Men without Women

by Haruki Murakami, translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen

Read time: about 7 minutes

Men without Women, as it turns out to be, is my first ever Murakami. I bought a kindle copy of this book in spite of possessing two physical books by the author already. It must have been the steep discount that I did not check the reviews before I bought myself a digital copy of the book. It was tempting as well, I must state. A short story collection that could have supposedly kick started by long awaited fan-crazed love for the Japanese author. But none of it actually happened. I wished I had picked another book. Maybe one of the two already lying on my shelf, since this come turned out to be not so good (I have resisted saying ‘disappointment’ here), would have been better.

Cover: Men without Women

Cover page

This is where I should have said ‘I loved it! Or I didn’t like it at all’. But all that comes to my mind is ‘I don’t understand it’. I could try though. At a glance it looks like a rain in the night. Or a starry night with a moon chewed at the circumference. It depicts the loneliness in the night.

That was my deduction of the abstract art that goes around here. But I cannot say for sure what the cover actually means. It does stand out on my kindle though. I seldom get to say this when it comes to Kindle copies.

Characters

There are a total of seven stories in the book. Each story has distinct characters. Take for example Kafuku in ‘Drive My Car’. He is a theatre artist who needs a driver to drive him around the city after his little episode involving alcohol and an accident. In subsequent story called ‘Yesterday’ you will meet Kitaru who wastes away his life to perfect a local language that no one speaks in Tokyo. Just for the kick. Dr Torkai from ‘An Independent Organ’ is my favourite, though. He is a doctor who has been emotionally unattached to any woman he has met before. Before the lady who led to his subsequent suicide that is. If Kitaru wastes away his life but intends to watch it go by Dr Torkai is going to be the centre of the suffering. There are plenty of more characters in the stories. All men. All have one thing in common- they are living by without the women they love in their lives. There is a vacuum that they all feel.

Content

As I am writing this review I am getting to know factually how much I liked the book. To explain it in short, I loved what goes on in the story but not how it ends. The feeling when it is happening is great but the aftermath is not. For instance when in Drive my car you are rooting for the good guy to break the face of man who fornicated with his wife, he turns around and let’s him go. The story does not turn out the way you want. It enrages you but also gives you a perspective.

In The Independent organ, Dr Torkai is the man who could have multiple women at one time keeping all his affairs well managed, he had to fall for a married woman who could never be his. Instead of brushing himself up he decides to let the his body shrink to nothing. Like he was in a concentration camp. It could be my love for dark endings that I fell in love with this story almost immediately, but there is a lot of symbolism in the story. Coupled with great narration this became my absolute favourite.

Scheherazade is about another man who has no one in his family to take care of him. He is enclosed in a room relying upon a middle aged married nurse. It wasn’t so bad. She helped him with food, bed and lots of sex. Sex wasn’t all that great though. It was mechanical. What was great was what came after it. Like the Queen Scheherazade in A Thousand and One Nights, this nurse would also tell him a story before she left. The story would be gripping but indefinitely end with a cliff hanger. Scheherazade revealed her deepest secrets while she was with him and he felt empowered. A secret that no one else knew. I didn’t think of the story much but like the man confined to the room I too was glued to the story. It ended with a cliffhanger. I am still upset about it!

There are many more stories but my second and last favourite is Kino. Kino is, again, a man who divorced his wife after he found her in act of making love with his colleague when Kino came home one day from work as a traveling salesman. He was in shock but he quickly got over it. He left the house that day to never return home. He open a humble bar for himself and looks forward to a quite life. But something else is happening around him. There are cats, snakes, strange men and women in story. The world starts making sense and then again it doesn’t. He escapes from everything else to never find himself. He finds his rage directed to his wife but forgives her too. This story is a roller coaster. I absolutely loved it!

Another worth mentioning is Samsa in love. Directly inspired from Kafka, the story has its own setting. What happens when Samsa wakes up one morning to find himself turned into a human? There are tanks roaming around on the streets too. What’s that for a setting? I liked the way story is told. Maybe you will like the ending too. I sure didn’t.

There are other stories in the book that make you fall in love with the minutest random detail of the setting. I have read mixed reviews of the stories. I will leave you to explore your reason for loving this book! Tell me which one was your favourite story.

Language

I loved it! Whatever I said about not liking the book, forget it. I will go back and read each and every story just for the way it is written. Murakami makes you notice even the slightest of emotions. He is a genius.

Good points

I loved the writing. There is something about the narration that keeps you glued. Also, the characters that you meet in the book are hard to forget. They are revealed in the best way possible!

Bad points

I liked all the stories but absolutely loved only two of them. That’s a bad average. I think I was waiting all the while for things to happen and author had his own say which triumphed. I feel defeated but I still marvel at his genius.

Overall

I liked the book. Did not love it. I will pick up another Murakami I believe!

Whom do I recommend this to

This is for those who like good writing and are generally attracted to short fiction.

Quotable Quotes

Music has that power to revive memories, sometimes so intensely that they hurt.

But one day, quite unexpectedly, he fell deeply in love. Like a clever fox suddenly finds itself caught in a trap.

Women are all born with a special, independent organ that allows them to lie. This was Dr. Tokai’s personal opinion. It depends on the person, he said, about the kind of lies they tell, what situation they tell them in, and how the lies are told. But at a certain point in their lives, all women tell lies, and they lie about important things. They lie about unimportant things, too, but they also don’t hesitate to lie about the most important things. And when they do, most women’s expressions and voices don’t change at all, since it’s not them lying, but this independent organ they’re equipped with that’s acting on its own. That’s why—except in a few special cases—they can still have a clear conscience and never lose sleep over anything they say.

HE WOKE TO discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa.

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com