Book review

Murakami writes as mysteriously as ever about men without women, but somewhere the magic is missing

How many times can stories without endings be written?

There’s always an inexplicable sense of anticipation every time a new Haruki Murakami book comes out. Yet again, one dreams, and happily so, of inhabiting a world where cats talk and women disappear without notice; where the real seems unreal, and the meaning of reason is effortlessly lost.

But can every new Murakami pull it off?

Murakami’s newest short story collection, Men Without Women: Stories, released in English translation in May, is, like most of his other works, laden with his signature themes of melancholy, alienation, infidelity, and introspection. Ardent fans will agree that Murakami is a master of open-ended mysteries, and this edition is no different. Dreamlike sequences pregnant with existential fears overpower each of the seven stories.

He takes control of each protagonist’s mind and soul, works his way around their thoughts and actions, and manages to satisfy the reader in his trademark enigmatic fashion. And yet, something is missing.

When she went away

Murakami begins this collection with “Drive My Car”, the story of Kafuku, an ageing actor and his pained withdrawal from all things fun after the sudden death of his wife. But it’s not just her demise that has left him in a state of unwelcome solitude; it’s her numerous secret love affairs that he struggles to comprehend.

In no way does Kafuku attempt to cap the weight of emptiness he feels day in and day out, but somehow he finds himself opening up to his new chauffeur – a young woman whom he appoints to drive his yellow Saab 900 convertible. Her impeccable driving and the absence of unnecessary small talk reassures Kafuku into finding himself comfortably seated in the confessional backseat, recounting the most personal events of his life without having the fear of being judged.

Then there is “Samsa in Love”, Murakami’s role-reversal take on Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, where instead of Gregor Samsa waking up to find himself turned into a roach, the roach wakes up to discover that he is a two-legged, fully-clothed human named Gregor Samsa. The story, however, is more than just about the bug adjusting to being human.

Murakami’s use of a politically loaded backdrop – the Prague Spring of 1968, when freedom of speech and democracy was quelled under the Soviet hegemony – is clever and sharp. And the story offers glimpses of typical Murakami wisdom: “Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.”

Every story is unique, if not incredible, to say the least, but “Kino” is a sure-shot stand out. The protagonist, Kino, after witnessing his wife’s adultery (he practically walks in on his wife and her lover together in bed) quits his job and takes to living a low-profile life as a bar-owner. “He couldn’t make anyone else happy, and, of course, couldn’t make himself happy…The most he could do was create a place where his heart – devoid now of any depth or weight – could be tethered, to keep it from wandering aimlessly.”

But it’s not just Kino’s ruminations that are appealing, it’s also, in fact, the overall mood that the story creates – a dim backstreet bar, old jazz melodies playing on a loop, a gray cat that has picked a display case to be its sleeping corner, and a returning customer who likes his glass of Scotch and keeps his head dug into a book – that makes the story as delicious as you’d expect.

Nothing like its namesake

The title, Men Without Women, is, of course, borrowed from Ernest Hemingway’s collection of short stories published in 1927. Murakami’s version, however, bears no resemblance to the legendary author and tortured Nobel laureate’s collection, which celebrated the muscular themes of bullfighting and prizefighting, as well as the customary matters of infidelity, divorce and death.

Western art has always influenced Murakami’s works and so, it’s not surprising that he has chosen to employ Hemingway’s famed anthology-title to offers his insights on what it means to be men without women.

“What I wish to convey in this collection is, in a word, isolation, and what it means emotionally. ‘Men Without Women’ is a concrete example of that,” said Murakami to New Yorker.

There are no extraordinary closures here. Men carry on with their glass of single malt accompanying their forlorn lives, women find peace in moving into oblivion, and the obedient jazz record lends musical life to the otherwise odd tales. Somewhat repetitive in places, a tad lacklustre this is Murakami on a slightly off-colour day. He still gets his magic right, but perhaps we’re beginning to sense what’s coming. And that’s not a good thing for a writer of Murakami’s stature.

Men Without Women: Stories, Haruki Murakami, Knopf

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.