Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami – Surreal and Beautifully Written Short Stories

I would be lying to say that I wasn’t stopped by this rather sexy book cover (which later found out that it is rather relevant to the leading story).  But there are plenty of sexy book covers out there to grab attention.  I liked the book title but was not familiar with the author’s name.  I am naturally attracted to foreign writers but shall I invest my time to read an unfamiliar author’s work and to broaden my exposure when my personal reading preference flavors depth than breadth?  I flipped the book open and started reading it, inside a library.

“To put it in the simplest possible terms, I find writing novels a challenge, writing short stories a joy.  If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden.  The two processes complement each other, creating a complete landscape that I treasure.  The green foliage of the trees casts a pleasant shade over the earth, and the wind rustles the leaves, which are sometimes dyed a brilliant gold.  Meanwhile, in the garden, buds appear on flowers, and colourful petals attract bees and butterflies, reminding us of the subtle transition from one season to the next.” – Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, vii.

I love to write and I couldn’t agree with him more.  I have attempted to write both novels and short stories and I often find myself torn between the two.  Why?  Haruki Murakami couldn’t have said it better.

I personally enjoy reading short stories; not used to in the beginning but I have grown accustomed to, and now fall in love with.  On that count, I simply cannot, for instance, get enough of Italo Calvino’s work – an Italian author who wrote lots of great short stories.

“Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” is a collection of short stories written in the period of 1981 to 2005.  And they are translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin.  I can’t really pinpoint a common theme across all these 25 stories (334 pages, hardcover).  All I can say is that Haruki Murakami has a keen sense of observation at the most minute detail.  You can actually see the story as you read it.  And Haruki Murakami’s stories are mostly surreal, at times metaphoric.  I sense that some stories are inspired by certain bizarre news that most people disregard.  Some stories are written using himself as the main character so I gather that these stories relate to people in his real life and are told with a certain dose of imagination.  Some supposedly fictional characters read almost like the author himself with a changed name.  Some fictional characters are, I believe, purely fictional.

In short, there are no ordinary stories when told by Haruki Murakami, even those with plots that do not resolve into any dramatic ending.

Out of these 25 stories, some leave a deeper impression than others.  The four and a half pages long short story “A Perfect Day for Kangaroos”, for instance, is one of my favorites.  The author wrote about a man bringing his girlfriend who wanted to see a baby kangaroo to visit a zoo.  “Man-Eating Cats” started with a piece of news reporting on an old woman who died in her apartment and the hungry cats locked inside had nothing to eat but to feed on the dead body .  The story itself is nothing gross to that extend but a good metaphor that links the main character with an, perhaps, imaginary lover?  The story “Firefly” is a beautiful love story of perpetual waiting while “Chance Traveller” is an emotional story between the two estranged siblings.  “The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day” is a carefully crafted story that is told within a story and the last chapter “A Shinagawa Monkey” exposes our very own psychological subconciousness and identity with the help of a … talking monkey that steals name tags.

The opening chapter “Blind Willows, Sleeping Woman” may as well be a representative piece of work from the book with the same title – a statement of what Haruki Murakami’s unique style is all about, at least for this book.

Certainly, I intend to follow the rabbit hole and dig deep into what Haruki Murakami has to offer.  To end this review, I found this rather interesting dialogue between the main character – an author – and a subject of his affection.

“Writers don’t have any talents to offer.  A pianist could play you a tune.  A painter could draw you a sketch.  A magician could perform a trick or two.  There’s not much a writer can do.” – Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, 293.

7 responses to “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami – Surreal and Beautifully Written Short Stories”

  1. I will use my mouth and hands to entertain you! No bluff!

    Come to Katong CC Open House, take a look at some of the programmes they organise. Meet me for Nonya kuehs. 🙂

  2. ECL – Ha ha ha … very misleading in your recent blog entry.

    Sure thing! I love Nonya kuehs. Or at least I think I do for I don’t think I have tried that before.

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