Title: The Elephant Vanishes
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Fiction, short stories, contemporary, magical realism
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Bokkilden.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: A woman has not slept for 17 days and soon finds herself passing the time in a state of semi-consciousness. A factory worker makes a pact with a dwarf in order to win the heart of a beautiful girl. A man’s favorite elephant vanishes into thin air and his whole life is subtly thrown out of balance. This is a collection of 17 short stories that deal with the experience of loss, confusion, and loneliness in a slightly surreal world.
“There are lots of things we never understand, no matter how many years we put on, no matter how much experience we accumulate.”
– “A Window” in The Elephant Vanishes, Haruki Murakami
I read my first Murakami short story-collection, “After the Quake”, back in March, and while it was a short and sweet collection I have to say that I enjoyed “The Elephant Vanishes” a lot more. With 17 short stories it offers a broader range compared to the six included in “After the Quake”, and it also involves a lot more magical realism, which is what I personally prefer when it comes to Murakami’s work. I have enjoyed some of his more realistic novels too, but his casual and straightforward way of incorporating magical realism into his writing just gets me every single time. It really is one of my favorite things.
In addition to the magical realism, the vast majority of these short stories have that unmistakable “Murakami feel” to them; listless and apathetic narrators, a feeling of rootlessness, confusion, and alienation, and the subtle presence of something out of the ordinary in the middle of someone’s ordinary life. My favorites of the bunch were “Sleep”, “TV People”, “The Dancing Dwarf”, “The Silence”, and “The Elephant Vanishes”, these were all 5-star reads for me. While very different from each other, they were such a perfect mix of surreal, emotional, and haunting. Murakami demonstrates that you don’t need a big plot twist at the end of a short story for it to make an impression on you. Sometimes it’s simply enough knowing that things are not the way they seem.
I didn’t really dislike any of the short stories, but the ones I cared less for were those I felt went on too long without much happening, like for example “Family Affair” and “The Last Lawn of the Afternoon”. Also, “The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women” is basically the original version of the first chapter of “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”, so this was just a reread that didn’t reveal anything new or different, at least it didn’t for me. The rest of the short stories were good and I enjoyed them but ultimately they weren’t memorable enough.
“The Elephant Vanishes” is translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin, and after a while I could notice a slight difference between their translations. Out of the two I have to say that I prefer Jay Rubin’s work. Even though I don’t know how the original Japanese reads, Rubin’s translation just comes off as much more simple and fitting than Birnbaum’s sometimes too weirdly structured sentences.
For me, Murakami is at his best when he writes novels. I like staying in his world for longer than ten pages, and even though I’ve read a lot of his work by now, it still sometimes takes me a while to get used to his narrators. Short stories tend to be over too soon for any adjustment on my part. However, Murakami does make the art of writing short stories into something new and unique and I love that. This isn’t a perfect collection and overall it didn’t blow me away, but there are some absolute gems in here that I wouldn’t hesitate to reread and recommend to everyone.