I have a bitter-sweet relationship with Murakami’s writing. While I am in love with the elements of curiosity and longing, his prose subtly but surely makes me revisit the memories, I have painstakingly tucked away.
The beauty of Murakami’s writing is, once I start reading his works, there is no looking back, this book is no exception.
Men Without Women is a collection of seven short stories by Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen.
The blurb on the book reads:
“Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.
Marked by the same wry humour that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic”
This book arrived at my doorstep with the much-awaited rains, quenching my thirst for answers quite like the rain balmed my scorched soul with its precipitation.
“Like dry ground welcoming the rain, he let solitude, silence and loneliness soak in.”
The title of the book Men Without Women is pretty straightforward. It delves into the loneliness, longing and anguish of the protagonist men who have parted with the women due to myriad tragic circumstances.
The book has an intriguing cover, with the waning moon made of a block of ice (reference in the story, Yesterday) floating in the night sky with rain drops pelting it. The moon is the lover, slowly withering away in the dark night. The rain drops are quite like the shower of emotions of love, betrayal, joy and pain, changing pace with the dawn of sudden sense in the light of self-realization.
These character driven stories feature successful men highlighting their helplessness in their seemingly normal lives. The men are stuck in life, seeking answers, struggling with despair and sorrow.
This melancholy collection gifted me the insight to see my hurt and heartbreak in a new light in the simple yet profound words of Haruki Murakami.
“That’s what it is like to lose a woman. And at a certain time, losing one woman means losing all women. That’s how we become Men Without Women.”
Despite the title, Men Without Women has a mysterious woman character in every story, painted in their elusive beauty playing the ex-wife, the dead wife, ex-girlfriend or a lover who quite like life has left a trail of questions, with the men lamenting in sorrow racking their brains trying to solve the mystery.
The open-ended stories possess the magical power of shifting focusses and gifting the protagonist’s curiosity to the reader. While every story gradually grew up on me, I couldn’t help but feel the need to address similar emotions, lurking in my own system with brusque self-conversation.
“Dreams are the kinds of things you can- when you need to- borrow and lend out.”
The book is a classic Murakami work with a generous serving of slow-paced, pensive, quaint, philosophical moments that encourage conversation with self. The author’s love for the Beatles, jazz, wine glasses, whiskey, smokey bars, bar-stools and vanishing cats (only an occasional mention) stir up a familiar recipe that makes every Murakami fan return for a second helping.
“Once you’ve become Men Without Women loneliness seeps deep down inside your body, like a red-wine stain on a pastel carpet.”
Another attribute common in all the stories is the yearning for metamorphosis, to be a better version of oneself.
“…… Performing allowed me to be someone other than myself. And I could revert back when the performance ended. I really loved that.”
“You loved being someone other than yourself?”
“Yes, as long as I knew I could go back.”
I particularly loved the stories, Drive My Car, An Independent Organ (it gifted a new meaning to being lovesick) and Scheherazade.
Each story leaves behind a pregnant feeling of loss. In the wake of the harsh realities of life where love abandoned the men in the stories, one cannot help but be shaken by the fragility of the human heart. Having suffered a similar tragedy myself, these stories left me desperately looking for a motivation to gather oneself and move on.
Breaking through this shortcoming of this otherwise perfect short-story collection is the optimistic ending of Samsa In Love. It comes as a breath of fresh air, a relief, that perhaps, the men, battling heartbreaks and tragedies shall pick themselves up and would strive for a peaceful, happy existence.
“After she left, no one knows how wretched I felt, how deep the abyss. How could they? I can barely recall it myself. How much did I suffer? How much pain did I go through? I wish there was a machine that could accurately measure sadness, and display it in numbers that you could record. And it would be great if that machine could fit in the palm of your hand.”
Laced with Murakami’s signature signposts, poignant, whimsy, enticing charm this book is a journey into a man’s heart, unravelling the sea of emotions that lay hidden from public eye like the bottom of the ocean. The fact that men fail to fathom what lies in a woman’s heart forms the core of this short-story collection.
I highly recommend this book to every Murakami fan and to those who love reading short-story collections featuring magical realism with plenty of room for introspection and philosophical thinking.
About the Book:
Title – Men Without Women
Author – Haruki Murakami
Publisher – Harvill Secker
Genre – Fiction
ISBN – 9781911215370
Pages – 228
Price – INR 799
* Disclaimer: I received the review copy from Penguin Random House and Flipkart in exchange for an honest review.
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