An eclectic, eccentiric and altogether brain-bending new collection of short stories from the cult Japanese author.
In 1978, Haruki Murakami was 29 and running a jazz bar in downtown Tokyo. One April day, the impulse to write a novel came to him suddenly while watching a baseball game. That first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, won a new writers' award and was published the following year. More followed, including A Wild Sheep Chase and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but it was Norwegian Wood, published in 1987, which turned Murakami from a writer into a phenomenon. His books became bestsellers, were translated into many languages, including English, and the door was thrown wide open to Murakami's unique and addictive fictional universe. Murakami writes with admirable discipline, producing ten pages a day, after which he runs ten kilometres (he began long-distance running in 1982 and has participated in numerous marathons and races), works on translations, and then reads, listens to records and cooks. His passions colour his non-fiction output, from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running to Absolutely On Music, and they also seep into his novels and short stories, providing quotidian moments in his otherwise freewheeling flights of imaginative inquiry. In works such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1Q84 and Men Without Women, his distinctive blend of the mysterious and the everyday, of melancholy and humour, continues to enchant readers, ensuring Murakami's place as one of the world's most acclaimed and well-loved writers.
One of my favorite Haruki Murakami stories is "The Elephant Vanishes"-part of an earlier collection published in 1991-in which the narrator watches as an elephant in a zoo grows smaller and smaller until finally the elephant disappears. No explanation is given, there is no resolution, the vanished elephant remains a mystery at the same time that the narrator's life is changed forever. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Murakami's new collection of 25 stories, many of which have appeared in the New Yorker and other publications, also describes these epiphanic instances. In the title story, a character who is half deaf, alludes to a John Ford movie, Fort Apache, in which John Wayne tells the newly arrived colonel that if he actually saw some Indians on his way to the fort that means there weren't any. Everything is a bit off-including of course the blind willow trees whose pollen carry flies that burrow inside a sleeping woman's ears-as in a dream, where explanations are always lacking but where interpretations are plentiful. In "Mirror," the narrator sees someone who appears to be both himself and not himself in a mirror and then finds out the mirror does not exist; the disaffected woman-a lot of Murakami's characters are handicapped or incapacitated in some physical way-in "The Shinagawa Monkey," loses her own name; in "Man-Eating Cats," the narrator's girlfriend disappears and as he searches for her finds that "with each step I took, I felt myself sinking deeper into a quicksand where my identity vanished." Murakami's stories are difficult to describe and one should, I think, resist attempts to overanalyze them. Their beauty lies in their ephemeral and incantatory qualities and in his uncanny ability to tap into a sort of collective unconscious. In addition, a part of Murakami's genius is that he uses images as plot points, going from image to image, like in the marvelous story "Airplane," where, while making love, the narrator imagines strings hanging from the ceiling and how each one might open up a different possibility-good and bad. It is clear that Murakami is well acquainted with the teachings of Buddhism, western philosophies, Jungian theory; he has a deep knowledge of music and, also, I have been told, is a dedicated, strong swimmer. In his stories, he roams freely and convincingly through all these elements (and no doubt many more) without differentiating to create a world where cats talk and elephants disappear. In the introduction to this collection, Murakami writes how, for him, writing a novel is a challenge and how writing short stories is a joy-these stories are a joy for his readers as well. Lily Tuck's most recent novel, The News from Paraguay, won the 2004 National Book Award. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Murakami (Kafka on the Shore) is currently the West's most popular Japanese author, and each story in his new collection bears his imprimatur, a matter-of-fact style combined with plausible but surreal premises to produce a dizzying adventure. People lose themselves in mirrors; talking monkeys steal people's names until a clever psychologist solves the problem; a mother loses her only son to a shark attack in Hawaii and then travels to the site of the accident for a vacation every year, where surfers there are able to see his ghost. In the "Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes," Murakami skewers the staid literary establishment, whose members he caricatures as fat, blind crows, unwilling to try anything new. Magical animals and the power of natural disasters sweep through his characters' lives, transforming what came before. Yet people seem to survive, either numbed or strengthened by their ordeals. The wonderful weirdness of his vision and his unique voice are difficult to describe. They must be experienced. Recommended for all but the smallest libraries.-Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.