Translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goosen
“Here’s what hurts the most,” Kafuku said. “I didn’t truly understand her—or at least some crucial part of her. And it may well end that way now that she’s dead and gone. Like a small, locked safe lying at the bottom of the ocean. It hurts a lot.”
Tatsuki thought for a moment before speaking.
“But Mr. Kafuku, can any of us ever perfectly understand another person? However much we may love them?”
Love, loneliness, regret…These are the emotions the men in these stories grapple with. Almost all of them have lost a woman, either to another man or to death. How do they cope?
In “Drive My Car”, Kafuku, a widowed actor confides in his female driver, Misaki, about his dead wife’s infidelity and how he got to know her lover Tatsuki. It takes Misaki, almost a stranger, to give him the insight into his wife’s behaviour that helps explain her to him, long after she has gone.
In “Yesterday” (yes, Haruki Murakami is a Beatles fan), Kitaru tries to set up his friend Tanimura with his childhood sweetheart Erika. Kitaru is convinced that Erika will find someone else and he would rather it was someone he knew and liked. In “Independent Organ”, Dr. Tokai, a cosmetic surgeon who has a string of girlfriends, falls in love with a married woman and wastes away because she leaves him.
In one of the most intriguing of the collection, “Samsa in love” Haruki Murakami takes Kafka’s story “Metamorphosis”, where Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find that he has become a huge insect, and turns it on its head. In Murakami’s version, an insect wakes up in a bed one day to find he is a human, Gregor Samsa. Murakami describes how the insect sees his new body.
“Samsa looked down with dismay at his naked body. How ill-formed it was. Worse than ill-formed. Smooth white skin with fragile blue blood vessels visible through it…a soft, unprotected belly…gangly arms and legs (just two of each!); a scrawny, breakable neck… . Could a body so preposterous, so easy to destroy (no shell for protection, no weapons for attack) survive in this world?” But he has to manage with it, and somehow makes his way down the stairs, worrying about the predatory birds outside. Then a female hunchback locksmith rings the doorbell, and Samsa falls in love.
These are just some of the stories. Each one is beautifully crafted, told without sentimentality. Murakami is a wonderful observer of human behaviour—there are no pyrotechnics here, just people trying to make sense of their lives.