BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Elephant Vanishes: Stories by Haruki Murakami, translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin

Elephant VanishesNo one has such an unpredictable, quirky, downright wacky imagination as Haruki Murakami. And even though your brain knows he’s created an impossible universe, everything on the page seems so convincing, you’ll go along for the ride – any ride with Murakami at the helm.

Even almost 20 years since its initial publication in English translation, Elephant surprises, teases, shocks, and, of course, entertains as if it’s brand new (re-reading Murakami is always highly recommended).

Of the collection’s 17 stories, my personal favorite has to be “The Second Bakery Attack,” which also happens to be the second story (of course). Suffering “unbearable hunger” in the middle of night, a man tells his wife of a youthful “bakery attack” he planned with his friends to stave off their incredible hunger back then; the bungled event turned into an impromptu concert, but the friends did get fed. Inspired, the wife decides the time is right for attack #2, but when they can’t find another bakery in the wee hours, they settle for a sleepy McDonald’s instead.

Among these diverse stories, some seem linked, tracking fragments from the life of a certain male “I” and his experiences – both mundanely domestic and fabulously surreal. One engaging recurrence of note is the name “Noboru Watanabe,” which appears in the first story, “The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women,” as the name of a missing cat, then again in “Family Affair” as the disdained computer engineer fiancé-to-be of the man’s younger sister (who reminds the man of a hated former schoolmate who “had a memory like an elephant”), and – wait for it! – yet again in the title (and final) story as a 63-year-old elephant keeper who vanishes with his pachydermous charge …

A lovelorn little green man, a manipulative dancing dwarf, “reduced” TV People that no one else can see … in Murakami’s uninhibited, volatile, capricious world, anything can happen. And does. Check your rationality. And just come along for the wild ride …

Tidbit: The title story, “The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women,” reappears a few years later as the first chapter of Murakami’s abridged-in-translation-just-for-word-count (!) novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; the cat’s name morphs into Noboru Wataya and, yes, it’s still named after a character of the human variety …

Readers: Adult

Published: 1993 (United States)



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