepted Israel's prestigious literary award, the Jerusalem prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society, despite opposition from pro-Palestinian groups.
Murakami was presented with the $10,000 (£70,000) prize, given to the author whose work "best expresses and promotes the idea of the 'freedom of the individual in society'", on Sunday evening at the opening of the 24th Jerusalem international book fair, for a body of work including Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which all reached Israel's bestseller lists.
Previously, an open letter from a pro-Palestinian group had asked him to reconsider accepting the prize and participating in the book fair. "Please turn your attention to the Palestinians, who are being denied their freedom and dignity as human beings," the letter from the Palestine Forum Japan said. "We would humbly ask you to consider the effects your receipt of the Jerusalem prize would have, what sort of message the world would receive in this Middle East situation, what kind of propaganda value it could have to Israel and the possibility of aggravating the critical situation Palestinians are facing." The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel also appealed to Murakami not to accept the prize.
Standing on the stage flanked by Israeli president Shimon Peres and Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat, Murakami said he had given "some thought" to attending, and that his biggest reason for coming was to thank his Israeli fans for reading his books.
"When I was asked to accept this award 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?" the Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying. "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."
Murakami went on to compare humans to eggs. "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."
We are all "human beings, individuals, fragile eggs", according to the author. "We have no hope against the wall: it's too high, too dark, too cold," he said. "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."
Previous winners of the Jerusalem prize include Nobel laureates JM Coetzee and VS Naipaul, as well as Arthur Miller, Mario Vargas Llosa and Milan Kundera. The award's organisers said they selected Murakami, whom they described as "easy to read, but not easy to understand", "out of profound esteem for his artistic achievements and love of people. His humanism is clearly reflected in his writings," they said.
*1:See also http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20060313/1142223339 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20060410/1144639519 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20060521/1148175252 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20060724/1153751219 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20070710/1184081348 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20070817/1187321781 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20071017/1192639890 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20071024/1193237687 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20081030/1225335368