on May 14, 2004
Over the course of the last year or so, Murakami has propelled himself into the upper echelon of my taste in literature. I really love his work. The absolute confidence with which he writes his absurd yet profoundly beautiful novels has caused me to truly love sitting down to read one of his books for the first time.
There was no difference with this book. I absolutely loved this collection of stories. Normally I just read through a book and let whatever thoughts I have process and fade away with time. With this book I absolutely had to write down my thoughts. The stories in this book are brilliant.
The anonymity of the characters and surrealness of their settings are so great that they really grasp the essence of the purpose of the stories. His themes and metaphors are really poignant through his lack of other purpose in the stories. So stripped down and raw in physical story and purpose, yet so laden with internal dillema and character development, these stories are unique in such a way that only Murakami could have written them. Thus I love them.
If you're an avid reader of world literature or just like a good, odd story, this is the author for you, and in my opinion this is the place to start with him. I would even recommend reading a story out of this at the book store. While I have declared Haruki Murakami as one of my favorite authors, others may find his work a bit intellectually oppresive and because of this I think it's important, especially for a jaded american audience to get a little taste of what you're getting before you buy this. But definately try it out. You don't even know what you are missing.
on July 21, 2003
An untouchable mystery of thought, madness, and equally unexplained sadness -- such is the gloomy psychological landscape in which Murakami typically sets his intriguing narratives. All those deliciously subcutaneous elements of prose are as evident in this collection of over a dozen stories as in any of his longer novels.
Geographically, many of them are based in Tokyo, but it might be any of the world's vast unforgiving cities where people get lost like tears in the rain and finding love is sometimes as hard as solving Rubik's cube in the dark. Reading Murakami is an unsettling, disorienting experience that can leave you feeling rather empty, but always somehow thoughtful.
Minor gripe: my favorite translator of Murakami's work is Jay Rubin and I am certain that under his watchful pen the stories would have more closely resembled the verve of their originals (in Japanese).
Nonetheless, if you have never read Murakami before, this marvellous collection is a great way to start in manageable dollops of his style. And if you are familiar with the author's dour tracts, this book should be an unmissable little something to relish on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
on December 14, 2002
This is a very solid collection of stories that 'fit' together very well. But for practical reasons, I'm just going to say a little bit about each rather then the book as a whole. The Wind Up Bird and Tuesday's Women- The reason I bought this book. It's obviously an early working of the first couple chapters of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. It's very interesting to read, to see murakami's plans for his epic start to bud. And like that novel, it is an excellent piece of writing. "The Second Bakery Attack"- Great story that furthur elaborates on Murakami's view of the Absurd, which, needless to say is, well, more ABSURD than the absurd of Camus. I read somewhere that Murakami is picking up where Camus left off. I think this is a great view. Murakami is Camus if he had lived in the Postmodern era. "The Kangaroo Communique"- Vintage Murakami weirdness, with a touch of creepy love. "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning"- My personal favorite story in the collection, if you can even call it that. It's a beautfifully written piece on melacholy lost love to the circumstances of the world that none of us can see or control. Reminiscent of Sputnik Sweetheat, Norwegian Wood, and South of the Border, West of the Sun. "Sleep"- The most disappointing story. Not because it's bad. On the contrary, it's one of the best in the book. But it is crying out to be a novel. Like the first story, it seems quite possible to able to carry it out for a few hundred pages. Unfortunetly it ends with a quick, unsatisfying ending. "The Fall of the Roman Empire...etc"- Interesting. I'll just leave it at that.... "Lederhosen"- Intriguing little story dealing with individualism to the very group minded Japanese. "Barn Burning"- The most mysterious story in the book, about a writer who meets someone who claims to burn barns. "The Little Green Monster"- My least favorite story in the collection. Not up to Murakami's normal greatness. Interesting, if not anything original, is all I can say about it. "Family Affair"- Another great, personal story by Murakami about the obligation to mature. "A Window"- Forgetable, but enjoyable when reading. "Tv People" Scathing story about the insidousness of Television. "A Slow Boat to China"- A very interesting story about Chinese in Japan. I think, though, that only people with some grounding in Japanese culture would appreciate it. "The Dancing Dwarf"- Most likely the most insane story in the history of mankind. "The Last Lawn of the Afternoon"- Another story about the difficulty of love and human connections. "The Silence"- A wonderful story wherein Murakami defends the Everyman and laments the over achiever. "The Elephant Vanishes"- Good, but not great. Also forgetable.
All in all, this collection shows the whole breadth of Murkami's writing abilites, and is not something to be missed by any of his fans.
on August 29, 2003
Collections of short stories are often hit-and-miss affairs, and Haruki Murakami's The Elephant Vanishes is no exception. It contains both very memorable and rather forgettable stories. All of them have the Haruki Murakami surreal touch; modern Tokyo on drugs (if you will). Unfortunately the lead character in all his stories seem oddly the same, probably a thinly disguised version of Murakami himself.
