Nenette's Reviews > Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: Twenty-four Stories

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
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's review
Dec 29, 2010

it was ok
Recommended to Nenette by: Gift from KD
Read from January 02 to 14, 2011

I have read good reviews about this book, but I just couldn’t relate to them. The book picked up towards the end, with really nice stories…But one has to live through “waste of time” pieces throughout the book (mostly for the first three quarters) before one is treated to the nice ones (what is glory without suffering?)

Since this is a collection of short stories, I've decided to rate it by story, and then take the average. Average rating overall is 2.54, which technically translates to 3 stars (if I am to be strict about rules on rounding off whole numbers). However, based on my overall impression and personal thoughts about the book, plus the following statistics, I am more inclined to give this book just 2 stars: Number of stories rated as 1 star- 6; 2 stars-7; 3 stars-4; 4 stars -6; 5 stars-1. And 2 stars it is! It was just really ok. I don’t like it overall, so definitely not 3 stars.

1st story: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - My rating: 1 star

A story about a young man who was living and working in Tokyo, until his grandmother died and he had to go back to his hometown. There he took to accompanying his deaf cousin on his visit to a new hospital. Along the way, he noted the bus they took were full of senior people, had a sort of deja-vu in the hospital cafeteria about a friend and his friend's girlfriend, whom he had also visited in a different hospital many years ago. Though very loose, there was sort of an intertwining of the present with this episode in his past; with a recollection of the girlfriend's story about the blind willow nad sleeping woman. The story ended with him and his cousin boarding the bus back home from the hospital.

Call me dim-witted, but I don't get it. What's the significance of the story? What's the point of the comparison of the past and the present - is it a lamentation on his part that he's not really moved on, always keeping people company in hospitals? What's the significance of the story about the blind willow and sleeping woman - is it still all about not being able to move on, sleeping until one is eaten away? If the intent was to leave the answers to the reader's imagination, there's nothing much of a story to start with actually. It would have been nice if there was some solid foundation for the readers to bank on. Again, I don't get it!

2nd Story: Birthday Girl – My rating: 4 stars

The story of a girl who had to work on her 20th birthday, but had a chance to make one wish, and have it come true. What she wished for, it was never mentioned, but at the present time, she is living a happy and contented life. This story is a great lesson about how one creates his/her own circumstance in life – as quoted from the story, “No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves.”

3rd Story: New York Mining Disaster – My rating; 1 star

Again, what’s the point??? The title surfaced in the story only in the “epilogue”, but then it had nothing to do with the whole story itself. Unless the narrator is one of the miners that were trapped? But there was no indication to this effect. Loosely, the story is about a 28-year old man who’s had five friends who have died one after the other – no one from the mine though, unless the string of deaths is supposed to be likened to the string of death in a mining disaster. He had to borrow a suit to wear to the funerals from another friend who fancies going to the zoo when there’s a typhoon. Towards the end of the story, he met a woman in a new year’s eve party who claimed that five years ago, she killed somebody who looks so much like him. That’s it! Another story a dim-witted like me could not fathom!

4th Story – Airplane – My rating: 2 stars

A just-so conversation between a married woman and her lover centering on the man’s talking to himself (like poetry). He is not aware that he talks to himself any more than the fact that he talks about airplanes. Throughout the story, the man ponders the characteristics of the woman, specifically that she cries a lot and for a long time, and that after she cries, she would initiate their lovemaking. He also ponders whether he’s in love with her, and her with him. I’m giving this 2 stars because it is but rational for two lovers to talk about just anything, but as to where the conversation would lead to – that’s what’s lacking in the story, I believe.

5th Story – Mirror – My rating: 3 stars

Another story in this collection that has sense and purpose. As I quote from the story, is it really true that “the most frightening thing in the world is our own self”? I tend to agree with this. It’s like saying there is no greater motivator than one’s self. Once a person has overcome his/her fears, then he/she can overcome anything.

