The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murukami

Hello Everyone and Welcome Back to The Boss Book Club!

Today we return to one of my favourite authors, Japanese writer Haruki Murukami. We will be looking at his collection of short stories, originally released in 1993, titled The Elephant Vanishes.

The Elephant Vanishes is a medium sized volume of 17 short stories, each one unique and bizarre, where realism meets with elements of fantasy, science fiction and dream-like qualities. Each story will take you to an alternate version of reality where things are very much as you expect, but always with a twist of the unnatural.

Amongst the stories included are Barn Burning, where a man at a party makes an odd confession to his passion for starting barn fires; The Last Lawn of the Afternoon, where a casual gardener mows his last lawn before retirement from the business; and TV people, where a young man, relaxing on his couch, is confronted with little people walking out of his television. My personal favourite was Sleep, a tale where a married woman discovers one day that she no longer needs to sleep, and is given the freedom to live a second life at night. This is something I’ve often thought about (“Imagine what I could do with all that time!”) so I was intrigued by the concept, and the ending to this one had a big impact.

If you are yet to read Murukami, and he is on your list, then I recommend starting with one of his novels and leaving The Elephant Vanishes for afterwards. Whilst I enjoyed the short stories immensely, I think Murukami is much stronger as a novelist, as his stories require space and go along at a meandering pace that is much better suited to a longer style.

If you are a fan of Murukami, then of course this is worth a read. You will recognize subtle references and characters that link with some of his novels. You will, however, probably be left with wanting more, as the stories tend to fly by!

For those who love short stories, I also recommend picking up this volume. You will easily read the whole thing in the space of a day or two, and his short stories have gained international recognition, one of which was printed in The New Yorker.

Have you read The Elephant Vanishes? Which story did you enjoy? Please leave a comment below!

 

Happy Reading and thank you for joining us at TBBC!

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The Life of a Stupid Man

Are you poor? Love to read the best classical literature but you’re a little bit stingy?

Well I have the perfect solution for you! The good people at publishing house Penguin are printing 80 “Little Black Classics” books to celebrate their 80th anniversary. There are many wonderful things about these little black classics: they fit in the pocket of your coat, don’t take up much space in your bookshelf, and they are packed with great short stories by some of literature’s biggest names… for just $2 each! That’s less than most chocolate bars nowadays (heck, you could get both for less than $5 and have a swell afternoon!)

The little black classic I’m reviewing today is a beautiful piece of work by the Japanese author Ryunosuke Akatagawa and is called “The Life of a Stupid Man.” The books themselves are incredibly thin but you would be surprised at the amount of content they fit. This book features a short story, and two autobiographical pieces by Akatagawa. The short story, titled In a Bamboo Grove is set in a courthouse: a man has been murdered and the mystery behind who is his killer is unraveled as a variety of characters take the stand.  The storytelling is concise and masterful, and the story itself is intriguing.

It is in the next two sections where I believe the book has it’s greatest strength. Death Register and The Life of a Stupid Man are both autobiographical pieces. Death Register is Akatagawa reflecting upon his family life in the context of how all his closest relatives passed away. Sound morbid? It is. Akatagawa is regarded as one of Japan’s greatest short story authors and poets, however it is evident throughout his writing that he suffered from depression terribly.

The Life of a Stupid Man consists of 51 short reflections on various memories in his life. I’ve never seen an autobiography written this way and I thought it was outstanding. Instead of writing long, extensive accounts of every important aspect of his life, Akatagawa expertly condenses all the emotion, all the fine details of his most important memories into just a few lines. You instantly are transported to that time and place, if only for a moment, and see the world the way that he saw it then- then you move on to the next memory. Across the 51 snapshots there are some repetitions, callbacks and themes, so the piece as a whole flows beautifully, almost like a poem. When I reached the end I was overwhelmed by the wisdom Akatagawa seemed to possess, and was very surprised to find that he died by suicide at the age of just 35, which of course meant he wrote the autobiography of his short life also in his 30s. His exploration of  life and the nature of sadness ultimately lead to his death, but also influences his incredible work.

This book serves as a beautiful introduction to the work of Akatagawa that will make you want to read his other works, and is stunning and reflective in it’s own right.

 

Not bad at all for $2!

 

Thank you for reading, and welcome to The Boss Book Club!

 

Have you read other works by Akatagawa? Can you recommend any of the other Penguin Little Black Classics? Let me know in the comments below.