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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Book Review: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by Haruki Murakami

The overriding theme that coheres in this new collection of short stories spanning Murakami’s writing career is existential loneliness. Whether the protagonist is man or woman, married or single, straight or gay, young or old, none is immune to the vagaries of fate, the touch of death, the uncomfortable nudge of happenstance. Characters frequently do not know what is happening to them, why it is happening, or what to say about it. The freak wave, the poor aunt, the phantom phone caller, the ice man—all are simply manifestations of the unknowable darkness outside the campfire of quotidian human existence that waits patiently to envelope us.

Standout stories are ‘Hunting Knife’, a juxtaposition of connubial complacence and familial misery; ‘Man-Eating Cats’ (which was the basis of the novel Sputnik Sweetheart), a harsh lesson in life’s unexpected twists; ‘Tony Takitani’, a study of absence that has recently been made into a feature film; and ‘Firefly’, a discourse on the inarticulateness that surrounds unexplained death. There are also a few stories, such as the final one, ‘Shinagawa Monkey’, that are more upbeat, allowing for the possibility of people’s finding a kind of Sartrean sense of identity in an arbitrary universe.

Longtime Murakami translators Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin collaborate in this collection to achieve a very readable version of some of the author’s best short fiction. Unmissable for a Murakami fan, but perhaps unsettling and perplexing for the uninitiated.

Reviewed by Richard Donovan

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