Thursday, 15 July 2010

"The Elephant Vanishes" by Haruki Murakami

Year of Publication: 1993
Page Number: 327 pages
Genre: Fiction, fantasy, surreal, short stories

Description: This book is a collection of seventeen short stories. In "The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women" an unemployed man finds his morning interrupted by bizarre telephone calls and a search for a missing cat. In "The Second Bakery Attack" a young couple's late night hunger pangs drive them to try and rob a McDonalds restaurant. In "The Kangaroo Communique" a department store sends a disturbing reply to a customer's letter of complaint. In "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" a chance encounter in the street stirs up painful memories. In "Sleep" a woman suffering from extreme insomnia enters a bizarre, twilight state of consciousness somewhere between sleeping and waking. In "The Fall of the Roman Empire, the 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler's Invasion of Poland, and the Realm of Raging Winds" a windstorm provokes strange reflections. In "Lederhosen" a woman describes how a visit to buy lederhosen for her husband during a holiday to Germany made her decide to file for divorce. In "Barn Burning" a man's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend confesses to him a strange hobby. In "The Little Green Monster" a woman discovers a small green monster in her garden who becomes infatuated with her. In "A Family Affair" a man has difficulty adjusting to his sister's new boyfriend. In "A Window" a man who has a job writing letters to people to improve their writing skills meets one of his correspondents. In "TV People" a man has a succession of encounters with strange humanoid creatures carrying TV sets. In "A Slow Boat to China" a man reflects on some past encounters. In "The Dancing Dwarf" a man who works in an elephant factory has a succession of dreams about a small dancing man. In "The Last Lawn of the Afternoon" a man reflects on his old part time job mowing lawns. In "The Silence" a man remembers a painful incident from his high school years. In "The Elephant Vanishes" a man finds his life thrown off balance when his favourite elephant goes missing.

Opinions: Haruki Murakami is one of the best known Japanese authors and this book will not disappoint his many fans. The stories in this collection, which were written between 1983 and 1990, range in style from cameos of everyday life to bizarrely surreal fantasy, however they are all linked by themes such as love, loss, longing, melancholy and memory. Murakami is one of the most interesting fantasy writers around. He has the same quality that Franz Kafka had of having the bizarreness invade the mundane world, at times so subtly that it's almost unnoticable, and crucially not explain it or apologise for it it's just there, like a floating radio in a living room. The stories are all perfect examples of Murakami's style written with intelligence and heart and with an indefinable cool, dreamlike quality. Also a lot of the stories are really funny. Incidentally, the first story in the book, "The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women" was adapted by Murakami to form the first thirty or so pages of his 1997 novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
If you have never encountered Murakami's work before this book is a perfect place to start.


  1. I agree this is a perfect place to start for Murakami. It's not the first thing I read by him, but it remains one of my favorite books.

  2. It is a really good book! I've read a few other things be Murakami and I think that the book gives a very good flavour of his style and themes.