“Men Without Women” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2017)


One good thing fans of Haruki Murakami must really like is the worldwide bestselling author never really slows down or takes a break, but just keeps on writing and writing and writing. The other good thing is the two men who have translated all of his work – Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen – also like translating his work and continue to do so, and Knopf continues to publish his work. So generally readers can expect a new book of some sort every two to three years.

Murakami’s latest volume, Men Without Women, is a collection of seven short stories that all have a similar sense and feel – a vibe if you will. They all deal – as do most of Murakami’s works – with relationships between men and women and how varied and unique they can be.

“Drive My Car” is a story about a man who due to a case of glaucoma and a DUI must be driven around by a female chauffeur who is enigmatic in her own way, as he relates stories about his life as an actor and his wife’s extramarital affairs. In “Yesterday,” Kitaru wants his friend Tanimura to go on a date with Kitru’s girlfriend to learn more about this woman. “An Independent Organ” is a story about a man who has never fallen in love, but seeks out married and committed women for relationships, until he finally does fall in love. The “Scheherazade” of the next story is a woman sleeping with a man who never leaves his room, and each time after having sex relates an unusual tale. “Kino” is a man who after being cheated on, leaves his wife and opens up a bar and meets some interesting people, and a cat. “Samsa in Love” is a twist on Kaftka’s The Metamorphosis where the cockroach wakes up as a man. In the final tale, “Men Without Women,” an unnamed narrator relates stories of a woman he cared deeply for.

Each story in this collections rings true for classic Murakami. Fans will be happy; new readers will enjoy this first foray into the author’s works. Men Without Men is both engaging and delightful.

Originally written on July 23, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Men Without Women from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“Wind/Pinball” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2015)


Haruki Murakami is the well known international bestselling Japanese author of such books as Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore. English-language readers discovered Murakami for the first time with his “debut” book A Wild Sheep Chase, but this was in fact his third book. In 1978, after an unusual experience, Murakami decided he wanted to write a novel. After some interesting forays, he eventually found his unique voice and wrote his first two (short) books which have been translated into English for the first time: Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973.

The first novella features an unnamed narrator recounting an unusual series of experiences in the classic Murakami style. He’s home from college for the summer and spends a lot of his time going to J’s bar, chatting with the barman and drinking beer with his wealthy friend “Rat.” He also shares stories about his relationship with a 9-fingered woman. In the second novella, we have the same narrator later in life, done with college, now working as a translator for a successful translation business. He’s involved with identical twins who are very unusual; they just showed up on his doorstep one day and moved in with him. And then he becomes obsessed with tracking down a spaceship pinball game he played in college.

Overall, the stories are a little rough and feel unfinished or perhaps more like early drafts. Nevertheless, Murakami’s voice and style is there right from the beginning, along with his unique unusualness that draws in and hooks so many readers. New readers may want to try one of his more popular novels, while fans will enjoy these stories and early examples of the writer they enjoy reading.

Originally written on October 29, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Wind/Pinball from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“A Wild Sheep Chase” by Haruki Murakami (Vintage, 2002)


One of Murakami’s early novels, A Wild Sheep Chase, is a classic example of what this unique author has to offer. From weird title to the outlandish but fascinating storyline, this book is a great starting point for those wanting to start reading this well renowned author. The book is also referred to as the third book in the “Trilogy of the Rat,” as Murakami’s first two novellas, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 (which were recently published in English for the first time) features a couple of the characters from these original stories, but are not required reading to get the full enjoyment out of A Wild Sheep Chase.

An advertising executive in his twenties who works with a partner at an advertising firm that is doing relatively well for itself receives a postcard from an old friend and ends up using the interesting image as part of an advertising campaign. The image depicts a pastoral scene with sheep, but there is one particular sheep in the picture that is a unique species with a star on its back.

