The Elephant Vanishes
U.S. First edition cover
Zō no shōmetsu
|Translator||Alfred Birnbaum, Jay Rubin|
|Genre||Short story collection|
|Published||March 31, 1993 (Knopf)|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|LC Class||PL856.U673 E44 1993|
The Elephant Vanishes (象の消滅 Zō no shōmetsu?) is a collection of 17 short stories by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The stories were written between 1980 and 1991, and published in Japan in various magazines, then collections. The contents of this compilation were selected by Gary Fisketjon (Murakami's editor at Knopf) and first published in English translation in 1993 (its Japanese counterpart was released later in 2005). Several of the stories had already appeared (often with alternate translations) in the magazines The New Yorker, Playboy, and The Magazine (Mobil Corp.) before this compilation was published.
Stylistically and thematically, the collection aligns with Murakami's previous work. The stories mesh normality with surrealism, and focus on painful issues involving loss, destruction, confusion and loneliness. The title for the book is derived from the final story in the collection.
Many of the stories in the collection have been published previously in Japanese periodicals (not listed here), then translated in literary magazines (mentioned below). The stories are listed in the order in which they appear in the book.
- "The Wind-up Bird and Tuesday's Women (The New Yorker, 1986; updated subsequently as the first chapter of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle)
- After being disturbed by a strange phone-call from an unknown woman demanding ten minutes of his time, a man goes in search of his wife's missing cat and meets a girl in a neighbour's garden.
- "The Second Bakery Attack" (Playboy, 1985)
- A man tells his new wife about an attack he and a friend made on a bakery as a youth in which the baker made them listen to an album of Wagner overtures in return for as much bread as they want, in effect thwarting their plans. His wife believes that he has been cursed since then and that the only way to lift the curse is to successfully carry out an immediate second attack, but as it is 2.30 a.m. they can find no bakery open so instead attack a McDonald's.
- "The Kangaroo Communiqué" (1981)
- A man working in the product-control section of a department store received a letter from a woman who wrote to complain that she had mistakenly bought Mahler instead of Brahms. The man is captivated by the woman's letter of complaint and so decides to make personal contact with her.
- "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" (1981)
- A Tokyo man tells of passing the '100% perfect girl' for him in a Harajuku street, and of what in hindsight he should have said to her.
- "Sleep" (The New Yorker, 1989)
- A woman has not slept for 17 days but does not feel the need for sleep. She conceals her condition from her husband and children but spends the nights eating chocolate, drinking Rémy Martin brandy, reading Anna Karenina and going for drives through the city in her Civic.
- "The Fall of the Roman Empire, the 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler's Invasion of Poland, and the Realm of Raging Winds" (The Magazine (Mobil Corp), 1986)
- A man writes his diary, prompted by disparate phrases to remind him of the day's events.
- "Lederhosen" (1985)
- A woman tells of her mother's divorce, prompted by a trip to buy some lederhosen in Germany as a souvenir for her husband who has remained at home in Tokyo. The shop refuses to sell her any as her husband is not there to be fitted, so she finds a stranger of the same size.
- "Barn Burning" (The New Yorker, 1983)
- The narrator's casual girlfriend's latest boyfriend, an apparently successful businessman, reveals to the narrator that he has a secret penchant for setting fire to barns, and that the next such attack is imminent. The girlfriend then disappears.
- "The Little Green Monster" (Story Magazine, 1981)
- A monster burrows up into a woman's garden, breaks into her house, and proposes love. The creature can read her mind and she uses this fact to fight against it.
- "Family Affair" (1985)
- A man argues with his younger sister about her latest boyfriend.
- "A Window" (1991)
- A graduate spends a year working at "The Pen Society" where he is employed to reply to letters from members, grading and making constructive comments on their prose. When he leaves he makes personal contact with one of his correspondents.
- "TV People" (The New Yorker, 1989)
- 20-30% smaller than normal people, the TV people install a television in the narrator's flat, but the change is ignored by his wife. He later spots them carrying a television through his workplace, but when he mentions it to his colleagues they change the subject. Then his wife disappears.
- "A Slow Boat to China" (1980)
- A Tokyo man recounts his contacts with Chinese people.
- "The Dancing Dwarf" (1984)
- A man working at a factory manufacturing elephants dreams of a dancing dwarf, then hears the dwarf existed and danced for the king prior to the revolution. In a subsequent dream he makes a pact with the dwarf to win the heart of a beautiful girl at the factory dance.
- "The Last Lawn of the Afternoon" (1982)
- Proud of his work, a man decides to give up his job mowing lawns as having split up from his girlfriend he no longer needs the money. He tells of his last assignment near Yomiuri Land.
- "The Silence" (1991)
- Amateur boxer Qzawa tells of his high school feud with classmate Aoki.
- "The Elephant Vanishes" (The New Yorker, 1985)
- An elderly elephant and its keeper disappear without a trace, the narrator being the last to see them.
While the list above details which stories appeared before the publication of The Elephant Vanishes, many of the stories have also appeared elsewhere more recently:
- "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" was read on the Public Radio International show This American Life.
- "The Little Green Monster" was read on the Public Radio International show Selected Shorts.
The British theatre company Complicite collaborated with Japan's Setagaya Public Theatre to produce a stage adaptation also entitled The Elephant Vanishes. The production featured three of the stories in Murakami's collection ("Sleep," "The Second Bakery Attack," and the title story). Directed by Simon McBurney and starring a Japanese cast, the play opened in May, 2003, in Tokyo before touring internationally in limited festival runs. The performance was in Japanese with English supertitles.
The show incorporated a great deal of multimedia, which Complicite had traditionally eschewed, but married it with the company's trademark communal storytelling and demanding physical performance style. The eponymous elephant, for example, was represented at one time by a magnified eye on a video screen, and at another time by four live actors bent over office chairs. This combination of technical wizardry and compelling human narrative received high praise from critics, who also cited the play's humor, realism, and dreamlike motion a fitting tribute to Murakami's prose.
- The short story "The Elephant Vanishes" inspired a research paper on Asian elephants and their impact on the well-being of the rural poor in India.
- "The Second Bakery Attack" was used as a scene in Der Eisbär, a German movie starring Til Schweiger, written and co-directed by Granz Henman.
- "The Second Bakery Attack" also became a basis for an episode of the South Korean film trilogy Acoustic.