Bottom line: no, not as good as his brilliant The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. But certainly decent. Murakami fans will rejoice.
on May 28, 2002
I was going on a road trip and needed something to read ... other than Sputnik Sweetheart, I'd already read all of Murakami's work, so I thought I'd give The Elephant Vanishes a shot. Am I ever glad I did!
Murakami shows off his trademark humor, wit, and versatility while spinning tales about his favorite topic: humanity. That's the best explanation I can give to someone who wants to know what kind of writer Murakami is: he writes about what it means to be alive. Love, death, life, Murakami deals with the whole spectrum of human existance with amazing skill and grace.
Listing my favorite stories in this work without listing the entire table of contents would be a challenge, but I think it would be fair to say that my favorites were "The Silence," "The Wind-up Bird" (from a longer Murakami novel), "The 100% Perfect Girl," and "The Kangaroo Communique." If you haven't read Murakami before, this would be a great book to get your feet wet with. If you're a Murakami fan but haven't read this one yet, what are you waiting for? "The Elephant Vanishes" is Murakami at his best.
on March 6, 2002
I envision a wide-eyed Japanese kid, one wearing a Yu-Gi-Oh T-shirt, asking Haruki Murakami this question. I envision Haruki Murakami narrowing his eyes, and saying something like, 'Not really.'
A person who I consider a trusted mentor even though she probably doesn't remember my name is a woman named Sumie Jones. She's an old woman -- I won't guess her age, out of utter respect -- and she happened to teach a feminist literature class at Indiana University when I was a junior there. This woman once told a room of female comparative literature majors, 'I used to be a feminist, kind of. Then, I gave it up. It was just too much work.' One day, a student called her out. She called her a 'faker.' 'You're not a feminist,' the girl said. She was a sorority girl, sweater and all. 'Am I supposed to be?' Sumie Jones said.
Sumie Jones could turn every lecture around to the topic of sex. We were talking about Yuko Tsushima, and, somehow, Sumie Jones managed to mention, 'I was talking to my friend last week, in Korea [Sumie Jones gets around] -- she's a PORNOGRAPHIC NOVELIST . . .'
Sumie Jones read some of my unpolished short stories. She told me, in confidence, 'They're good, really good. However.'
'However what?' I asked her.
'You need to quit trying to understand people.'
She went on to explain that there are two kinds of writers: those who don't understand people and think they should, and those who understand people and don't bother to try. She was the first person to suggest Murakami's 'The Elephant Vanishes' to me.
Reading Murakami's 'The Elephant Vanishes,' I started to think: what would happen if, one day, I awoke, fully understanding people? I'd be frightened out of my mind. I'm sure Murakami agrees with me. Don't you, Mr. Murakami?
Close to a year after reading Murakami, I form my new philosophy of writing, one to counter the 'show, don't tell' plague:
Look, don't show.
I copyrighted that. Don't steal it.
I base this theory on my childhood questioning of my father's habit -- going to the mall, buying a cup of coffee, sitting at the food court, and 'watching people.' Now, I find myself repeating this habit, with Orange Julius in place of coffee. I don't get nearly as bored as you might think. I don't even have to bring a book anymore.
In 'The Kangaroo Communique,' Murakami LOOKS at a crazy man leaving a letter/tape for a woman who wrote the complaints section of a department store about her purchase of the wrong album. The narrator tells the woman that he found her commas 'interesting.'
In 'The Second Bakery Attack,' Murakami LOOKS at a man's wife, who helps him in a slightly wacky way after he tells her of his curse of intense hunger inflicted by a bakery owner years before.
Perhaps it's the Fitzgeraldian influence on Murakami that leads his characters (a la 'Nick' in THE GREAT GATSBY) to tell a story by LOOKing at another character. Or maybe it's something else. On the average, Murakami's narrators are complete people, shaped sometimes by the people around them.
(Stepping out of line for a second: 'You have an interesting way of talking.' People keep saying that to the narrator of NORWEGIAN WOOD. Really, would we find his way of talking interesting if everyone didn't keep saying so?)
With the exception of 'On meeting the 100% perfect girl . . .' 'The Dancing Dwarf,' and 'TV People,' Murakami's stories in this collection are surprisingly readable despite their narrative fragility. (The latter two tried to say too much too unspecifically about society, and fell kind of flat with me.)
'A Family Affair' resembles harder Banana Yoshimoto in a pleasnt, 'I-novel' kind of way. 'Barn Burning' looks, rather puzzledly, at a weird girl and the even weird part-time arsonist gets involved with. 'A Slow Boat to China,' a beautiful essay (and the title piece of a collection of Murakami's essays I've just finished reading in Japanese) looks, with the widest scope one man can provide, at China. The final line of the title piece, after reading all the stories in order in one sitting, made me cry for reasons I really don't understand.
