By turns haunting and hilarious, The Elephant Vanishes is further proof of Murakami's ability to cross the border between separate realities and to come back bearing treasure.
About the Author
Date of Birth:January 12, 1949
Place of Birth:Kyoto, Japan
Education:Waseda University, 1973
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The Elephant Vanishes
By Haruki Murakami
Random HouseHaruki Murakami
All right reserved.
from "The Wind-up Bird And Tuesday's Women"
I'm in the kitchen cooking spaghetti when the woman calls. Another moment until the spaghetti is done; there I am, whistling the prelude to Rossini's La Gazza Ladra along with the FM radio. Perfect spaghetti-cooking music.
I hear the telephone ring but tell myself, Ignore it. Let the spaghetti finish cooking. It's almost done, and besides, Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra are coming to a crescendo. Still, on second thought, I figure I might as well turn down the flame and head into the living room, cooking chopsticks in hand, to pick up the receiver. It might be a friend, it occurs to me, possibly with word of a new job.
"I want ten minutes of your time," comes a woman's voice out of the blue.
"Excuse me?" I blurt back in surprise. "How's that again?"
"I said, just ten minutes of your time, that's all I want," the woman repeats.
I have absolutely no recollection of ever hearing this woman's voice before. And I pride myself on a near-perfect ear for voices, so I'm sure there's no mistake. This is the voice of a woman I don't know. A soft, low, nondescript voice.
"Pardon me, but what number might you have been calling?" I put on my most polite language.
"What difference does that make? All I want is ten minutesof your time. Ten minutes to come to an understanding." She cinches the matter quick and neat.
"Come to an understanding?"
"Of our feelings," says the woman succinctly.
I crane my neck back through the door I've left open to peer into the kitchen. A plume of white steam rising cheerfully from the spaghetti pot, and Abbado is still conducting his Gazza.
"If you don't mind, I've got spaghetti on right now. It's almost done, and it'll be ruined if I talk with you for ten minutes. So I'm going to hang up, all right?"
"Spaghetti?" the woman sputters in disbelief. "It's only ten-thirty in the morning. What are you doing cooking spaghetti at ten-thirty in the morning? Kind of strange, don't you think?"
"Strange or not, what's it to you?" I say. "I hardly had any breakfast, so I was getting hungry right about now. And as long as I do the cooking, when and what I eat is my own business, is it not?"
"Well, whatever you say. Hang up, then," says the woman in a slow, sappy trickle of a voice. A peculiar voice. The slightest emotional shift and her tone switches to another frequency. "I'll call back later."
"Now, wait just one minute," I stammer. "If you're selling something, you can forget right now about calling back. I'm unemployed at present and can't afford to buy anything."
"I know that, so don't give it another thought," says the woman.
"You know that? You know what?"
"That you're unemployed, of course. That much I knew. So cook your spaghetti and let's get on with it, okay?"
"Hey, who the-" I launch forth, when suddenly the phone goes dead. Cut me off. Too abruptly to have set down the receiver; she must have pressed the button with her finger.
I'm left hanging. I stare blankly at the receiver in my hand and only then remember the spaghetti. I put down the receiver and return to the kitchen. Turn off the gas, empty the spaghetti into a colander, top it with tomato sauce I've heated in a saucepan, then eat. It's overcooked, thanks to that pointless telephone call. No matter of life-and-death, nor am I in any mood to fuss over the subtleties of cooking spaghetti-I'm too hungry. I simply listen to the radio playing send-off music for two hundred fifty grams of spaghetti as I eagerly dispatch every last strand to my stomach. I wash up plate and pans while boiling a kettle of water, then pour a cup for a tea bag. As I drink my tea, I think about that phone call.
So we could come to an understanding?
What on earth did that woman mean, calling me up like that? And who on earth was she?
The whole thing is a mystery. I can't recall any woman ever telephoning me before without identifying herself, nor do I have the slightest clue what she could have wanted to talk about.
What the hell, I tell myself, what do I care about understanding some strange woman's feelings, anyway? What possible good could come of it? What matters now is that I find a job. Then I can settle into a new life cycle.