Then a man in black pays him a visit and puts the pressure on, giving him an ultimatum: he will have to locate this sheep, or face some severe consequences that could cause the end of the business and his livelihood. Thus begins the man’s unusual quest to find this special sheep, which will take him to the snow mountains of Northern Japan. He will meet plenty of strange people along the way – as is Murakami’s style – as well as an old friend who he asks for advice, but is told he must find his own truth.

Every Murakami novel has a silver living that can be taken away from it; A Wild Sheep Chase is no different from the rest. The important thing is that silver lining is specific to each individual reader.

Originally written on March 25, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of A Wild Sheep Chase from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel (Knopf, 2014)

Colorless Tsukuru
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If you’re a Murakami fan, holding his latest book is always a cause for excitement, and whether you’re a fan or not, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a work of art in design from Knopf to be admired by any reader and art lover for its design, color and execution. And the good news is the story from Murakami stands up greatly to this beautifully created book.

After the long-windedness and lengthiness of Murakami’s previous 1Q84, Colorless Tsukuru is short and to the point, featuring some great characters and the sort of story fans have come to love from Murakami. It is the story of five young high school friends who become as close as siblings and do everything together; after graduating four of them stay in town, while Tsukuru Tazaki goes away for college. And then something happens which breaks the group apart and all their lives are changed forever. Tazaki is told to leave the group and never return. He does not know what he has done and the four friends refuse to tell him.

Tazaki lives his life through his twenties and early thirties as a designer of railway stations, a passion he has harbored since he was a child. Upon meeting an interesting girl that he begins to care greatly for, she tells him he should visit each of these former friends and find out why they abandoned him so suddenly and for what reason. His pilgrimage will take him back home to familiar sights and sounds, as well as to Europe where everything is different. Along the way he will learn a lot, but because this is a Murakami book, Tazaki will not always know why. Nevertheless, like all good Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru sucks you in and doesn’t let you go until the last word is read.

Originally written on September 19, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Kafka on the Shore  Wind-up Bird Chronicle  Hard-Boiled Wonderland

“After the Quake” by Haurki Murakami (Knopf, 2000)

After the Quake
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Murakami are, unsurprisingly with the title, set in February 1995 after the devastating Kobe earthquake.  The stories don’t deal completely with the after effects of the quake, but in the classic Murakami style, the characters have had their lives altered in various subtle ways by this natural disaster.

All six stories are told from the third person perspective, which is a change for Murakami and his usual first person point of view.  The stories each have their own unique feel, presenting an unusual situation that continues to get weirder until the end, when the reader is left deep in contemplation and wonder.  There is the story of the man who is an electronics salesman and finds one day that his wife has left him; when he agrees to deliver an enigmatic package, he finds out more about himself and who he really is than he ever thought he knew.  A religious man follows the pursuit of another elderly gentleman, believing he might be his long lost father.

The highpoint of the collection is with the wonderfully amusing “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo,” which is about exactly what the title says.  A man meets a giant frog who tells him a giant worm beneath the city will destroy everything if they don’t stop it.  Taking some time, the man eventually believes the super-frog, but just as they are to venture beneath the city, he has an accident and ends up in the hospital.  Thinking he can no longer help his new froggy friend, he later discovers he has helped in more ways than he knows.

With such a short collection, the stories have a way of growing on the reader, as opposed to other longer collections, where by the end readers can forget some of the earlier stories they’ve read.  For anyone looking to try the great Haruki Murakami for the first time, After the Quake is a great start.

Originally written on May 16, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of After the Quake from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Sputnik Sweetheart  The Windup Bird Chronicle  Hardboiled Wonderland
  Kafka on the ShoreNorwegian Wood  IQ84

“Sputnik Sweetheart” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2001)

Sputnik Sweetheart
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Sputnik Sweetheart is another great example of the brilliance of Haruki Murakami: a short novel that sucks you in from the very beginning and doesn’t let you go until the last page.  It is one of those books where little seems to actually happen, but in the minds of the characters, lives are lived and worlds are changed.

