Book Review: Men Without Women - Haruki Murakami

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Title: Men Without Women
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Vintage (27 September 2018)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Short Stories
Price: Rs. 350 on Amazon
Pages: 240

Murakami's writings had been on my wish list for a long time. While at the Goa airport, I was looking for a short read for my flight to Bangalore and I did not want to pick up any comics. I found this book and it said short stories. I normally am not a fan of short stories, but for a flight it seemed apt. I could probably finish a couple of the stories in the book plus I have always wanted to try out Murakami's books, hence, I picked this up. This book has seven short stories and each deal with men who have lost women in their lives, either to death or to other men. Each of the stories are unique in their own way and I'll try to give you a glimpse of them here.

~ Drive My Car: Kafuku, a veteran and widowed actor hires a young female driver, Misaki, to chauffeur him around Tokyo. Turns out his wife had had numerous affairs before her death and he tells Misaki a story about how he befriended his wife's last lover, in order to harm him. But, it turns out that they became good friends instead often discussing the woman they had in common. Not completely over her, Kafuku tries to find solace in her death without fully understanding why his wife chose to cheat on him.

~ Yesterday: Tanimura and Kitaru are close friends who work in a restaurant. Kitaru and his girlfriend Erika share an uneasy relationship and once Kitaru suggests that Tanimiura goes out on a date with Erika. Tanimura reluctantly agrees and ends up having long conversations with Erika. Soon, they all lose touch with each other. Sixteen years later, Tanimura and Erika meet each other by accident and discuss their common friend, Kitaru.

~ An Independent Organ: Dr. Tokai is a 52 year old cosmetic surgeon who has never been in love. He takes on many lovers and yet never feels anything serious for them. He loves his life and takes care of himself and the women he dates very well. Goto, his assistant plans his meetings for him. Both professional and personal. When Dr. Tokai stops visiting the gym and the squash courts he frequents, his friend, Tanimura seeks out. When he learns of his death two months later, Tanimura meets Goto to find out what happened to the doctor. Turns out, Dr. Tokai had finally fallen in love with a married woman. This is what lead to his slow and painful death.

~ Scheherazade: Habara is confined to his apartment. The only access he has to the outside word is through his female nurse who he calls Scheherazade. She cooks and cleans for him and regularly sleeps with him. She tells him stories about her childhood and how she was madly in love with a boy from her high school, so much that she used to break into his house to touch and feel his things. Sex with her seems to be more passionate for Habara every time she talks about this guy from her past. He waits for her everyday eager to know what happens in the story.

~ Kino: Kino, after finding out that his wife has been cheating on him, decides to open a jazz bar with the help of his retiring aunt. No one shows up at first but a cat, who he lets stay indefinitely. A few weeks later he gets a regular customer, Kamita, a man who comes in to drink and read. One day his wife drops in to apologize for her cheating. Kino is unable to understand the meaning of this apology.

~ Samsa In Love: Gregor Samsa, the character from Franz Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis' is the protagonist here, who finds himself naked in a two-story house, totally unaware of who and where he is. When the doorbell rings, he opens it to find a young, hunchbacked female locksmith who is here to fix a lock in the house. She talks to him about military occupied Prague, but as they talk, Samsa notices that he is unable to understand some of the common words she uses.

~ Men Without Women: An unnamed narrator receives a phone call in the middle of the night telling him that his former lover, M, has committed suicide, the caller being her husband. He is unbearably anguished upon learning of this news. He then reminisces of his time with M and notes that because of her death, he now considers himself the second-loneliest man in the world, after her husband.

I must be honest here, I was taken aback by the writing at first. Yes, it is a translation from Japanese, so it does feel a bit off, but the stories itself are not the conventional ones. There is no back story nor a starting base for any of the characters. While these are supposed to be stories revolving around love, there is nothing romantic about either of it. That sure is what the author intended, and it works well. The tone in each story is different and you do get to see love in staccato bursts. The stories are weirdly beautiful and strung together well. Some of them rely on the USP of Murakami's writing - magical realism, and this ingredient is not easy to palate. It takes time to get used to his writing and since this was my first book from him, I took my own time with it and I ended up liking it quite a lot.

I was able to finish three stories on the plane and read the rest when I got back home. It is a short read, with nothing to take back from it. That is exactly what the stories intend to do as well. Like the name suggests, the stories revolve around men who have lost women, either literally or metaphorically. None of the stories are similar to each other and that is exactly what works for this book. By the time you have wrapped your head around one story, the next one surprises you by throwing something new at you. As much as I loved the stories, I also feel that the thoughts and imagination behind them is not for everyone. Murakami is an acquired taste, something that I have come to love now.

I have read a lot more of his stories after I finished this one and I have come to understand this. His characters are not the people next door and they come with their large share of eccentricities. Most of his characters are almost alien like driven by puzzling circumstances and baffling thoughts. It is very hard to crack or understand them, and yet they remain the beauty of his stories.


Verdict: Not an easy read, but, give it time to see how beautiful it is. At least one of these stories will resonate with you.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

16 comments:

  1. I haven't read Murakami till now despite an equal number of people raving and hating his writing. Like you I generally do not like sorry stories. Thanks for the review.

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  2. I have read Kafka on the shore and despite the intense writing I liked it. Just that I need to be in a mental framework to be able to at it. Have been hearing positive reviews about this. keeping it In mind to read it someday.

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    1. Yes, you need to be mentally prepared for some not so normal writing with Murakami. I'm looking forward to read his fully fledged novels soon.

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  3. The stories are intriguing. I have read only one book by Murakami - Norwegian Wood. In it, I felt the writing was beautiful but all the characters were problematic. Not even one of them had their head wrapped around in the right way. The ending made me feel like vomiting out. I am not sure if I am the only one who felt like this about that book which is otherwise his most loved book. I haven't gone back to Murakami after it.

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    1. Wow, vomiting out? :P

      His characters are really weird I agree. I'll take my time with this one then.

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  4. Some of these sound rather bizarre, but that makes them all the more interesting! ☺

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    1. Oh you bet, Debbie! Look at us, curious cats! :P

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  5. I LOVE Murakami, despite the fact that I have only read one fiction book of his and one non-fiction book on writing and running. Am definitely going to pick up this one. Magical realism takes time for most people, but I remember loving metaphysical poetry in school and that brought back memories of such gorgeous writing.

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    1. You said it, Shy! Something so intriguing and fascinating about his writing that makes me want to go back again and again.

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  6. I haven't read Murakami yet. And don't know if i'll ever pick one up. But again, as you said there is something which pulls me to his books. Maybe one day I will read his work. And perhaps begin with this short stories. 🤷‍♀️

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    1. It's not conventional, I'd be honest. More like the Nabokov style :)

      This one would be a good start. Else, start with 'The Birthday Girl', that's more easy to palate.

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  7. I haven't read Murakami yet and it is big on my wish list. But the Japanese translated books that I have read before haven't impressed me much. Loved the stories you have shared. Hopefully I will enjoy his books.

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    1. I have a feeling you will understand this and like this. Do give it a shot!

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  8. I love Murakami. Norwegian Wood, Men without women and What I think of when I think of running (memoir) - I am a big fan. I have a lot more in Kindle that I need to read. :)
    Glad you like his style. Another thing we have in common :)

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    1. Yay! Let's talk about this more when we meet :)

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