Yet even as I return to the sofa to resume the Len Deighton novel I took out of the library, the mere glimpse out of the corner of my eye of the telephone sets my mind going. Just what were those feelings that would take ten minutes to come to an understanding about? I mean, really, ten minutes to come to an understanding of our feelings?
Come to think of it, the woman specified precisely ten minutes right from the start. Seems she was quite certain about that exact amount of time. As if nine minutes would have been too short, eleven minutes maybe too long. Just like for spaghetti al dente.
What with these thoughts running through my head, I lose track of the plot of the novel. So I decide to do a few quick exercises, perhaps iron a shirt or two. Whenever things get in a muddle, I always iron shirts. A habit of long standing with me.
I divide the shirt-ironing process into twelve steps total: from (1) Collar <Front>, to (12) <Left Sleeve>. Absolutely no deviation from that order. One by one, I could off the steps. The ironing doesn't go right if I don't.
So there I am, ironing my third shirt, enjoying the hiss of the steam iron and the distinctive smell of hot cotton, checking for wrinkles before hanging up each shirt in the wardrobe. I switch off the iron and put it away in the closet with the ironing board.
I'm getting thirsty by now and am heading to the kitchen for some water when once more the telephone rings. Here we go again, I think. And for a moment I wonder whether I shouldn't just ignore it and keep on going into the kitchen. But you never know, so I retrace my steps back to the living room and pick up the receiver. If it's that woman again, I'll say I'm in the middle of ironing and hang up.
The call, however, is from my wife. By the clock atop the TV, it's eleven-thirty.
"How're things?" she asks.
"Fine," I answer, relieved.
"What've you been up to?"
"Is anything wrong?" my wife asks. A slight tension invades her voice. She knows all about my ironing when I'm unsettled.
"Nothing at all. I just felt like ironing some shirts. No particular reason," I say, switching the receiver from right hand to left as I sit down on a chair. "So, is there something you wanted to tell me about?"
"Yes, it's about work. There's the possibility of a job."
"Uh-huh," I say.
"Can you write poetry?"
"Poetry?" I shoot back in surprise. What's this about poetry?
"A magazine company where someone I know works puts out this popular fiction monthly for young girls and they're looking for someone to select and brush up poetry submissions. Then they want one leadoff poem each month for the section. The work's easy and the pay's not bad. Of course it's only part-time, but if things go well they might string you on for editorial work and-"
"Easy?" I say. "Now hold on just one minute. I've been looking for a position with a law firm. Just where do you come up with this brushing up of poetry?"
"Well, didn't you say you used to do some writing in high school?"
"In a newspaper. The high-school newspaper. Such-and-such team won the soccer meet; the physics teacher fell down the stairs and had to go to the hospital. Dumb little articles like that I wrote. Not poetry. I can't write poetry."
"Not real poetry, just the kind of poems high-school girls might read. They don't even have to be that good. It's not like they're expecting you to write like Allen Ginsberg. Just whatever you can make do."
"I absolutely cannot write make-do poetry," I snap. The very idea.
"Hmph," pouts my wife. "This talk of legal work, though. Nothing seems to be materializing, does it?"
"Several prospects have come my way already. The final word'll be in sometime this week. If those fall through, maybe then I'll consider it."
"Oh? Have it your way, then. But say, what day is it today?"
"Tuesday," I tell her after a moment's thought.
"Okay, then, could you stop by the bank and pay the gas and phone bills?"
"Sure thing. I was going out to shop for dinner soon, anyway. I can take care of it at the same time."
"And what are we having for dinner?"
"Hmm, let's see," I say. "Haven't made up my mind yet. I thought I'd decide when I go shopping."
"You know," my wife starts in with a new tone of voice, "I've been thinking. Maybe you don't really need to be looking for work."
"And why not?" I spit out. Yet more surprises? Is every woman in the world out to shake me up over the phone? "Why don't I have to be looking for work? Another three months and my unemployment compensation is due to run out. No time for idle hands."