K, a college student, has fallen in love with Sumire.  She is everything to him, and he cherishes every moment they share together.  They are both writers; she a complex messy one that engulfs her entire life.  In his heart, he knows they will never be together, but still he continues to hope, and any time spent together he enjoys to its fullest.  Then she tells him of someone she has met, Miu, a middle-aged woman who has captured her heart, much in the same way Sumire has captured K’s.  The she goes on a business trip with Miu that turns into a vacation in Greece on a small island.  K goes about his life until he receives the disturbing call from Miu still in Greece.  He flies to the island eventually finds Miu only to discover that Sumire has vanished into thin air.  All she has left behind are some very personal writing pieces.

Sputnik Sweetheart is the sort of book that continues to pull you down into deeper levels, as you contemplate what is happening and what it means; there is little use in searching for a “why” as Murakami’s journeys are not about that.  The human psyche is not logical and straightforward, but it is a voyage you will not soon forget.

Originally written on February 20, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Sputnik Sweetheart from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle  Hard-Boiled Wonderland  Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman1Q84  Kafka on the Shore  Norwegian Wood

“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 1997)

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
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Sometimes books can be exactly like beautiful, perfect pieces of art; created with skill and finesse and care and brilliant ability to the point where the reader might feel they are holding the equivalent of the Mona Lisa in their hands.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami is one of those magical novels that many readers consider to be a perfect work of art; it in fact represents the best this bestselling Japanese author has to offer.  His other works employ elements of his mastery, whether its compelling fully-rounded characters that are just fascinating to read about; or a great storyline that sucks you in from the very beginning and keeps you going until the very end; or strong themes that force the reader to think more on the story they are reading, and what meaning and resonance it might have on their own life.  But The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the pristine of example employing all these attributes in a perfect work of fiction.

Our unusual and flawed hero is one Toru Okada, who begins the story with a simple quest: to find his lost cat.  Okada is unemployed while his wife, Kumiko, spends her days busy at work at a publishing house and he sees her but briefly in the early mornings and late at night before they go to sleep; it is clear that their marriage and relationship is on shaky grounds.  Okada challenges himself to find this cat that has gone missing, spending his time searching up and down the streets of this ordinary Tokyo neighborhood.  While there is no cat in sight, he soon befriends a most enigmatic teenage girl named May Kasahara who is a classic Murakami character with quirks and unusual characteristics that just make her fascinating to read.

As time passes, no cat is found, and then Kumiko suddenly disappears and Okada finds himself now searching for his wife as well as his cat, as he burns through his savings.  Before he knows it, he finds himself unavoidably inveigled in circumstances and experiences that grow weirder by the chapter, as he finds himself sitting at the bottom of a dark well looking up at that small circle of light and sky.  Along the way he meets more unusual characters, such as Malta Kano, named after the island of Malta, who has been asked by Kumiko to help find the cat.  Then there is her even stranger sister, Creta Kano, named after the island of Crete, who is essentially a psychic prostitute.

Eventually Okada discovers the reason for Kumiko’s disappearance, and has to deal with her weasely and despicable brother, Noboru Wataya (whom they named the cat after), who is a political celebrity well revered in public circles.  Okada also meets and begins working with Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka in a most unusual business, as he hopes to find an answer to the strange blue-black spot on his cheek that won’t go away.  And finally there is Lieutenant Mamiya who befriends Okada after the passing of a friend in common, and begins to tell him stories of his experiences during the Japanese military efforts in Manchukuo, sharing his own similar experience of spending a long time at the bottom of the well.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the type of lengthy book that can be interpreted in so many different ways, with readers getting different ideas and thoughts and concepts from it; the same reader may even reads it multiple times over a long period and see different aspects and stories in a different light.  No matter what preconceptions the reader has as they begin reading this very special book, they will be transported to somewhere they never imagined existed by the very skilled hands and mind of one Haruki Murakami.

Originally written on May 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Hard Boiled Wonderland  Blind Willow Sleeping Woman  1Q84  Kafka on the Shore