Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
This collection of short stories is a representative offering, showcasing Murakami's skills from his beginnings as an author in the late '70s to today. Shadowy jazz clubs, bizarre metaphysical conditions, high and low culture, Japanese work culture, political violence, nameless and subtly attractive women: all of his recurring obsessions appear here. The book has a loose, freewheeling feel, and is a fine place for a Murakami beginner. Read a few paragraphs of a story, and if you don't like it, move on to the next. Diverse as this collection is, you will eventually find something you like.
"Tony Takitani" chronicles the life a Japanese jazz man's son, what his drive and focus brings him, and how he eventually learns about loneliness. "The Ice Man" is a story about love between a woman of flesh and a man of ice, and the progression of their relationship as she learns to live in his icy world. "Birthday Girl" tells the story of the circumstances surrounding a young woman's birthday wish, but not the wish itself. "Nausea 1979" describes a Biblical period of regurgitation that may or may not be connected to the protagonist's amorous adventures with his friends' wives and girlfriends.
The book also contains two pieces of writing for those interested in Murakami as an artist. "The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes" is a disconcerting fable about the author's view of his reception by the Japanese literary establishment. The reader knows the truth behind the story because Murakami tells us about it in the introduction, which is itself a nice essay about his take on writing, short fiction, and the purpose of stories.