"My salary's gone up, and my side job is going well, not to mention we have plenty in savings. So if we don't go overboard on luxuries, we should be able to keep food on the table."
"And I'd do the housework?"
"Is that so bad?"
"I don't know," I say in all honesty. I really don't know. "I'll have to think it over."
"Do think it over," reiterates my wife. "Oh, and by the way, has the cat come back?"
"The cat?" I'm caught off guard, then I realize I'd completely forgotten about the cat all morning. "No, doesn't seem so."
"Could you scout around the neighborhood a bit? He's been gone four days now."
I give some spur-of-the-moment reply, switching the receiver back to my right hand.
"My guess is that the cat's probably in the yard of that vacant house at the end of the passage. The yard with the stone bird figurine. I've seen him there often enough. You know where I'm talking about?"
"No, I'm afraid I don't," I say. "And since when have you been snooping around in the passage on your own? Never once have you mentioned-"
"You'll have to forgive me, but I've got to hang up. Have to be getting back to work. Don't forget about the cat, now." And the telephone cuts off.
I sit there looking dumbly at the receiver a second before setting it down.
Now why would my wife know so much about the passage? I can't figure it out. She'd have to climb over a high cinder-block wall to get there from our yard, and what possible reason was there to go to all that trouble to begin with?
I go to the kitchen for that drink of water, turn on the FM radio, and trim my nails. They're doing a feature on Robert Plant's new album. I listen to two songs before my ears start to hurt and I switch the thing off. I go out to the porch to check the cat's food dish; the dried fish I put in the previous night hasn't been touched. Guess the cat really hasn't come back.
Standing there on the porch, I look at the bright spring sun slicing down into our tiny yard. Hardly the sort of yard that lingers fondly in the mind. The sun hits here only the briefest part of the day, so the soil is always dark and damp. Not much growing: just a couple of unremarkable hydrangeas. And I'm not terribly crazy about hydrangeas in the first place.
From a nearby stand of trees comes the periodic scree-ee-eech of a bird, sharp as a tightening spring. The "wind-up bird," we call it. My wife's name for it. I have no idea what it's really called. Nor even what it looks like. Nonetheless, this wind-up bird is there every morning in the trees of the neighborhood to wind things up. Us, our quiet little world, everything.
As I listen to the wind-up bird, I'm thinking, Why on earth is it up to me to go searching after that cat? And more to the point, even if I do chance to find it, what am I supposed to do then? Drag the cat home and lecture it? Plead with it-Listen, you've had everyone worried sick, so why don't you come home?
Great, I think. Just great. What's wrong with letting a cat go where it wants to go and do what it wants to do? Here I am, thirty years old, and what am I doing? Washing clothes, planning dinner menus, chasing after cats.
Not so long ago, I'm thinking, I was your regular sort of guy. Fired up with ambition. In high school, I read Clarence Darrow's autobiography and decided to become a lawyer. My grades weren't bad. And in my senior year I was voted by my classmates runner-up "Most Likely to Succeed." I even got accepted into the law department of a comparatively reputable university. So where had I screwed up?
I plant my elbows on the kitchen table, prop up my chin, and think: When the hell did the compass needle get out of whack and lead my life astray? It's more than I can figure. There's nothing I can really put my finger on. No setbacks from student politics, no disillusionment with university, never really had much girl trouble. As near as I can tell, I've had a perfectly normal existence. Yet one day, when it came time for me to be graduating, I suddenly realized I wasn't the same guy I used to be.
