Straight Up: Thirsty Reads from Haruki Murakami

Straight Up: Thirsty Reads from Haruki Murakami

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Nora Maynard
Mar 21, 2008
"Anyone who enjoys whisky would recognize me right away, but never mind. My name is Johnnie Walker."
-Kafka on the Shore
Last week we took a look at Irish whiskey. Before that, straight rye. This week it's English and American whiskies distilled by the imagination of a Japanese novelist.

Before Haruki Murakami turned his hand to writing, he spent some time behind the bar as owner and manager of a Tokyo jazz club - and it shows. In among the talking cats, librarians, and war criminals that populate his mind-bending fiction, Murakami often works in a little whiskey.

Frequently combining dashes of noir, surrealism, and speculative fiction, his novels mix and shake up genres. These are two of our favorite premium blends:

Kafka on the Shore. Here whiskey-ad mascot Johnnie Walker actually becomes a living, breathing character, complete with signature top hat, form-fitting red coat with tails, black vest, and long, black boots. He sips a glass of the stuff while he explains his identity to a dumbfounded truck driver: "I'm not the real Johnnie Walker, mind you….I've just borrowed his appearance and name. A person's got to have an appearance and name, am I right?"

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. In one memorable scene, a large home library of imported whiskeys becomes the sad casualty of a brush with the criminal underworld. Our soft-boiled narrator looks on helplessly while hired thugs total his tidy kitchen:

"The hulk started with two bottles of Wild Turkey, moving next to one Cutty Sark and three I. W. Harpers, then demolished two Jack Daniel's, the Four Roses, the Haig, saving the half dozen bottles of Chivas Regal for last. The racket was intense, but the smell was worse."

When it's all over, the hapless man surveys the wreckage. He finds the broken-off bottom of a bottle of Chivas among the shards of glass, and manages to salvage a few last drops. Oh, the carnage!

Kicky but complex, Murakami's novels are compelling page-turners that always go down smooth.

(Photo: Nora Maynard for The Kitchn)

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