Men Without Women is the latest of Haruki Murakami’s works to get an English translation (original publication 2014: translation 2017). Focusing on primarily on past relationships, this collection of short stories shares the grounded approach taken in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki more than the heightened magical realism of Murakami’s earlier acclaimed works.
The 7 stories in Men Without Women span the gamut of emotions, though there is a sense of loss and pathos, teetering on regret that permeates many of the pieces. The men at the heart of each story take on different sizes, shapes, and ages, sharing only a passive outlook on life. Fans will recognize certain tropes – nameless protagonists, music cues, and cats! – and probably take special pleasure in “Yesterday” and “Kino” which are the most emblematic of Murakami’s style. Yesterday is quirky and more upbeat reminiscent of the early chapters in Wild Sheep’s Chase or Windup Bird Chronicle while Kino hits some of the mythical elements without going into full on Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World territory. The cat doesn’t talk so, don’t expect to hit bingo. While not my favorite “Samsa in Love” is the most direct connection we’re likely to get with his idol Kafka.
As you might expect the story telling is beautiful and engaging. There is an intimacy to Murakami’s writing since 1Q84 that doesn’t so much feel like a maturation as a writer entering a different stage of his career. Borrowing the title from a collection of short stories by Ernest Hemmingway and collaborating with two longtime translators, Philip Gabriel [Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, Sputnik Sweatheart] and Ted Goossen [Wind/Pinball], Men Without Women is a thought provoking exploration romantic relationships – intimacy, communication, loss, and even fantasy. A must read for fans, casual readers may find this collection too dramatic a departure from Murakami’s acclaimed works. If you can appreciate the grounded Murakami of recent years, you’ll find much to love in Men Without Women.