Probably, the seed of a schism had been there all along, however microscopic. But in time the gap widened, eventually taking me out of sight of who I was supposed to be. In terms of the solar system, if you will, I should by now have reached somewhere between Saturn and Uranus. A little bit farther and I ought to be seeing Pluto. And beyond that-let's see-was there anything after that?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Americans seem to be fascinated by the culture of Japan. We wonder endlessly about a group of islands that can produce things as diverse as Noh drama, zen gardens and Nintendo games. American writers, too, can't seem to get enough of Japan, e.g., Jay McInerney, John Burnham Schwartz and Michael Crichton. Haruki Murakami, one of the most original and brilliant authors writing today, gives us an entirely different look at life in Japan in his collection of short stories, The Elephant Vanishes. These stories show us Japan 'from the inside.' What might seem exotic to both Americans and Europeans, such as oyster hot pot or pillows filled with buckwheat husks, becomes, in these stories, the stuff of everyday life. In fact, Haruki Marakami's Japan could be 'anyplace,' and one has to read eleven pages into this collection before the first reference to Japan is ever made. In The Elephant Vanishes, Murakami's narrators are as much 'Everyman' as are the narrators of his novels. They are young, urban and charmingly downwardly mobile. And, they are more likely to eat a plate of spaghetti than soba noodles. They listen to Wagner and Herbie Hancock but eschew Japanese rock music. They read Len Deighton and War and Peace rather than Kobo Abe and The Tale of the Genji. They are Japanese, to be sure, but all their points of reference seem to be exclusively Western and signature Murakami. In the world of Haruki Murakami, bizarre events take place with striking regularity and, also with strikingly regularity, they are accepted as simply the stuff of everyday life. In The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women, the narrator's search for a missing cat leads him to a closed-off and neglected alleyway passing between the backyards of parallel houses. Here, he encounters a sunbathing teenage girl who mimics the alleyway in that she is both ordinary and alien. In A Window, a correspondence school writing teacher pays a visit to a pupil, a married woman in her early thirties. They spend their time eating hamburgers and listening to Burt Bacharach. Nothing much happens; in fact, the thing the narrator remembers most is the lovely weather and the colorful array of sheets and futons drying over the railings of the building's verandahs. Like many of Murakami's protagonists, what these two share is absent more than it is present. Many of these stories seem more than a little fabulistic. The Dancing Dwarf is a good example. This story takes place in an impressively efficient factory that manufactures, of all things, elephants. The protagonist just happens to be assigned to the ear section during his narration of the story, working in that part of the building with the yellow ceiling and the yellow posts. His helmet and pants also happen to be yellow. The month before, however, he had been assigned to the green building and he had worn a green helmet and green pants and had made heads. TV People is a bizarre story that involves human mutants reduced by twenty to thirty percent, something that made them look far away even when close up. When these mutants invade both the narrator's home and office and begin to deny his very existence, he begins to doubt it as well. And, in The Elephant Vanishes, the haunting title story, an elephant actually disappears, with its keeper, from an enclosure where it has been kept as a mascot for a Tokyo suburb. The solution to the mystery, like all of Murakami's mysteries is not clear cut but hinges on a matter of perspective and proportion instead. Parallel worlds abound in these stories; this is ordinary life, but ordinary life fraught with unexpected and unsettling views. In the stories that make up The Elephant Vanishes, Murakami is doing what he does so wonderfully: pointing out how much of life is hidden beneath the surface, how much is truly unknowable. In Sleep, a young woman suddenly finds she no longer needs it. Rather than question her sudden awakening, she focuses instead o
It¿s a collection of 17 short stories mostly describing the ordinary lives of people of twenty five to thirty something, into which in some cases permeate bits and pieces of what seems to be other dimensions of reality. Those interferences are all invasive and they radically change the characters¿ lives. Not bad, no Murakami is ever bad, but I don¿t think short stories are his real forte. Most of the stories seem to be more of the stepping stones into his novels anyway.
The stories collected here may not be individually compelling, at least not initially. Together they generate certain harmonics, overtones that reappear reflected or distorted as they move from one story to the next. Lassitude is, perhaps, the overarching emotional dynamic (if lassitude can be a dynamic). And most often the main character is struggling to reach escape velocity from the doldrums of the middle years (25 to 35) in which, it seems, these individuals are not yet fully formed (like an echo of adolescence).The title story stands out, with its casual magic realist plot device, but equally telling is ¿TV People¿ and ¿The Dancing Dwarf¿, which for some reason had me thinking of Peter Carey¿s Tristan Smith. On the other hand, ¿The Second Bakery Attack¿, ¿Lederhosen¿, and ¿Barn Burning¿ cross the cusp of a life-change without appeal to non-realist technique, and they do this just as effectively.Characteristic Murakami internationalist brand references abound and only one or two of the stories is tightly fixed to a Japanese locale. Sometimes it feels as though this is writing for the export market. Or maybe that veneer appeals locally. In any case, it does not detract from a set of stories that may continuing sounding long after the book is set aside.
reading Murakami short stories is a nice change up from his typical long drawn out adventures and he is able to really explore stories more than characters. however, this didn't leave the same lasting impression that many of his other books did.