6th Story – A Folklore for my Generation – My rating: 3 stars

The story is related in the first person and I have assumed Murakami to be the narrator, having referred to himself as an author/novelist. He talks about the 60s, and tells the story of a high school classmate and his girlfriend. The values prevalent during the 60s, especially those referring to sex and virginity were discussed at the start, and this is a good kick-off point for what the main story was all about. Even if Murakami maintains that there are “no lessons to be learned from this” story, I still gleamed some – staying true to ones values and beliefs, and keeping promises.

7th Story – Hunting Knife – My rating: 2 stars

I am giving this 2 stars because the story was able to sustain itself until the topic of the knife came. How ironic, the title being ‘Hunting knife’, yet it was the knife itself that was the downfall of the story. This is about a man spending a holiday in a beach resort with his wife. They regularly see a mother and son pair with whom they have developed a nodding acquaintance, until one night just before dawn when the man went out of their cottage and he chanced upon the ‘son’. Mostly, the ‘son’ talked about his life, his being confined in a wheelchair, his relatives who own the resort. The story was good up to this point, then came the knife. I don’t want to dwell on how the knife (the title even) ruined everything; you have to go read it for yourself – you might be able to glimpse some meaning from it which I did not get myself.

8th Story – A Perfect Day for Kangaroos – My rating: 1 star

A story about two friends who went to the zoo. About a month ago, they read from the newspaper that a baby kangaroo was born. The girl wanted to see the baby kangaroo in its monther’s pouch. At first, she was disappointed because she thought that they should have gone earlier to visit because now, a month after, the baby kangaroo looks a little big to go inside the pouch. They resigned to eating at the concession stand, and while there, the baby kangaroo hopped into the pouch, so naturally the girl was very happy. That’s it!

9th Story – Dabchick – My rating: 1 star

One probably has to be Japanese to understand this. It’s the story of a man starting on a new job, a rather mysterious job – he had to go through dark passageways to get to the workplace. He needs a password to enter the workplace, a password he has no idea about. With the help from the ‘doorman’, he was able to guess the password – dabchick. Turns out the boss was a ‘dabchick’. How can a bird be the boss? Is he cursed? I guess that’s left for the readers to imagine.

10th Story – Man-Eating Cats – My rating: 2 stars

Again, I am lost in translation. If there’s one thing consistent about these stories, it’s that they all have a nice build up, but the end always leaves me wondering if there was anything I missed, or does it really just go downhill always. This story is all about two lovers who fled to Greece after both their spouses found out about their affair. In my opinion, the man is not able to shake off the guilt of his unfaithfulness, and that’s the reason why he gets clammy, imagining a host of bad things happening to him. That is actually the only justification I can give for the 2 stars. 

11th Story – A Poor Aunt’s Story – My rating: 2 stars

The poor aunt as I understood it is a burden slumped on the author’s back. The weird thing is people see a physical being slumped on his back – or probably it’s all symbolic? While the poor aunt is slumped on his back, people shy away from him – which is just natural – people who are problematic all the time are not good company. Maybe I got the meaning of this story right…Probably Murakami is just weird in a way that he won’t give you the benefit of full understanding by injecting weird characters in his stories.

12th Story – Nausea 1979 – My rating: 3 stars

A story about a man who had vomiting spells for 40 days. The vomiting was accompanied by phone calls wherein the caller just mentioned his name and hung up. As sudden as it started, the vomiting and the phone calls also suddenly stopped. As to why this happened, the narrator (Murakami) can only speculate, no real conclusions arrived at. Just for the structure and because it kept me guessing, I’m giving it 3 stars.

13th Story – The Seventh Man – My rating: 4 stars

So far, this is only the second complete story I’ve read in this collection. My favorite quote: “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, but I don’t believe that….Oh, the fear is there, all right. It comes to us in many different forms, at different times, and overwhelms us. But the most frightening thing we can do at such times is to turn our backs on it, to close our eyes. For the we take the most precious thing inside us and surrender it to something else.”

