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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 26 May 2004
I couldn't believe the average rating for this book when I looked it up on Amazon either and just had to comment. I've just finished this book and have thoroughly enjoyed it. In any collection like this there will be some pieces that are stronger than others but I suspect that different readers will realate to/get more out of each piece than others. The thing that really fascinated me is that some of the stories cover a fairly long period of time and are presented in the form of snapshots: specific scenes or observations that capture an emotion or a scene in such an effective way.
I was really drawn in to this book and couldn't put it down. The only reason I haven't given it five stars is that there are a few stories I didn't really get a lot of out but it certainly wasn't a chore to read them all the same.
I'm definitely going to go out and buy another book by this author. I hope that this is helpful to you!
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on 16 December 2002
Americans seem to be fascinated by the culture of Japan. We wonder endlessly about a group of islands that can produce things as diverse as Noh drama, zen gardens and Nintendo games. American writers, too, can't seem to get enough of Japan, e.g., Jay McInerney, John Burnham Schwartz and Michael Crichton.
Haruki Murakami, one of the most original and brilliant authors writing today, gives us an entirely different look at life in Japan in his collection of short stories, The Elephant Vanishes. These stories show us Japan "from the inside." What might seem exotic to both Americans and Europeans, such as oyster hot pot or pillows filled with buckwheat husks, becomes, in these stories, the stuff of everyday life. In fact, Haruki Marakami's Japan could be "anyplace," and one has to read eleven pages into this collection before the first reference to Japan is ever made.
In The Elephant Vanishes, Murakami's narrators are as much "Everyman" as are the narrators of his novels. They are young, urban and charmingly downwardly mobile. And, they are more likely to eat a plate of spaghetti than soba noodles. They listen to Wagner and Herbie Hancock but eschew Japanese rock music. They read Len Deighton and War and Peace rather than Kobo Abe and The Tale of the Genji. They are Japanese, to be sure, but all their points of reference seem to be exclusively Western and signature Murakami.
In the world of Haruki Murakami, bizarre events take place with striking regularity and, also with strikingly regularity, they are accepted as simply the stuff of everyday life. In The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women, the narrator's search for a missing cat leads him to a closed-off and neglected alleyway passing between the backyards of parallel houses. Here, he encounters a sunbathing teenage girl who mimics the alleyway in that she is both ordinary and alien.
In A Window, a correspondence school writing teacher pays a visit to a pupil, a married woman in her early thirties. They spend their time eating hamburgers and listening to Burt Bacharach. Nothing much happens; in fact, the thing the narrator remembers most is the lovely weather and the colorful array of sheets and futons drying over the railings of the building's verandahs. Like many of Murakami's protagonists, what these two share is absent more than it is present.
Many of these stories seem more than a little fabulistic. The Dancing Dwarf is a good example. This story takes place in an impressively efficient factory that manufactures, of all things, elephants. The protagonist just happens to be assigned to the ear section during his narration of the story, working in that part of the building with the yellow ceiling and the yellow posts. His helmet and pants also happen to be yellow. The month before, however, he had been assigned to the green building and he had worn a green helmet and green pants and had made heads.
TV People is a bizarre story that involves human mutants reduced by twenty to thirty percent, something that made them look far away even when close up. When these mutants invade both the narrator's home and office and begin to deny his very existence, he begins to doubt it as well.
And, in The Elephant Vanishes, the haunting title story, an elephant actually disappears, with its keeper, from an enclosure where it has been kept as a mascot for a Tokyo suburb. The solution to the mystery, like all of Murakami's mysteries is not clear cut but hinges on a matter of perspective and proportion instead.
Parallel worlds abound in these stories; this is ordinary life, but ordinary life fraught with unexpected and unsettling views. In the stories that make up The Elephant Vanishes, Murakami is doing what he does so wonderfully: pointing out how much of life is hidden beneath the surface, how much is truly unknowable.
In Sleep, a young woman suddenly finds she no longer needs it. Rather than question her sudden awakening, she focuses instead on the strangeness of her husband's face. Unable to describe exactly why it now seems so strange to her, she simply accepts that it is weird and that is that. The protagonist of The Second Bakery Attack is similar in that he really doesn't question why his wife keeps a shotgun and ski masks in their car, even though neither of them had ever skied.
Lest anyone think these stories gloss over life, they couldn't be more wrong. Detail abounds: the pull tabs from beer cans lying in overflowing ashtrays, shotgun shells that rustle like the buckwheat husks in old-fashioned pillows, ice melting in cocktail glasses.
Like kittens lolling all over one another, a metaphor from a story entitled The Last Lawn of the Afternoon, these are stories in which animals--elephants, kangaroos, windup birds, and even the tragically mistreated "little green monsters"--play an extraordinarily prominent part. The Elephant Vanishes is definitely the world of Haruki Murakami, ordinary and yet so very, very extraordinary.
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on 9 April 2002
17 modern, magical, urbanic hilarious tales.
It's the first Murakami book I've read, and from now on I got addicted to his books. Murakami 's deadpan genius. King of the bizarre realm.
His stories take place in Japan, but could as well be everywhere else.
I found myself enthralled by the way he writes, captivated
To his ideas, fascinated by his way to see the unnatural in a so natural way.
The confusion of the young people in his stories is funny, touching and so familiar. Everything could happen; anything is for real if you can see it in your head. Everyone's normal, just the circumstances aren't...
It left me with the taste and desire for more! One by one I swallowed all of his other books.
I had never got disappointed from any of the others, but I found these short stories as the essence of all that I like about his books, and I keep reading it again and again.
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on 29 August 2003
It's late at night, I'm very tired but while looking around Amazon and seeing this book only getting one star, I had to put in my 5 cents, 2 dimes, 3p- whatever (I'm tired ok?) I recently read this book and it reflects exactly how the Japanese culture represents to me. Watching anime cartoons or meeting Japanese people, anything Japanese- brings a feeling in me that is encompassed in this book. The style of writing is simple, and unembarrassed- by that I mean it isn't over littered with psychologial, intellectual condescending tidbits here and there to please people who want to think they're reading something clever. Any intellectual musings you have about the stories, Murakami allows you to do for yourself. Overall, you've got to expect the eccentricity of some of the stories. Sometimes the endings are open, sometimes the conclusion is perfect. 'On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning' was one that definitely brought back that unique type of sadness that some Japanese animated films have- a sad, inexplicable melancholia. It made me think and is definitely one of the best short stories I've ever read not only because of it's originality, but also because of it's structure, it's form- jumping from present to future to past back to present again so seamlessly. In some ways, the simplicity of the narrative reminded of the novel 'Naive. Stupid' by Erlend Loe so expect a kind of scandanavian essence to his story-telling. Another notable aspect of this book is the way that Haruki Murakami makes the narrative so filmatic. Not only in describing his characters- but also the scents, the scenery, the colours- every nuance of the characters' environment is described poetically and again with that Japanese 'thing' that I can't put into words. Better get this book yourself and have a go if you're open minded and don't mind that haiku feeling in a story. I'm very interested in Japanese culture (this is a Chinese person speaking) so that probably helped but otherwise, it is a good book that I would recommend if you want to break away from conventional novel forms.
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on 20 May 2008
Simon Barrett's two line review (previously posted) isn't helpful when considering whether to read this book and as a thirty five year old I find him patronising.

