The Elephant Vanishes

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The Elephant Vanishes
Haruki murakami elephant 9780679750536.jpg
U.S. First edition cover
EditorGary Fisketjon
AuthorHaruki Murakami
Original title象の消滅
Zō no shōmetsu
TranslatorAlfred Birnbaum, Jay Rubin
CountryJapan
LanguageJapanese
GenreShort story collection
PublishedMarch 31, 1993 (Knopf)
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages327
ISBN0-679-42057-6
OCLC26805691
LC ClassPL856.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,[1] 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.

Contents[edit]

Title Previously published in English in Year
"The Wind-up Bird and Tuesday's Women" The New Yorker 1986
"The Second Bakery Attack" Playboy 1985
"The Kangaroo Communiqué" 1981
"On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" 1981
"Sleep" The New Yorker 1989
"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
"Lederhosen" 1985
"Barn Burning" The New Yorker 1983
"The Little Green Monster" 1981
"Family Affair" 1985
"A Window" 1991
"TV People" The New Yorker 1989
"A Slow Boat to China" 1980
"The Dancing Dwarf" 1984
"The Last Lawn of the Afternoon" 1982
"The Silence" 1991
"The Elephant Vanishes" The New Yorker 1985

Synopsis[edit]

"The Wind-up Bird and Tuesday's Women"[edit]

Note: This story was subsequently updated 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 neighbor's garden.

"The Second Bakery Attack"[edit]

A recently-married couple in their late twenties lie in bed, famished; they have little in their refrigerator: a six-pack of beer and some cookies. After drink and eating all of it, the man recounts to his wife a time he and his friend “robbed” a bakery ten years ago. The two intended to take all the bread they could from a bakery by force. The man who ran the bakery offers a counterproposal before the two men can act: since he is a Richard Wagner fanatic, if they listen to Tannhäuser and The Flying Dutchman with him in the bakery, he will give them all the bread they can carry. They agree, and the bread is enough to feed the two men for a few days. After hearing of that story, the woman suggest that they do the same thing, despite it being 2:30 A.M.

They drive around Tokyo looking for bakery but all of them are closed; they “compromise” to “rob” a McDonald's instead. With ski-masks and a Remington automatic shotgun, they enter the restaurant and demand thirty Big Macs. The three employees working there fulfill the peculiar request. The couple then leave the restaurant and drive until they find an empty parking lot; they then eat four to six Big Macs each until they are full. The man feels calm after this experience.

"The Kangaroo Communiqué"[edit]

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"[edit]

A Tokyo man tells of passing the "100% perfect girl" for him in a Harajuku neighborhood. He imagines a scenario where an eighteen-year-old boy and a sixteen-year-old girl meet and agree that they are 100% perfect for each other. To prove their hypothesis, they agree to go their separate ways and let fate bring them back together. Years go by and one winter, they both get terrible influenza which causes them to forget much of their respective young adult years. They run into each other in Harajuku when he is thirty-two and she is thirty, but they do no stop for each other. The man say that this is what he should have said to the "100% perfect girl."

"Sleep"[edit]

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"[edit]

A man writes his diary, prompted by unique phrases to remind him of the day's events.

"Lederhosen"[edit]

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"[edit]

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"[edit]

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"[edit]

A man argues with his younger sister about her latest boyfriend.

"A Window'"[edit]

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"[edit]

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"[edit]

A Tokyo man recounts his contacts with Chinese people.

"The Dancing Dwarf"[edit]

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"[edit]

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"[edit]

Amateur boxer Ozawa tells of his high school feud with classmate Aoki.

"The Elephant Vanishes"[edit]

An elderly elephant and its keeper disappear without a trace, the narrator being the last to see them.

Additional publication[edit]

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:

Theatrical adaptation[edit]

The British theatre company Complicite collaborated with Japan's Setagaya Public Theatre to produce a stage adaptation also entitled The Elephant Vanishes.[2] 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.[3][4][5]

Popular culture[edit]

  • The short story "The Elephant Vanishes" inspired a research paper[6] 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 The Polar Bear, 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.
  • "Barn Burning" was adapted into the 2018 film Burning by South-Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong, which premiered to great acclaim in the Cannes film festival of that same year.

Book information[edit]

The Elephant Vanishes (English edition) by Haruki Murakami; translation by Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin

References[edit]

  1. ^ Full title 象の消滅 : 短篇選集, 1980–1991 (Zō no shōmetsu : tanpen senshū, 1980–1991). See also publication history at Haruki Murakami#Short stories.
  2. ^ Complicite.org
  3. ^ The Guardian
  4. ^ Ft.com
  5. ^ The New York Times
  6. ^ Oxford.academia.edu Jadhav, S., and M. Barua. 2012. The Elephant Vanishes: Impact of human-elephant Conflict on people's well-being. Health & Place.