Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

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Translated by: Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen

Genre: Short Stories

Date Published: May 9, 2017

Pages: 240

Source: Penguin Random House Review Copy

Goodreads Synopsis: A dazzling new collection of short stories–the first major new work of fiction from the beloved, internationally acclaimed, Haruki Murakami since his #1 best-selling Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.

Marked by the same wry humor that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic.

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My View:  Ah, well, here I find myself again. Around three years back, I read my first Murakami. You can read my hair-pulling review here. And it was then I decided to take a break from Murakami until I had wisened up or tracked down Murakami and sat him down to find some answers. I did try that last year when I was in Japan at a booklover’s paradise and reading Birthday Stories by him but I couldn’t track him down. Anyhow, I did find myself with another Murakami in the beginning of last year, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage which was comparatively easier for my dull mind to grasp. So when I saw this opportunity to read another Murakami a year and a half after my last read by him, I thought it was enough of  a break (not to mention the 1Q84 which is lying in the deep, dark corners of my bookshelf waiting to be discovered but I guess it will have to wait).

This book could not have come at a better time. With my mind unable to concentrate for long right now (ah! life), I guess short stories were just what I needed. And thanks be to Murakami, he did not mess with my mind too much this time. In fact, I have to give it to him for this masterpiece (and here is when I’m rethinking the rating but let’s go with that for now). After reading Murakami you know he can’t do without his cats and they make their presence felt. In fact, a reviewer who had the chance to ask him a question asked precisely this ‘What’s with the cats?’ and he answered  that when he was a child he had no brother and  no sister, but he had a cat, and he talked to his cat, and the cat talked back to him. They somehow entered all his stories, and he felt his writing was the better for it. Ah, atleast one question answered. Woohoo!

In fact, you may draw some associations between the stories with a character being repeated in another. I could only draw one such comparison but I was reading 5 books at a time so may have missed the others. A thing which I really appreciated is that even though the theme of ‘men without women’ pervades all the stories, the meaning is strikingly different in all which is no mean feat to accomplish. All the men in the stories are in completely different circumstances and the absence of a woman is presented in a unique manner in each, with varying consequences. But the theme of each is made clear without having to say it in those many terms.

I also like how the women are portrayed in these stories (although some may beg to differ). Murakami gives them wings to fly, he sets them free. They are just themselves without having to follow patriarchal rules and be set in a mould. They are strong and do not need men to complete them. On the other hand, as the title reveals, it’s the men here who miss the women in their lives despite their not being ideal or perfect which is actually a relief!

It’s difficult to come up with my favorite of all the stories but I guess it would be ‘Scheherazade’ which was the first one I read (yeah I love to randomly open up stories and start reading). It just spoke to me. If you have read the book, don’t judge me but something about her made me feel that I would like to be free like her. Without attachments, without concern yet not without feelings. It would be a good place to be in.

Murakami does magic when he writes down his characters. It is even more evident in his stories because you have known 2 characters in just 20 pages and yet you feel for them, you want to know more about them, and to know them personally. It’s not an easy thing to do certainly. People write whole books about characters you don’t give a damn about so making you feel for someone in a short story is just wow.

‘Samsa in love’ would give a good laugh to all those who have read and re-read ‘Metamorphosis‘ (yep, that would be me). Gregor Samsa has finally found his way back as a human but how. The stories have a touch of dry humor that would sometimes make you smile and at others, laugh out loud.

Murakami’s writing is lyrical and something to savor and relish with delight. I had to sadly read this book in a few days in order to write this review but I would advice you to read a story (and not read any other book concurrently) and let it mull over for a couple of days while your brain does its own thing and comes up with themes and secrets that Murakami always sprinkles around in his books.

So if you’re still deciding on whether or not to pick it up, let this make up your mind-

“It’s quite easy to become Men without Women. You love a woman deeply, and then she goes off somewhere. That’s all it takes. And there’s very little we can do about that. And that’s how you become Men without Women. Before you even know it. And once you’ve become Men without Women, loneliness seeps deep down inside your body, like a red-wine stain on a pastel carpet. No matter how many home ec books you study, getting rid of that stain isn’t easy. The stain might fade a bit over time, but it will still remain, as a stain, until the day you draw your final breath. And you are left to live the rest of your life with the gradual spread of that color, with that ambiguous outline. “

All right so you made your decision? Go off then, buy the book and get reading.