This isn't Murakami's best work and I don't think that his short stories really give him the length of work that he needs to fully develop his ideas. Having read how Murakami writes - he alternates between novels & short stories, sometimes developing short stories in to novels - I think you've really got to read the 'Sheep' novels or Kafka On The Shore to be drawn in to the maelstrom of ideas & surreal madness that he can conjure.

For me Murakami's the literary version of John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman. You've just got to go with it, don't worry about understanding everything, let it twist & turn, it'll reward you for it.

For Mr Barrett to call The Wind Up Bird Chronicle 'execrable' is pointless without telling the prospective reader why.

But then, I'm not likely to take literary criticism seriously from a man who recommends a Ten Thousand Maniacs album ;-)
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on 6 August 2009
I have to say, I never like short stories, but having read Norwegian Wood I am so mesmerized that I have to pick up any book of Murakami I can get hold of from the library, and this happens to be the one.

I must admit I didn't finish all of the short stories although I attempted to start each - it was a bit of hit and miss, most of those I quite enjoyed, but I only wish the stories could be longer to allow it develop a bit more, as many of them gave me the "not quite finished" feeling.

Well, the good news is that the first story "The Wind-up Bird And Tuesday's Women" is actually a section of his novel "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle", so at least I know which of his book I should read next. Overall, a random, creative set of illusive writing and most worth a read.
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on 27 February 2001
The Elephant Vanishes is a collection of short story most of them about fairly normal people in weird circumstances. Some of the stories are incredibly funny, others quite thought proving, all of them highly imaginative and written in a very readable style. Fans of Murakami will not be disappointed, and this collection of short stories is also a very good introduction to Murakami's world of the mundane and surreal.
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VINE VOICEon 21 April 2011
Interested in unconventonal, offbeat short stories? If so, take a trip through the strange world of cult author Murakami's collection "The Elephant Vanishes". There is a tendency in short fiction to conclude and resolve. Murakami's stories however, often darkly comic - and moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary, frequently ignore that expectation and end at a blank wall. So don't always expect Murakami story endings to provide resolution where all becomes clear, everything is resolved and loose ends are tied up - or you may be disappointed.

Take the weird, haunting title story, "The Elephant Vanishes", for instance, Here the narrator recounts strange, inexplicable events in which an old elephant vanishes into thin air with its keeper from an elephant house one night. This is a typical Murakami story conundrum - the story ending with no clear-cut explanation or resolution of the mystery, the mysterious vanishing of elephant and keeper. Ending up against a blank wall may not be your preferred choice of ending to a story but as is often the case with Murakami, the journey to the 'blank wall' in itself provides sufficient reward for seeing the story through to the end.