14th Story – The Year of Spaghetti – My rating: 1 star

In 1971, the narrator cooked spaghetti every day of the year, and ate the dish alone. Towards the end of the year, he got a phone call from a friend’s ex-girlfriend asking him about his friend’s whereabouts. He dismissed this phone call, giving the excuse that he’s cooking spaghetti. I think the story wants to highlight the narrator’s lonesome life that year, and the focus on the spaghetti was to stress the fact that it was his only constant companion. It was good that this story was very short… just the same the topic of the spaghetti was dragged on through the end, that it was really painful to read.

15th Story – Tony Takitani – My rating: 2 stars

Again, the signature style: a good build-up, but a so-so ending. The whole story transcends two generations – father and son, both loners, both good at their craft, living their lives almost independent of each other, thriving in their lonesomeness. The son finds love eventually only to be taken away from him in a tragic accident. After he has disposed of all of his wife’s possessions, and later on of his father’s record collections, he becomes truly alone. To some, that story would have been enough, but not for me…I always have the question, “so what now”? I wonder if Murakami would like the readers to finish the story for him?

16th Story – The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes – My rating: 1 star

Lost in translation again! I was actually at a loss whether to give this 1 or 2 stars. I was looking for one significant thing I can find in the story, but I could not find any, so I don’t think I can justify it if I give the 2 stars, so there.

17th Story – The Ice Man – My rating: 3 stars

A love story between a normal woman and an ice man. They were practically living all by themselves as the woman’s friends and relatives have disowned her when she “married” the ice man; and the ice man have no known relatives or friends. Out of boredom, the woman asked the man that they travel to the South Pole. What happened in the South Pole is for you to find out.

18th Story – Crabs – My rating: 2 stars

If I am only to rate this according to structure, it would get a couple more stars, but a story isn’t just all structure. The story is about a couple vacationing in Singapore. They discovered a nice little restaurant serving good crab dishes. They ate crabs for all the remaining nights that they were in the city. On their 4th and final night while they were sleeping, the man woke up and threw up all the crab he ate over the last few days, until nothing is left. This episode changed everything for him in ways I believe only Murakami can imagine. He has great imagination, yes, and it often borders on absurdity, and I guess I can only take so much.

19th Story – Firefly – My rating: 4 stars

One of the best…. I was reading it over lunch break and I was nodding off in some parts, but I didn’t get lost (amazingly!) It talks about young love, love lost, letting go. I like the metaphor on the firefly. I don’t want to spoil it by rambling on the story as I noticed I’ve done in most of the previous paragraphs, so just read it for yourself.

20th Story – Chance Traveler – My rating: 5 stars

Best story for me. Why are all the nice stories in this collection lumped towards the end? I love that this really happened based on Murakami’s personal experience and that of his friend. The story talks about coincidences, chances, probabilities. Some are funny, others are sad. Whatever they may be, it is really amazing how they weave into our lives.

21st Story – Hanalei Bay – My rating: 4 stars

A story about moving on and letting go. The worst thing that could happen to a parent is to bury his/her own child (as what Mrs. Kennedy said). This is the story of such a mother, who started an annual tradition of visiting the place where her son died. There she met a couple of Japanese hitchhikers who sort of look up to her because of all the help she has extended. As I see it , their relationship, albeit short, is something of a redemption of the “failed’ relationship she had with her son. In the end, while letting the memory of her son linger, I believe she is able to move on.

22nd Story – Where I’m Likely To Find It – My Rating: 2 stars

I don’t see the significance of the investigator/seeker in this story. He didn’t really do anything but loiter the stairs! His specialty on finding things was not so much explained; it would have been better if some examples of previous successful cases were given, since he was not able to solve his current case.

23rd Story – The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day – My Rating: 4 stars

One of the best in this collection. Some things just cannot be explained, and they are best left as they are, accepted for what they’re worth. Throughout our lives, we will meet people who will affect us in different ways, just as we too will have an effect on other people. This story talks about the actions that people choose to take (or not to take) because of things that happen in their lives. Deep meanings and ramblings…sort of surprising in a story that’s actually so light and a breeze to read.