4/5 stars – I really liked it!
4 stars

Author Bio:

Haruki Murakami is the author of many novels as well as short stories and non-fiction. His books include Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, The Strange Library and Wind/Pinball. His work has been translated into more than 50 languages, and the most recent of his many international honours are the Jerusalem Prize and Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award.

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(Many thanks to Penguin Random House for sending this book my way. All opinions are my own and completely unbiased.)

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

818109Translated by: Philip Gabriel
Genre: Literature
Date Published: 10/06/2005
Pages: 615
Source: Local Library

Goodreads SynopsisKafka on the Shore, a tour de force of metaphysical reality, is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle—yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own

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My View:  This is a spoiler free review. My full review is here.

Before I could even dive into the book, I got confused that I had read a book by the author (which I had not. The book I was getting confused with was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and only realised my folly when I was writing this review and looked into it). I didn’t like that book very much so I was skeptical to pick this up even though I had heard many good things about this one.

Nevertheless, I did pick it up… and abandoned it after the first chapter. I just couldn’t get into it. So there it lay on my bedside table wanting my attention while I ignored it completely for two days. And then I kind of felt bad about it (or rather decided to give it a try since my friend had procured it from the library with great difficulty and I wasn’t sure if I could ever lay my hands on it again) and picked it up again.

It was the second chapter that had me captivated and wanting more. And then the pages flew by, well at least till a few more chapters.

A couple of incidents further grabbed my attention.  All the while I had this inkling that the words and incidents had a more deeper meaning attached and I should probably slow down and give my brain some time to think. But I was reading on a schedule here and hence flitted by.

I did have some hypotheses during this time.  I filed them away while I read further and those hypotheses kept changing depending on where the book led me.

It was towards the latter part of the book that things turned almost insane.  And I was almost pulling my hair out in frustration. I read on just be done with the book. Once I was done, I had the feeling of wanting to hunt down Murakami, sit him down and ask him ‘Did you go insane by the time you neared the end of the book?’ because it did seem that way to me. Phew!

I decided not to touch another book immediately after as my head screamed to (because it wanted to let go of all the weirdness this book brought about in me) and let it filter through. There was no way in hell I was going in for another reading as some of my fellow readers have done in order to get things straight. No, thank you. But somehow I kept myself from delving back into the book. It was almost like I was trying hard not to think about it. Wonder what it says about me, psychoanalytically.

There are too many questions left unanswered. Not that I mind them. But I mind the fact that this book had too much going on for its own good. Probably it needs to be read more slowly, writing down notes by the side and then contemplating on it. There are themes to be explored in here. But again, there are too many things there will be no explanation to and one wonders then, why, oh why?  So many questions.. Argggh.

Okay. I am not promising anything. But maybe, just maybe, I might pick up this one again a few years down the line and sit myself down with a notebook, read and make notes and solve the mystery. Or else, I will hunt down Murakami and threaten him until he solves all those mysteries for me. To be frank, I like the second idea much better. What do you think?

2.5/5 stars – Somewhere between ‘it was ok’ and ‘I liked it’.

2.5 stars

 

Author Bio:

Haruki Murakami (Japanese: 村上 春樹) is a popular contemporary Japanese writer and translator. His work has been described as ‘easily accessible, yet profoundly complex’.

Since childhood, Murakami has been heavily influenced by Western culture, particularly Western music and literature. He grew up reading a range of works by American writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, and he is often distinguished from other Japanese writers by his Western influences.

Murakami studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yoko. His first job was at a record store, which is where one of his main characters, Toru Watanabe in Norwegian Wood, works. Shortly before finishing his studies, Murakami opened the coffeehouse ‘Peter Cat’ which was a jazz bar in the evening in Kokubunji, Tokyo with his wife.

Many of his novels have themes and titles that invoke classical music, such as the three books making up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: The Thieving Magpie (after Rossini’s opera), Bird as Prophet (after a piano piece by Robert Schumann usually known in English as The Prophet Bird), and The Bird-Catcher (a character in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute). Some of his novels take their titles from songs: Dance, Dance, Dance (after The Dells’ song, although it is widely thought it was titled after the Beach Boystune), Norwegian Wood (after The Beatles’ song) and South of the Border, West of the Sun (the first part being the title of a song by Nat King Cole).

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