Tag Archives: Japanese Literature

Review: First Person Singular – Stories

First Person Singular - Stories

First Person Singular: Stories
By Haruki Murakami | Translated by Philip Gabriel
Knopf, 9780593318072, April 6, 2021, 256pp.

The Short of It:

Fans of Murakami will not be disappointed with his latest collection of stories which touch on everything he’s passionate about (baseball, talking animals, women, and music).

The Rest of It:

As many of you know, I am crazy for Murakami’s writing and was once an ambassador for one of his books which earned me two signed copies. They humbly sit on a special shelf in my loft and whenever I hear of a new book coming out, I am filled with anticipation and forced to remain patient as it often takes two years for his works to be translated.

When I heard about this collection of stories I knew I had to find a copy and the publisher was kind enough to send me a review copy. That said, are you a short story person? Usually, I am not. I’ve read some good collections but I will always choose a novel over short stories. The one thing I can say about Murakami is that sometimes his short works become novels so I pay special attention to his stories when they come out.

First Person Singular is an accurate representation of his writing style. I always struggle to find the right words to describe his writing but his stories always touch on isolation and his protagonists usually are everyday guys who dress and live simply. They are often observers of people, going about their lives. There is a simplicity to this but also a complexity when you think about how complex human beings can be.

His characters often just sidle up to a bar and have conversations with strange people, usually women. This is the case in the story which provides the title for the book, First Person Singular. What appears to be innocent chit chat suddenly becomes an accusation of something he’s done in the past. What has he done? Three years was so long ago.

In Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey, a man is enjoying a beer with a talking monkey. While chatting with this monkey, the monkey confesses that he’s stolen names of the women he’s loved. It’s such a strange, personal thing to take from a person. Can you really love someone so much that their identity is taken away from them? Yes.

One of my favorite stories, The Yakult Swallows, appears to be auto-biographical and touches on Murakami’s love of baseball. He talks about his father and how they used to enjoy a good ball game. His love for the field itself really shines in this one. He puts you right in the stands.

The thing that I love most about Murakami is his love for music. All of his novels include music in some way and many of his books have playlists on Spotify to enjoy while reading his books. In this collection, he includes a story titled, Carnaval. This story centers around Schumann’s Carnaval and while reading it I had to listen to it, which was easy enough to do and set the mood quite nicely.

Murakami’s stories can be odd but I find them to be so refreshing. I often refer to them as “palate” cleansers. They are like nothing I’ve read before and always border on magical realism and the mundane. You would not think the two could live successfully in a book but they do quite nicely when Murakami is at the helm. Weird and wonderful are words I use a lot to describe his writing too. If you know, you know but if you aren’t familiar with him, give him a try. I’ve reviewed nearly everything he’s written. My favorites can be found below and the links go directly to my review:

As for this collection, it’s a win. You’ll be thinking about these stories long after reading the last one.

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Memory Police

The Memory Police

The Memory Police
By Yoko Ogawa, Translated by Stephen Snyder
Vintage, 9781101911815, July 2020, 288pp.

The Short of It:

Ethereal and beautiful, tinged with sadness.

The Rest of It:

On a remote island, random objects begin to disappear. Birds, roses, ribbons, etc. The inhabitants wake to a feeling of change yet can’t put their finger on what has changed until they interact with others on the island. The strange thing is that the feeling that the disappearance causes precedes the actual disappearance which is followed through to completion by the inhabitants themselves. So when roses disappear, the inhabitants gather up all the roses to destroy them and send them down a river.

The disappearances are enforced by the Memory Police. How they know when someone is holding out is not explained but if someone tries to preserve something that has disappeared, they are taken away. Eventually, when all traces are removed, most of the inhabitants can no longer recall the item at all. All memory of the item has disappeared as well. But there are some who never forget. The memories of these items remain in them, and for some, they’ve even been able to preserve the actual item, such as a piece of candy. As living becomes more difficult and the situation more dire, you can’t help but compare what is going on with Orwell’s 1984.

The three main characters are for the most part, unnamed. Our protagonist, a young woman, lost both her parents and lives a solitary life. She is a writer and befriended by her editor, only known as “R” and a kind old man who knew her mother. The three navigate these disappearances as best they can but “R” happens to be one of the people who can remember and so he must go into hiding with their help. What will disappear next?

This story is beautifully written. I found myself rereading many passages as I went along. The author’s skill at evoking a particular memory is especially wonderful. I found myself mourning all the things we have lost during this pandemic. The smell of a wonderful meal, served to me in a bustling restaurant filled with laughter and happy people. Or I found myself missing movie theatres and that anticipation you feel when the previews roll or the smell of hot buttered popcorn while sitting back to enjoy a really good film. The story made me feel all kinds of things. Yes, it made me a little sad but also hopeful because I am fairly certain that the tangible things we’ve lost during this pandemic are only temporary losses, not like the ones in the story.

The author’s inspiration was Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. This makes sense when you consider the hiding that must take place to keep these people safe. The Memory Police is a wonderful read. I have found a new favorite author in Ogawa and can’t wait to read another book by her.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.