Book Review: Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami

 

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Book Title : Men Without Women
Writer : Haruki Murakami
Publisher : Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Year : Originally published in Japan as Onna no inai Otokotachi in 2014. English translation published in 2017.
Book Length : 227 pages
Book Price : Original Price – Rp 298,000, Discounted Price Rp 220,000 (20% Discount from Kinokuniya)

Because I’m a millennial who aspires to be seen as literate and well-read, of course I have to read and review Haruki Murakami’s latest book, Men Without Women, a collection of seven short stories connected with one theme obviously spelled out on its’ title: men who lives the lonely world of Murakami’s east meets west universe without a women by their side. Four out of the seven stories were published in The New Yorker and can be read through these links: Yesterday, Scheherazade, Kino, Samsa in Love.

All the protagonists in these stories are the typical embodiment of Haruki Murakami’s protagonist: an ordinary Japanese man with a penchant of 1960’s music, jazz, and whiskey. They frequently hang out in a bar (alone), driving a car (alone), or in a bedroom (alone, or not). In the first story of the book, titled ‘Drive My Car’ (a homage to The Beatles), the readers are presented by an old actor named Kafuku who just lost his wife to cancer. His driving license was suspended and he had to hire a driver – who happened to be a young woman, an extraordinarily ordinary young woman with an average face. However, as it goes in most of Murakami’s story, there is something vaguely intriguing and mysterious about this young woman named Misaki. I take delight in the use of simile by Murakami. Murakami is undoubtedly clever in the use of words – metaphors, similes, etc. He described Misaki’s ear in an abstract and surrealistic way that somewhat still makes sense.

“A woman with ears like satellite dishes placed in some remote landscape”

Kafuku and Misaki engaged in a conversation which leads the reader to find out the story of Kafuku’s marriage and how he felt about his wife’s infidelity. He never found out why his wife whom he adores so much would cheat on him although their marriage can be considered a happy one. As a master of an open-ended question, Murakami left the readers hanging on the ‘why’ although Misaki did offer him – and possibly us, as the reader, a vague answer to the question of why Kafuku’s wife cheated on him.

In another homage story to The Beatles titled ‘Yesterday’, the readers are presented by yet again an absurd but comical characters. The protagonist is from Kansai area but in an effort to let go everything about his old place, he adopted a Tokyo dialect once he settled in Tokyo. In Tokyo, he befriends a Tokyo native named Kitaru who insisted to talk in an off-putting Kansai dialect. Haruki Murakami’s character’s certain obsession (mostly odd obsession) is once again unexplainable. Just like the previous story, there’s also an appearance of one woman – Kitaru’s old time girlfriend and also his childhood friend. Kitaru asked the protagonist to ‘date’ his girlfriend because he doesn’t want his girlfriend to cheat on him behind his back without him knowing who the person is. Both the protagonist and the girlfriend cringed with this rather absurd idea and Kitaru’s explanation doesn’t make sense both to us as the readers, and to the protagonist and the girlfriend characters. Once again, nothing is ever explained clearly.

One of the most exciting story within this book is a new entry that I’ve never read before – it is though a new story written specifically for this book. The story’s title is ‘An Independent Organ’ in which the readers are introduced to an early fifty handsome and well-off doctor named Dr.Tokai. As our protagonist introduced him, the readers also once again introduced to ‘A Man Without Women’.

“Tokai is fifty-two, and has never been married, or even lived with a woman. He lives in a two-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor of an elegant building in the tony Azabu district in Tokyo. A confirmed bachelor, you might say. He takes cares of most household chores himself – cooking, laundry, ironing, cleaning – and the rest are handled by professional housecleaners who come twice a month.”

Dr. Tokai who is a bachelor for all his life is an epitome of ‘Don Juan’, he’s a skilled player in love and relationship – sleeping with different kind of women without ever getting attached, well, until he fell in love with a married woman. Like most woman in previous stories, the woman here is also unpredictable, an enigma to all these men who are trying to figure out the women’s feeling and action. Dr. Tokai’s story left me feeling hollow as the story progressed I saw him, a skilled lover and a steadfast man with enough of everything in his life, deteriorated and die because of heartbreak – the first time he fell in love and betrayed and he succumbed to tragic death. This story in particular also notes the difference between men and women when it comes to heartbreak as noted by the protagonist of this story.

“Women are all born with a special, independent organ that allows them to lie . . . ”

Despite the monotonous subject and recurring type of character and theme in all Murakami’s book, I begin to understand why I keep getting hooked with all his books. Haruki Murakami is undeniably the symbol of today’s generation, acutely plagued with existential loneliness due to increasingly disconnected relationship in a very connected world of social media.  Murakami’s words and stories resonated to our deep subconscious that  deep down inside we’re all lonely and disconnected to the people we want to understand the most, just like the characters of Murakami’s Men Without Women who are severely disconnected with their women despite seemingly knowing them enough.

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To all fellow millennials who are going through the acute loneliness of an upcoming or passed quarter life crisis, I recommended this book to you.

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