'The elephant and keeper have vanished completely. They will never be coming back.'
Murakami really hits something in that story. The very fact that I can't pinpoint what it is -- well, that's what makes me read this collection again and again. I am proud to say I don't really gain any more 'understanding' of people with each reading. I'm sure Mr. Murakami wants it that way.
Here's to not understanding people.
on February 24, 2002
At the risk of sounding cliché, I have to say that Murakami never ceases to amaze me. The Elephant Vanishes is actually a book made up of 17 distinct stories, several of which have previously been published in publications as varied as “The New Yorker” and Playboy.” A reader would be hard-pressed to determine what the common thread is throughout the stories in this book other than Murakami’s own exploration of the mundane and dark corners of his soul. Many of the stories in The Elephant Vanishes are mere snapshots of the protagonists’ lives. Others are amazing realities created by Murakami’s amazing imagination. Whether commonplace or extraordinary, Murakami tells each story in a beautiful and convincing manner. While the characters in his stories never accomplish anything uncommon in their own worlds, readers are taken to places they’ve never even thought about going through Murakami’s remarkable story-telling abilities. I highly recommend this book.
on January 7, 2002
One of my favourite Japanese writers. There is no one else who can write about loneliness the way he does. Murakami's collection of stories is simply superb! I was struggling to find a good blip from this book, one that will give a proper sense of Murakami's style and material. It's a problem, because when I pick something out of context, it sounds plain and ordinary. If I pick something from his dream-like sequences it sounds kitschy. This would be messing with the impact of his stories, which aren't even close to being simple or over-cute... Profound is a better description fo Murakami's work, and mystic in an urban, understated kind of way. The Washington Post Book Review says (on the book cover) that Murakami "takes big risks." and one can see why they might say that. My strong impression is that fully half of his stories are drawn from his dreams, and you know how wonky dreams can get. His work often takes a sudden shift, or it stops, without full resolution. But it's okay, dangling bits can add to the richness of a good story. The story titles are quite illustrative:
-The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women -Sleep -The Fall of The Roman Empire, The 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler's Invasion of Poland, and The Realm of Raging Winds -The Little Green Monster -TV People -The Dancing Dwarf
Aside from these dream-like stories he's got more matter-of-fact ones (see more titles below). One of Marukami's strengths is that he can write a story almost as one tells one in conversation, starting with the bit that made you think of it in the first place, mentioning 'real life' asides and in the process including the reader in a subtle and complex experience.
on May 24, 2001
A fabulous, if a bit uneven collection of stories from one of the modern masters of fiction. The first story, "The Wind-Up Bird..." is the first chapter from his spectacular novel, "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles." All the characters in these stories are vaguely cynical, listless inhabitants of postmodern Tokyo - the city, as well as its people, are cosmopolitan and hyper-westernized, and many of the stories deal with discomforting lack of certainty and stability of the existence in such a world. People disappear, monsters plead for love, and real people act/talk as though they were characters in jaded fables. You might think Murakami's doing a version of magic realism, but he's more sly than that: no matter how fabulous events seem to be, the characters, the exacting details of the events, the dead-on metaphors/themes ground all the stories firmly to reality. The stories are a blast to read as well. When a hungry couple pulls a heist of a McDonald's and steal 20 big-macs, they politely pay for their two drinks and walk out. ("Bakery Attack") Trust me. You have to read it.
on March 19, 2001
The Elephant Vanishes is a grand collection of short stories from Haruki Murakami. They vary in length, from a few pages to 30+ pages, but they all bear the Murakamiesque stamps of eerieness, humor, and compassion.
In the title story, an elephant vanishes from a public enclosure, as does his keeper. It seems like a simple mistake; couldn't his keeper have just stolen him, and left town? Couldn't the elephant have run away, and the keeper is just searching for him? (these occur to the reader, but they're not offered by the narrator or a character...) But towards the end of the story, our narrator offers us a few bizarre details. Yes, the elephant vanished all right. And he knows it vanished. Murakami's description of this is amazing.
Other stories involve a late night robbery of a fast food restaurant (of food, not money), a man on the last day of his lawn-mowing job, and a woman who witnesses a small green monster emerge from the soil of her front yard.
One of my favorites involves a woman who has gone weeks without sleep. She reads Anna Karenina at night. During the days, she lives as she always did, and her husband and son are oblivious to her insomnia. A very strange fate befalls her.
If you've read some of Murakami's novels, but you haven't read THE ELEPANT VANISHES, you owe it to yourself to give this book a chance. The stories are just great. If you haven't yet read Haruki Murakami, this collection is actually a pretty good place to start.