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24 June 2013

'The Elephant Vanishes' by Haruki Murakami translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin

Murakami's art is to make terrifying magic believable by making the feelings of the characters believable

Sometimes, when I latch on to an author, I read the books in chronological order.  Even if I started in the middle, as is the case with Terry Pratchett, I go back to the beginning... rather like Inigo Montoya in 'The Princess Bride'.  I like to see how an author develops and changes over time. In spite of the fact that Murakami has written for many years, I did not rearrange my books once I had started.  I read his works as the mood takes me.

'The Elephant Vanishes' is the second short story collection of his that I have read.  It is copyrighted in 1993.  I mention it because he has written several books in the last 20 years and these short stories seem to be the seeds to some of those books, if not in themes then in feeling.  While reading these old stories, I often caught glimpses of some of his books and my heart skipped a beat... imagine bumping on the street into a loved one you thought dead... talk about disconnected from society...

Short story collections by their nature are a mix of themes and characters.  Sometimes something unifies them but most of the time the stories can stand on their own.  This particular collection has many characters that disconnect from modern society, often in true Murakami style, like in the story, 'TV People', a magical element is combined with self doubt and confusion.  It is a fascinating and frightening read.   But I will not go into details, his art is to make terrifying magic believable by making the feelings of the characters believable.

Anyway, I liked some stories and I liked some stories less.  But... then... suspicion, mistrust, as my weakness (one weakness amongst many) overwhelms me. You see, there are two (2) translators to these stories.  Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin.  So, I wonder if my like/dislike has any correlation with the translators.  I am going to go look.


Well, that is interesting. There is no correlation between translators and the the stories I dislike, which is comforting.  Out of the 17 stories in 'The Elephant Vanishes', I do not like 6.  They are evenly split.  3/9 Alfred Birnbaum and 3/8 Jay Rubin.  I know that J.R. has one less story but that does not mean that had there been an 18th story, I would dislike it.  So my time was wasted.  You see, I am a fan of translators.  Without these women and men, I would miss out on Murakami, for instance.  Do take a peak at another one of my posts, 'Is That a Fish in Your Ear?',  a book about translation written by a translator...interesting and enlightening.  Quality, of course, does differ amongst translators but my experience is that modern translators are reliable and often know their authors well.  So I am disappointed in myself for doubting.  I am sorry, I will never doubt again...probably.  Forgive me Great Editor in the sky (NYC highrise) for I am weak.

Haruki Murakami 
ISBN: 9780099448754 

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