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4.3 out of 5 stars
The Elephant Vanishes: Stories
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on January 21, 2001
Haruki Murakami's "The Elephant Vanishes" does not reveal its coherence until the title story finishes the 327th page. This is a discussion about the shifting perspectives of man and woman in traditional society. Once the man loomed larger than women, but, like the elephant and his trainer, this notion has vanished from view. Murakami pauses to acknowledge and ponder.
Many of the male characters in this collections of 17 short stories are stay-at-home husbands married to career-oriented wives. Whether house-sitting, working around the house, or tempted by younger women, these men deal with their sexual urges and emotions without help from traditional norms. Other characters explore their awakening sexual urges, sometimes destructively, other times formatively. The female characters are strong, confident, and often unsupportive and seductively teasing.
This collection is also a more than a less book. The narrative voice is verbose and unchecked. This is a selfish narration, typically masculine, oblivious of utility or artfulness. But it is also honest. The stories are full of tidbits of erudition, excessive detail, and, sometimes, usefulness. It is more tape recorded psychology project than vision.
However, culturally, the collection is sterile. it is not informative about Japanese norms and developments. Murakami's characters are typically middle-class, urban, cosmopolitan, and ordinary. This is not a sourcebook, to learn about Japanese attitudes, but a document chronicling the leveling effects of globalization. In many ways, it is as disturbing in its sterility as it is in its conclusions.
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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.
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on July 9, 2000
This is perhaps the best collection of 20th/21st century urban short stories I have ever read. Murakami's ability to create compelling characters in just a few paragraphs, and place them in absurd situations, is unrivaled.
Murakami is right on par with Raymond Carver, maybe even more challenging and interesting -- since Murakami's story premise is more often absurd and surreal, unlike Carver's "around the house and in the yard" focus. But the clipped sentences, the meetings of strangers, and the very self-aware male narrators, are quite similar.
"The Kangaroo Communique," which appears in this collection, is one of my all-time favorite pieces of short fiction -- and it actually reminds me more of Borges than of Carver. It is about kangaroos, and customer service at a department store, and stalkers, and the nature of self-representation.... well, just read it.
Thematic similarities between Murakami and Carver: lapses in communication, people just missing each other, chance encounters between urban strangers, etc. One major difference between the two writers is that Murakami is always in awe at the (sometimes incomprehensible, sometimes cruel) beauty of the world, while Carver tends to border on the morose.
Personally, I much prefer Murakami's stories to the one novel of Murakami's ("Hardboiled Wonderland") that I read -- his succinct, slightly neurotic, slightly dreamy first-person style is (in my opinion) best suited to the short story form.
Overall, these are exquisite short stories, perfect for the age of chance meetings, lonely drifting souls, and cyber-disconnectedness.... If you like these stories, you may also like Murakami's very imaginative and inventive novels. (I prefer his short stories, but that's just me.) For fans of clever, self-referential, semi-surreal short stories similar to Murakami's, I'd highly recommend the short story anthology "Ficciones" by Jorge Luis Borges.
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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.
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on September 12, 2001
This was my fourth Haruki Murakami book I have read, and of the four it was my least favorite. The only reason I believe this book to be my least favorite is because I enjoy nove length tales more than short stories. The storis in this book range from heart warming to extraordinarily odd. My favorite stories from the book were "The Bakery Attack" which dealt with a young couple holding up a McDonald's, "Sleep" which dealt with a woman who could not fall asleep for a very long period of time and how she spent those extra hours given to her life, and "Family Affair" which is the story that seems most down to earth of the collection and makes one think of Norwegian Wood.
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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.
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on May 19, 2000
The first story in Murakami's brilliant short story collection is one of the best in this incredible display of ingenuity. These stories with their Western/Japanese cultural mix still manage to cut to the core of our deepest emotions and experiences. Murakami is definitely different, but it's worth reading his whole oevre starting with these stories because many of his larger symbolic and thematic ideas stem from here. By the time you graduate to the Wind up Bird Chronicle, you'll feel like you have a better grip on how Murakami thinks and explores complex relationships.
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