24th Story – A Shinagawa Monkey – My Rating: 4 stars

A serious story with a funny and weird twist. One of the more important characters in the story is a monkey, who in every way is like a human being (he can talk and reason), except that he steals people’s names. The person whose name he stole would have episodes of forgetting their own names, until the name is given back or returned (by the monkey). Really weird, and I think it is for this reason that the author chose this character to be a monkey rather than human. Again, I won’t spoil it by giving more details here. If you would, take my word for it that this story is a good one, so go ahead and read it.
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02/10/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly lucky murakami, getting a 4 for the 2nd story.

message 2: by Kwesi 章英狮 (last edited Jan 05, 2011 02:50AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kwesi 章英狮 Liked the first post! Hikhik.

message 3: by Kwesi 章英狮 (last edited Jan 13, 2011 02:09AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kwesi 章英狮 Some of the stories were like, Huh? WTF! What the hell is this? Can't get it. *I fall a sleep and wake up and I thought it was 6 am. Heartbeat. Dog, dog, dog, tiiiit. It was 6 pm in the evening.

Nenette Yes, same reaction here. But hang in there...It gets better towards the end.

Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly of course it should get better in the end, but only because it was the worst possible literature in its conception in the first place.

Nenette Atty, I've calculated my per story rating so far, and he's not getting more than a 3 overall. :)

Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly I admire your wisdom, discriminating taste and intelligence! You're the best!

message 8: by Kwesi 章英狮 (last edited Jan 14, 2011 06:39PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kwesi 章英狮 Hi Nenette you may refer his 10th story on his novel, Sputnik Sweetheart.

Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly and they say murakami is a better short-story writer than a novelist. enough of this nonsense! read Ryu Murakami instead!

Nenette Thanks, Atty! Kwesi, I don't think I'll read another Murakami in the next few months; maybe later. :)

Kwesi 章英狮 I do agree with Joselito and I never heard of Ryu Murakami. Nenette, maybe I'll read his The WInd-up Chronicle book next week.

David Bulgarelli Have you read Norwegian Wood? There's a moment in there where you can connect it to the first story, and you'll experience a sort of "ah ha!" moment

Nenette David wrote: "Have you read Norwegian Wood? There's a moment in there where you can connect it to the first story, and you'll experience a sort of "ah ha!" moment"

Hi David! No, haven't read that yet. I like a-ha moments so I'll look it up, but if it's anything like Murakami, I don't know... :)

David Bulgarelli It's not like his usual stuff at all, and is probably my favorite book by him. Highly recommended.

message 15: by Bk (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bk Thanks for the summaries. Helped me to get some of the stories.

Shekhar Ruparelia Hey, is it cool if I link to your review on my blog?

Nenette Hey Shekhar! Surely, no problem with me. Thanks!

Shekhar Ruparelia Thank you Nenette. :)

message 19: by Kolin (new) - rated it 1 star

Kolin Jamil Ditto!

message 20: by Kolin (new) - rated it 1 star

Kolin Jamil Ditto!

message 21: by Kolin (new) - rated it 1 star

Kolin Jamil Ditto!

message 22: by Abraham (new) - added it

Abraham Berrones The thing is that most of his short stories are somehow included in his novels, so if you haven't read all his novels, is obvious that you wont enjoy this book

message 23: by Ofelia (new) - added it

Ofelia Islam The first one took me back to Norwegian Wood... Really an ah ha moment! Loved it just because of it. Naoko .. Kizuki.. Watanbee!

Giordana Let me tell you you probably didn't get the meaning behind some of these stories. And let me say that just because you couldn't find a meaning doesn't mean the story is a non-sense or useless one. For example, I personally took the 16th story as a sort of metaphor (more like some little dystopian story) for human tendency to fight against each other and what that usually leads to even when there's really nothing to fight for. Also you can see this as a metaphor to show our nature of creatures always hungry for something. Murakami has a good imagination and an ambiguous but interesting way to help people grow their own. I found some stories a bit boring but it didn't mean that what I was reading was shit worth 1 star.

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