Haruki Murakami: ‘You have to go through the darkness before you get to the light’

His surreal stories are read by millions but the Japanese novelist is bemused by his celebrity. The eternal Nobel favourite reveals why his books appeal in times of chaos

The day before we meet in Manhattan, a woman stopped Haruki Murakami in Central Park, where he had come for his late-morning run. “Excuse me,” she said, “but aren’t you a very famous Japanese novelist?” A faintly odd way of putting the question, but Murakami responded in his usual equable manner. “I said ‘No, really I’m just a writer. But still, it’s nice to meet you!’ And then we shook hands. When people stop me like that, I feel very strange, because I’m just an ordinary guy. I don’t really understand why people want to meet me.”

It would be a mistake to interpret this as false modesty, but equally wrong to see it as genuine discomfort with ...