Unconventional short stories of Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami

First impressions count, as the trite saying goes. For the most part, I agree. When I get my hands on a book, for instance, I undergo a certain ritual—I gaze at the front cover design, I read the blurb on the back cover, I skim through the table of contents (if any), check the readability of the font size, and finally and most importantly, I read the first two pages of the story. If, during this last procedure, I find the writing style interests me very much and the book passes satisfactorily my other indicators, I will buy the book.
However, confined during the home quarantine, I don’t have any chance at all to meet face-to-face with books, conduct my bookish ritual, and form first impressions. In fact, I was not able to buy any print books for four months (April to July) because of government policies that severely affected domestic and international shipping. When local couriers seem to start getting back on their feet recently, I started browsing local bookstores online. But without my usual physical process of checking on books before buying them, I was at the mercy of book reviewers on Goodreads, Amazon, and their blogs.

One of these books is Haruki Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, which I bought from a local online seller after great hesitation. I heard of Haruki Murakami all right. He is everywhere−online and as regular visual merchandise in local bookstores. Many of my friends and students read his works. Unarguably, his works are selling like hotcakes in the Philippines. As I am not the type to easily join trending bandwagons, I intentionally arrived late to the party. And instead of picking up his novels right away, the way others did, like the daunting 1Q84 or the recommended Kafka on the Shore, I got his 436-page paperback copy of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman published in 2006 by Vintage.
Doing this had certain advantages and disadvantages. Reading a short story collection of a new-to-me writer gives me an idea of his/her writing style and helps me decide if I should read his/her longer fiction. But if the reading experience is contrary to what I expected, there is a chance I won’t decide to pursue his/her other works and thus I might have missed out on reading possibly masterpieces in their own right.
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is an odd little mix. There are 26 short stories; others are surprisingly short, others expectedly long. For me, I can describe some stories as odd because they have, to varying degrees, little to zero plot, such as Dabchick or even in The Year of Spaghetti. But it is in these seemingly plotless short stories that I discovered the writer’s talent, skill, and courage. There is no doubt that Mr. Murakami can write and weave a story like a baker kneading a dough. And he writes mechanically well.
His courage is shown in the way he ends his stories the way he does, not too abrupt, just a quiet paragraph in receding vibrations, like an actress bowing gracefully after a deathly scene, inflecting with elegant finality before an audience wanting more or an encore. Another display of courage is the variety of stories--some fantasy, some romance, some stream of consciousness, some memories--and in each take, Mr. Murakami does not force any moralistic values or lessons. It simply is because it is what it is and that is it.
This prompted me to severely uproot myself from my rigid preconception of contemporary short stories and deal with Mr. Murakami’s stories like how I would welcome new students under my wing: they are their own persons, creative and unique in their own way. Reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman was indeed an illuminating experience.
Some of my favorites are A Folklore for My Generation: A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism, Man-eating Cats, The Seventh Man, Nausea 1979, Tony Takitani, The Ice Man, and Chance Traveller.
I find in Mr. Murakami an interesting writer whose works I want to read in order to know him more. I find myself thinking about some of his stories during unusual times while taking a break from work. I picked up for the first time his novel titled After Dark. It is interesting, not mind-blowing…but that will be a review for another day.

(Text and photo by Nancy Cudis-Ucag. All Rights Reserved.)


  1. Cheers for this review, Nancy. I subscribed to your blog. I also miss book reviews by fellow Filipinos. Like you, I have rituals, reasons, and tests gauging, selecting, and following writers. Murakami's novels I have read and collected but not this particular collection. Salamat kaayo :-) Amping, Nanc :-)


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