Men without Women by Haruki Murakami

6 years ago Shaili Desai 3

Men without Women is the latest work by Haruki Murakami and follows other internationally acclaimed works like 1Q84, Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore. Men without Women is a set of seven stories by author, with a common theme – they’re all about men who have lost their women and find themselves alone.

I was introduced to Murakami through Sputnik Sweetheart, a book gifted to me by my roommate Sarah at MICA. She was (and still is, I believe) a big fan of Murakami and hoped that I would fall in love with him too. The first time I read a book by Murakami, I knew that he was special. Sputnik Sweetheart was a rollercoaster of metaphors and sometimes obscure references and my mind jumped to new places while reading the book.

I find Murakami fascinating in many ways. He knows the art of using metaphors very well. I believe that is his characteristic style. When you start with the first story Drive my car, that style of writing is missing, not that it does not do well for itself. The story is poignant and gives an account of a man who is coming to terms with his loss, many years later and in this case, there has been a separation through death. The narrator’s physical ‘blind spot’ stands for many things and it includes the love he had for his wife.

The second story, Yesterday, is more about men and women deal differently with loss. A separation from a loved one is not always due to their death but sometimes it is an inevitable part of growing up. Murakami’s use of the term ‘growth rings’ through the female character Erika is very relatable, as is the ‘need for humans to endlessly take the long way around’.

An Independent Organ, examines the human existential crisis in terms of love, which I found interesting. Tokai wonders, ‘Who in the world am I?’ This is a FOMO of a different kind. What are you without love in your life and is there any reason to live without that love? The ending is ironical but to quote the writer – ‘But without the intervention of that organ – the kind that elevates us to new heights, thrusts us down to the depths, throws our minds into chaos, reveals beautiful illusions, and sometimes even drives us to death – our lives wound indeed be indifferent and brusque. Or simply end up as a series of contrivances.’

The next in the line, Scheherazade, is where Murakami forgets the modesty and starts being himself. The story is both about embracing as well as negating reality – much like many Murakami stories. They are always spectacularly real and yet feel supremely surreal.

In all the seven stories, I felt that Murakami was at his best in Kino. This story deals with loss and forgiveness beautifully. Kino’s journey towards forgiveness is felt by the reader powerfully, heightened by the surreal atmosphere created in the story.  It is intense and passionate, and you cannot but feel a strong tug somewhere in the body.

The sixth story, Samsa in Love, is a take on the book Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. I did not get the reference since I haven’t read Metamorphosis and for a long time, I could not understand what was going on. Of course that hardly matters, because even in his normal writings, sometimes you cannot figure out why this is all happening until the very end. Although the story is still fascinating, leaving much to interpretation, having read the book by Kafka would render a deeper meaning perhaps.

The seventh and the final story, Men without Women, is the best possible ending to this anthology. In some ways, it is a concluding piece, a culmination, a collection of all the emotions and reasons in the other stories. The anthology is about loss, death, separation and loneliness. Even the anger dissipates into goodwill as often in real life and in our imagination. Men without Women may be about loneliness but it is also about contentment and goodwill – a coming to terms with separation and imparting the most important gift of all – the gift of forgiveness.

Books in Men Without Women are as below:


Other Mentions with incomplete information:

  1. Where did the Universe come from? by Unknown
  2. Biography of Jimi Hendrix by Unknown
  3. A poem by Gonchunagon Atsutada

Disclosure: The book was provided for free by Penguin Random House India.