Saturday, August 4, 2012

Haruki Murakami: The Elephant Vanishes

This collection of 15 stories from a popular Japanese writer, perhaps best known in this country for A Wild Sheep Chase, gives a nice idea of his breadth of style. The work maintains the matter-of-fact tone reminiscent of American detective fiction, balancing itself somewhere between the spare realism of Raymond Carver and the surrealism of Kobo Abe. These are not the sort of stories that one thinks of as Japanese; the intentionally Westernized style and well-placed reference to pop culture gives them a contemporary and universal feel. Engaging, thought-provoking, humorous, and slyly profound, these skillful stories will easily appeal to American readers but must present something of a challenge to the Japanese cultural establishment. At their best, however, they serve to dispel cultural stereotypes and reveal a common humanity.

 The stories were written between 1983 and 1990, and the collection's first English publication was in 1993. Stylistically and thematically, the collection aligns with Murakami's previous work. The stories mesh normality with surrealism, and focus on painful issues involving loss, destruction, confusion and loneliness. The title for the book is derived from the final story in the collection.

"When the elephant disappeared from our town’s elephant house, I read about it in the newspaper. My alarm clock woke me that day, as always, at six-thirteen. I went to the kitchen, made coffee and toast, turned on the radio, spread the paper out on the kitchen table, and proceeded to munch and read. I’m one of those people who read the paper from beginning to end, in order, so it took me a while to get to the article about the vanishing elephant. The front page was filled with stories on S.D.I. and the trade friction with America, after which I plowed through the national news, international politics,economics, letters to the editor, book reviews, real-estate ads, sports reports, and finally the regional news. (...)"

book review by The Caffeinated Symposium

Newsnight Review discussed the stage adaptation of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami 's The Elephant Vanishes.

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