The Elephant Vanishes Essay - Critical Essays

Haruki Murakami

The Elephant Vanishes

Haruki Murakami is acclaimed as the “voice of a generation” inJapan. His first two novels to appear in English, A WILD SHEEPCHASE (1989) and HARD-BOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD(1991), won high praise from American critics. THE ELEPHANTVANISHES, Murakami’s first collection of short stories, againdemonstrates that Murakami’s is, indeed, one of the most excitingvoices in contemporary international literature.

In THE ELEPHANT VANISHES, Murakami intermingles reality withfantasy, memory with illusion, and the physical world withmetaphysical contemplation. Murakami’s characters are homemakers,store clerks, paraprofessionals, business people, and collegestudents. Many of them suffer from the modern syndrome of angst,ennui, emptiness, and loneliness. These characters’ ontologicalrelationship with reality, therefore, appears to be defined bytheir ability to create unreality. In “The Wind-Up Bird andTuesday’s Women,” for instance, the unemployed narrator’s searchfor a cat leads him to a meeting with a high school girl whosesoothing voice puts the narrator to “sleep”; the meeting is as realas imaginary. “The Last Lawn of the Afternoon” examines theparadoxical relationship between fiction and memory. The narratorwants to shape his memory the same way he mows lawns, for he knowsboth involve deliberate and highly subjective choices. In “TheKangaroo Communique,” the narrator is a bored store clerk. Hefinds in the theory of the Nobility of Imperfection both an answerto a customer’s complaint and an excuse to console himself.

Murakami’s use of surrealism in THE ELEPHANT VANISHES is veryeffective. It bridges the parallel worlds of the visible and theinvisible. By making comprehensible what otherwise seemsincongruous, Murakami is able to turn the ordinary into theextraordinary. Murakami’s stories are also enlivened with humorand his characters’ professed candor and innocence.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIX, February 1, 1993, p.955.

Boston Globe. March 28, 1993, p.39.

Chicago Tribune. March 28, 1993, XIV, p.6.

Library Journal. CXVIII, March 1, 1993, p.111.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 4, 1993, p.3.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, March 28, 1993, p.10.

Publishers Weekly. CXL, February 1, 1993, p.74.

The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXIX, Autumn, 1993, p. SS130.

The Wall Street Journal. May 5, 1993, p. A20.

The Washington Post. May 28, 1993, p. G5.