As much as I enjoy Murakami, I find his short-story collections to be a bit difficult to read as the sameness of many of his protagonists becomes apparent when they exist in such close confines to each other. (Man in his 30s, possibly a writer, who enjoys classical and/or jazz and European cuisine -- though admittedly he'll sometimes change things up by making it a woman in her 30s, possibly a writer, who enjoys &c. &c..)Overall, I found this volume a bit better in that regards than Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, in that there was a larger variety of protagonists present. (Or, at least, a larger variety of settings, which may have made otherwise similar protagonists seem more dissimilar than otherwise.) However, I still have to say that I enjoy his novels more than I do his short stories.
This is possibly the only book of Murakami's that I did not get into with my heart. It simply had no appeal to me. Personally, I think that his forte is the novel, and not short stories. As I would get into a story, it would end, and I found this rather disconcerting. I read the book twice, with a 3 year gap in between, and my reaction the second time around was the same as the first.This is one book that is not for me
This was my first venture into the work of Haruki Murakami, and I found myself greeted with a lot of expected things - but also plenty of surprises. This set of stories was very unique, though they all shared a small connecting thread. Extremely interesting writer, I will be reading his other works shortly.
Murakami is a master of dark comedy and surreal stories. These are 15 short stories of dark humor. I think my favorite of them is 'The Kangaroo Communique' - where a store's product manager takes it upon himself to write a letter and then scrapes that idea to record a tape of his thoughts to a customer who had written a letter of complaint to the store because they didn't allow her to exchange an LP she had bought a week before. I loved this story because the product manager, with his rambling thoughts that just seemed to jump from one thing to another so reminded me of myself.All the stories are rather playful or thought provoking.
Audiobook, Short Stories................Murakami is one of my favorite authors. He has a marvelous ability to address subtle and grossly obvious aspects of being human. He writes so ably about the human psyche, sometimes to the level of creating discomfort in the reader. In this collection of short stories the reader meets a dancing dwarf, workers in an elephant factory, school children, married couples, lonely singles, dreamers, and a host of interesting characters. Murkami is masterful in his use of language and his ability to demonstrate the absurdities, the pains, and the joys of living.
The short story seems to be a lost or dying art, perhaps because there are not so many outlets for them any more. Or perhaps because I just don't know where to look. In any case I was happy to find a collection of Murakami's short stories. I like his novels, but sometimes I end up feeling wrung out and lost by the time I'm done with them. Some of the short stories are just as confusing, but they are quickly done. And he is such a good writer that the ones that click can be re-read many times. (The Fall of the Roman Empire... and Barn Burning respectively)Many of the stories fall into the contemporary/urban fantasy category his novels typically inhabit (TV People, The Little Green Monster), but some of them are timeless/placeless character studies full of the rich interior monologue that Murakami does so well (The Last Lawn of the Afternoon). There are also pieces that are taken from, or are stepping stones to his novels, such as the opening story The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women, which is pretty much the opening chapters of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Others, like The Dancing Dwarf feel like they were taken from fairy tales (maybe The Red Shoes and Cinderella, or something specifically Japanese) and given a Murakami twist (a factory that *makes elephants*?)Sometimes a name will come up repeatedly, like Noboru Watanabe, but applied to such different characters that they can't actually be the same person & Murakami is just playing with the name and who it might be. That or connections are far deeper and more subtle than I can fathom.All in all, a nice collection with more good than bad. And the beauty of short bad stories is that the end and a new beginning is not far off.