In the strange world of Murakami, the mundane and the surreal mingle - as exemplified in the disturbing story "Sleep" where the stultifying, mind-numbing routine of a woman's married life is unsettled following a terrifying dream that represents a crossover point in her life, an awakening, a kind of surrealistic 'wake-up call' from which she surfaces a changed woman, more 'alive' than she's felt in years...with unexpected consequences.

Other personal favourites include: the humorous "The Second Bakery Attack" in which midnight hunger pangs drive young newly-weds (who feel a "weird presence" in their lives) to hold up a MacDonalds with a shotgun in the middle of the night and rob it of 30 Big Macs; "Barn Burning", in which the narrator listens to the story of a man whose hobby is burning barns; "The Silence", in which a young man, following an act of physical aggression, feels the isolation and ostracism of being cold-shouldered by his social community.

If you enjoy "The Elephant Vanishes", take another memorable trip into Murakami 'country' with the strong collection "After the Quake", short stories linked to the terrible earthquake that shook Kobe in 1995. Although none of these haunting stories are actually set in Kobe, the epicentre of the devastation and the characters are far removed from the scene of the tragedy, the earthquake nonetheless reverberates in subtle ways deep into their troubled lives. Both books contain compelling stories intermingling elements both of realism and surrealism that may not be to every reader's taste, particularly reading tastes that require some reward in the way of clear solutions or 'neatly wrapped-up endings' for seeing a story through to the end.
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on 15 December 2009
Prior to reading The Elephant Vanishes I had read one other of Murakami's short story collections: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, which I personally felt was perhaps a slighly stronger collection on the whole. That aside, I enjoyed the stories in this volume tremendously and finished them all in a short space of time. I'm not a particularly fast reader, either. For me, the weakest story out of the whole collection was definitely 'The Little Green Monster', which I felt was really quite poor by comparison, and I guess 'Lederhosen' and 'The Fall of the Roman Empire...' didn't do much for me either. In fact, while I'm on a rant, considering it's the title story, The Elephant Vanishes also wasn't really anything special in my opinion. But enough of that, I don't want to start conveying the wrong impression here. All the other stories were excellent reads and I would honestly struggle to choose a favourite from among them. A few that I feel worth mentioning are 'The Wind Up Bird...', 'Sleep', 'The Last Lawn of the Afternoon', 'Family Affair', and perhaps 'On seeing the 100% Perfect Girl...'. Which still leaves nearly 10 I haven't mentioned. Of course, these are only my personal favourites.

Now, I realise I've maybe been writing this review for people who are already familiar with Murakami. So, what shall I say to those who have not yet tried his work but are maybe considering doing so? Well, for starts, Murakami lists some of his biggest influences as being Carver, Chekhov, Kafka, Fitzgerald, and Capote, among others, all of whom are giants of the short story genre. So when you consider this you realise that Murakami hasn't invented anything here, he hasn't changed the way short stories are written. But what he has done is captured what made his predecessors so great and added his own unique flavour into the mix. He's taken the essence of what they were trying to do and built on it. 'We see so far because we stand on the shoulders of giants', and Murakami is no exception. Now understand that I am in no way trying to discredit any of what he has achieved, in fact the opposite is true; I'm simply trying to tell everyone that these comparisons to the giants of the past are in every way justified. How better to describe a writer than by comparing him to the writers that came before him? Murakami is in every way a modern Carver, a Chekhov for his time. To me, that is the biggest compliment someone writing in the short story genre can receive. He's continuing their legacy and when his run is over I'm sure the writers of tomorrow will judge themselves by whether they are in turn compared to him, just as he was once compared to those giants before him. And so on until the end of time.

So, rather than explain what I believe to be Murakami's qualities as a short story writer (or writer in general, for that matter) I will simply leave you with those thoughts. Pick up some Chekhov, or some Carver, and then once you have understood where Murakami's roots lie, you will be ready to appreciate what he has brought to the genre in a whole new light. But more importantly, you will see that we are all truly standing on the shoulder of giants. Murakami has become one of those giants in his own lifetime and there's no doubt about it.

Well, to keep this brief I'll say thanks here and hope that my thoughts have inspired you to pick up one of the great authors of our time! All the best!
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on 18 June 2001
This is a collected work of short stories, ranging in style and genre. I would recommend this as a great kick-off point for anyone wanting to try Murakami - firstly, it has a lot of varying stories that give a flavour of his style and secondly, it has the opening chapter of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which will make you want to read that as well.
For my money, the best stories are the one about the man who is employed to provide critiques of people's letters, in order to make them more fascinating, the final painfully sweet story about the elephant and the account of the tv people, men who keep coming into the narrators life and installing television sets that only he can see.
Funny, graceful, delicate, surreal and very human.
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