Franz Kafka Society lauds Japanese writer Murakami

Haruki Murakami, photo: CTK

Haruki Murakami—perhaps the greatest living Japanese author—is currently here in the Czech capital. The main purpose of his visit is to collect the annual Franz Kafka award - which is perhaps appropriate, given that Murakami's own work bears the influence of Kafka, one of the greatest Prague-born writers of all time. Emily Udell reports.

Haruki Murakami,  photo: CTK
On Monday the Franz Kafka Society recognized Haruki Murakami for his novel Kafka on the Shore, which was first published in Japanese in 2002. Kafka Tamura is the 15-year-old protagonist of the book, which contains numerous allusions to the Prague-born Kafka, who Murakami has called one of his favorite authors.

"Kafka's work is so great; It has some kind of universal value," Murakami said. "I understand that he's very central to European culture directly. But at the same time we share his works. The first time I read his book The Castle when I was fifteen years old, I didn't think that way—'This book belongs to the center of European culture'—I just felt, 'This is my book, this book is for me.'"

Murakami's visit to accept the award was his first time coming to the Czech Republic. At the award ceremony in the Brozik Hall in Old Town Square, photographers and fans hoping for autographs swarmed the bewildered-looking writer, who gave a short speech expressing his gratitude and his love for Kafka.

Each year the Franz Kafka Society presents the annual award to a living writer whose work carries on the legacy of Kafka himself, through its transcendence, timelessness and tolerance.

The Society's director Dr. Marketa Miloskova says this year wasn't the first time Murakami was considered.

"His name was in the running before and he was a warm candidate," she said. "His work will be good in the future. He is a well-known author, his work is very good. He uses special language, he is interested in humanism, and--one of the main things—his works are translated into the Czech language."

Haruki Murakami and Marketa Miloskova,  photo: CTK
Franz Kafka prizewinners must have work published in Czech; just a week ago a Czech edition of "Kafka on the Shore" hit the shelves of local bookstores.

Miloskova said that although Murakami's works may not be as well-known here as in some other countries, Murakami is becoming more popular among young Czechs. She predicts the prize will further this trend.

Franz Kafka Prize
"I think not so much, like in the U.S.A. or other countries. I must say Murakami's works are more known here among young people," Miloskova said. "Therefore I am happy that other people will know about Murakami. And maybe it will start the spread of his works to Middle and Eastern Europe more."

This is the sixth annual award presented by the Franz Kafka Society. Previous laureates include Philip Roth, Ivan Klima and Harold Pinter. The prize's international jury is composed of literature and history experts.

"This is the only international prize in the Czech Republic," Miloskova said. "The prize is running six years, and it is more and more popular abroad. It is the first prize that Murakami received in Europe. And I think it is the first prize that a Japanese author has received in the Czech Republic."

The Franz Kafka Society has translated all of Kafka's work from German to Czech, organized various festivals and conferences relating to the writer, and raised money for the famous statue commemorating him in Prague 1.

Murakami received a miniature version of the statue, and a monetary prize worth $10,000 U.S. dollars for his achievement.