Murakami showcases the prenultimate short story. I actually enjoyed these more than his full length novels.
Interestingly, the same names appear ... so one is given a glimpse of his novel's characters outside of their novels.The first story is excerpted from Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. And if you haven't read this yet, well, I guess you will want to after having read this anthology!
All over the scale in terms of moods and themes, the quality often suffers.
Haruki Murakami¿s strength is the novel. It allows him the chance to truly dig into his strange subjects. Yet, saying his novels are better than his short stories is somewhat like saying that 10 million dollars is better than 9 million dollars. The difference isn¿t worth worrying about.In this collection of short stories, Murakami continues to use strange and slightly disturbing situations to explore what makes his antagonists tick. In doing so, we are lucky to join on the journey. There are few misses in this collection. And the hits are grand and memorable.I have said it before and I will say it again. I approach every new Murakami book with the fear that I will be disappointed. I am never disappointed, I am always enthralled, and I am always thrilled to have discovered Murakami in the first place. Each new reading is like having that first discovery all over again.
I'm not a massive fan of short stories but there are some real gems in here. Surreal, thought provoking & engaging.
Murakami's nether world. Or nether Japan. All these people are so alone, atomized, lurking in the fringe of the salaryman world. I think I would read these stories and Murakami very differently if I hadn't lived in Japan. On the one hand, he's constantly dropping mentions of US pop culture (music from the 1960's, 1970's) as well as classical music ...which I guess exists ... but it's the absence of the much huger pile of Japan pop culture--all the kitsch, the kiddyporn, the regular porn, candy-grade corporate produced Japanese pop music, the dumb women culture, and oh, the intense congestion--that makes this seem more like science fiction. There is even one story when a terrible clawed beast comes out of the earth the the female protagonist reflexively slays it. You'd never get a feel for what Tokyo or Japan looks like from these stories. Or what Japanese women look like or wear (and there are a lot of women in his stories, sometimes as narrators). His characters don't talk like the average college graduate women either. You'd never guess the extent of building and living and traffic congestion. How hard it is to do some of the things his characters do so effortlessly (like drive somewhere on the outskirts of Tokyo from the central part). I want to know who the Murakami fans are. Is this something they make public if they are salarymen or office ladies? Or maybe they're the people condemned, whether they like it or not, to always be part of the freeter workforce?
I'm glad I read this collection, but I only really loved a few of the stories in it. The collection overall just felt uneven to me, a sense furthered by the way it combines the work of two different translators. Of the two (Rubin and Birnbaum), I definitely preferred Rubin's translations -- or maybe just preferred the stories he chose to translate. The stories I did love though -- "Sleep" and the title story in particular -- have something really powerful about them, a quiet unhinging of the world that Murakami makes seem both plausible and fundamentally disquieting.
More hit than miss, but not many bullseyes either. Haruki Murakami's collection of short stories is a must for fans of the Japanese author (myself included), but probably not a good starting point for anyone wanting to learn why he seems to have attracted a legion of dedicated followers. The usual ingredients of Murakami's novels are all here, but in too brief a form to be anywhere near as captivating.
Not being that much of a short story reader, but being a hardcore Murakami fan, I wondered what would carry more weight: the short stories or Murakami.Turns out that even if Murakami writes them, short stories are not my thing. They seem to be the start of a great story but then suddenly end. Just like that! The first story in this collection is living proof: as a story it doesn't go anywhere, but later on Murakami used it as the start of The wind-up bird chronicles, which is - in my opinion - a great novel. Having said this, I did like some of the stories in this collection. Most of all "The silence" and "The dancing dwarf".
Reading Murakami is just plain fun. The characters in Murakami`s stories live ordinary lives which somehow become twisted and extraordinary. In the short story anthology The Elephant Vanishes, a man`s favorite elephant disappears into thin air and the balance of his whole life is upset. In Sleep, a woman is startled by a strange man in her sleep and suffers a subsequent case of wakefulness with moments of animated consciousness and unimaginable horror. Seemingly mundane conversations between characters can bring bittersweet nostalgia to the reader.