Like an unsolvable case, there's almost always something missing, incomplete, ephemeral about his work that compels us, like many of his characters, to know more. His newest collection, Men Without Women , continues this trend, though its title is a bit of a tease.
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It can be read as variations on a theme. And the stories are indeed all, in one way or another, about disappearing women. In the moody opener, "Drive My Car," the main character Kafuku hires a taciturn female driver, despite protesting that women drivers make him nervous. But much like a therapist, her silence teases out his secrets, the still-fresh pain of his wife's affairs and her precipitous death. In the fractured fairy tale "Kino," a man buys a mysterious house from a never-seen aunt, who may or may not have assigned a spirit to watch over him.
The deceptively simple title story, "Men Without Women" begins with a phone call: A woman has committed suicide. But as fun as this thematic riffing is, the book resists such easy classification. The stories of Men Without Women describe characters in ontological crises whose sense of identity or meaning come from relationships with women, or from the absence of those women. In "Drive My Car," Kafuku befriends, or pretends to befriend, a man he believes was sleeping with his wife just before she died. Kafuku is a successful actor, and he puts on a convincing show of getting to know his rival, hoping to find a weakness he can exploit.
Instead, he can't stop thinking of the man's hands on his wife's naked body and, like a good method actor, the performance brings his own pain and confusion to the surface: "Here's what hurts the most. I didn't truly understand her—or at least some crucial part of her. And it may well end that way now that she's dead and gone. Like a small, locked safe lying at the bottom of the ocean.
Kafuku, for example, is a performer; what passes as candor from him might easily be canned. In "An Independent Organ," the narrator is a writer who admits to futzing with the truth, and the bizarre death of the doctor he narrates is also the story of an "artificial man. Tokai is a successful plastic surgeon and womanizer who falls in love for the first time, only to discover that, as he puts it, women have an "independent organ" that allows them to lie.
This characterization grates, as do the repeated mentions to the "girls" hiding inside grown women. But the thinness of the female characters also implicates the "artificial" men who narrate their lives. This push and pull, an invitation of intimacy that at the same time suggests such intimacy is impossible, creates an electric tension in these stories that is also evident on the sentence-level. The mundane gives way suddenly, like an ice floe cracking under our feet, only to reconstitute itself a moment later and swallow up that brief glimpse of what lies below.
Take this example from "Kino":. The woman took his hand and guided it to the scars, making him touch each one in turn.
If she is truly desperate she could probably manage to climb down one of these. As Aomame considers this, the driver suddenly issues a very Murakami warning. She does, and it does. The world Aomame descends into has a subtly different history, and there are also — less subtly — two moons. He has read the book four times. It is a book full of anger and violence and disaster and weird sex and strange new realities, a book that seems to want to hold all of Japan inside of it — a book that, even despite its occasional awkwardness or maybe even because of that awkwardness , makes you marvel, reading it, at all the strange folds a single human brain can hold.
I told Murakami that I was surprised to discover, after so many surprising books, that he managed to surprise me again. As usual, he took no credit, claiming to be just a boring old vessel for his imagination. I was a prisoner of the story. I had no choice. They came, and I described it. That is my work. I asked Murakami, whose work is so often dreamlike, if he himself has vivid dreams. The only dream he remembers from the last couple of years, he said, is a recurring nightmare that sounds a lot like a Haruki Murakami story.
He wakes up just before he takes a bite. On our second day together, Murakami and I climbed into the backseat of his car and took a ride to his seaside home. As we drove, Murakami pointed out the emergency pullouts he had in mind when he wrote that opening scene. He was stuck here in traffic, he said, just like Aomame, when the idea struck him. Then he undertook an existentially complicated task: he tried to pinpoint, very precisely, on the actual highway, the spot where the fictional Aomame would have climbed down into a new world.
I spent as much time in that world as possible. The closest I got to my own epiphany was when I shot an edamame bean straight down my throat and almost choked. In doing all of this I was joining a long line of Murakami pilgrims.
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People have published cookbooks based on the meals described in his novels and assembled endless online playlists of the music his characters listen to. View all New York Times newsletters. Sometimes the tourism even crosses metaphysical boundaries. He sent them a signed copy of the book. He is always shuttling us back and forth between worlds. This, he says, is how he found his voice. The signature pleasure of a Murakami plot is watching a very ordinary situation riding an elevator, boiling spaghetti, ironing a shirt turn suddenly extraordinary a mysterious phone call, a trip down a magical well, a conversation with a Sheep Man — watching a character, in other words, being dropped from a position of existential fluency into something completely foreign and then being forced to mediate, awkwardly, between those two realities.follow url
Men Without Women, Haruki Murakami: Book Review
A Murakami character is always, in a sense, translating between radically different worlds: mundane and bizarre, natural and supernatural, country and city, male and female, overground and underground. His entire oeuvre, in other words, is the act of translation dramatized.
We passed numerous corporate headquarters, as well as a love hotel shaped like a giant boat. Presiding over the end of the room, under a high bank of windows that looked out onto the mountains, were two huge stereo speakers. Very strange.
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And that weirdness fits very well in this book. I cannot imagine what other kind of music is fitting so well in this story. But after I published this book, the music became popular in this country.
Seiji Ozawa thanked me. His record has sold well.
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His hair looked like a cresting wave frozen into shape. Murakami said he bought the record in Kobe when he was This was a replacement copy; he wore the original out decades ago. Murakami lifted the needle as soon as it was over. In Japanese, the number 9 is pronounced like the English letter Q. Not that this is necessarily bad; at one point I asked him why he liked baseball.
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I asked him if he felt any kinship with Orwell. I want to write good stories. And yet Murakami has, uncharacteristically, stated his political messages very loudly over the last couple of years. In , he made a controversial visit to Israel to accept the prestigious Jerusalem Prize and used the occasion to speak out about Israel and Palestine.
He called Fukushima Daiichi the second nuclear disaster in the history of Japan, but the first that was entirely self-inflicted. When I asked him about his Barcelona speech , he modified his percentages slightly. So I think I should do it. After , we have been working so hard and getting rich.
We have to change our values. We have to think about how we can get happy. I think this is a time when we have to be idealistic again. You have been a professional writer for 40 years. I had a turning point every 10 years.
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