book review – ‘men without women’ by haruki murakami

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I have to begin by saying that Haruki Murakami is, by far, my favorite living writer. He might even be my favorite writer of all time, though that title is one I’m loathe to give anyone. Writing is living – how do you chose a favorite?

Men Without Women is Murakami’s most recent publication in English. It is a book of 7 short stories, one of which I’d read in The New Yorker a few years ago.

The first several stories (perhaps the starting 4) are the least “classical Murakami” that I’ve ever seen him write. They take a much more matter of fact view of reality than I’m used to engaging in Murakami.

It’s a hard concept (“classical Murakami,” at least in my understanding) for me to unpack, but here’s an effort: Murakami has a particular presentation of reality that, although it varies in detail between novels and stories, is consistently a mixture of our known human experience with something other, something beyond. It’s often said, and I’ve used the phrase in my own writing and discussion, that his style is very similar to mystical realism. The other pokes in its head, but no one thinks it odd to encounter, even for the first time, something outside the realm of typical human experience and knowledge.

Story number 5, ‘Kino,’ is the first traditional Murakami engagement with reality of the collection, and was one of my absolute favorites. It’s the story of a man dealing with the end of his marriage, and the tale’s approach is simply beautiful.

The final story, ‘Men Without Women,’ lends its title to the book for good reason. It is another tale of loss, and loneliness, and telling our tales from the side, as we often do. Pain is difficult to face directly, so story provides an ideal outlet for that least pleasant of emotions.

I strongly believe that understanding and attraction come in knowing – so I’ll end with 3 of my favorite excerpts from the text.

Enjoy my Murakami.


“But the movement of time seemed not to be fixed properly. The bloody weight of desire and the rusty anchor of remorse were blocking its normal flow. Time was not an arrow flying in a straight line. The continuing rain, the confused hands of the clock, the birds still fast asleep, a faceless postal worker silently sorting through postcards, his wife’s lovely breasts bouncing violently in the air, something obstinately tapping on the window…In a small dark room, somewhere inside Kino, a warm hand was reaching out to him. Eyes shut, he felt that hand on his, soft and substantial. He’d forgotten this, had been apart from it for too long. Yes, I am hurt, Very, very deeply. He said this to himself. And he wept. In that dark, still room. All the while the rain did not let up, drenching the world in a cold chill.” (pp. 184-185)

“Everything is blowing up around us, but there are still those who care about a broken lock, and others who are dutiful enough to try and fix it…But maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.” (p. 209)

“I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say here. Maybe I’m trying to write about essence, rather than the truth. But writing about an essence that isn’t truth is like trying to rendezvous with someone on the dark side of the moon. It’s dim and devoid of landmarks. And way too big. What I want to say is, M is the woman I should have fallen in love with when I was fourteen. But it was only much later that I fell in love with her, and by then, sadly, she was fourteen no more. We were mistaken about the time when we should have met. Like forgetting when you’re supposed to meet someone. You get the time of day and place right, but miscalculate the day…

That’s what it’s 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…” (pp. 218; 227)

Men Without Women: Stories

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