Recently, I have fallen deeply into reading short stories. It began when I started rummaging my e-book collection of Haruki Murakami’s works. I didn’t know exactly why suddenly I had an urge to open and start reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. (Actually, it was my first time reading Murakami’s work). When I take a time to think about it again now, it was maybe because the title had captured my attention. It just like had a series of mysteries inside it, which challenged me to reveal them. It took me relatively much longer time to finish reading it, compared to pop novels which previously I had finished in around a day for each.
Title : Blind Willow, Sleeping WomanAuthor : Murakami, HarukiGenre : Stories
Written : 2006 (English edition)
Length : 334 pagesTranslator : Philip Gabriel & Jay RubinOriginal in : Japanese
This short story collection consists of 24 stories, which were written between 1980 and 2005. In English edition, Murakami added an introduction, where he introduced his way of writing short stories, and why he wrote them.
“...when I write novels I try very hard to learn from the successes and failures I experience in writing short stories. In that sense, the short story is a kind of experimental laboratory for me as a novelist.”
So, no wonder, if he put some of his stories into his novels. Some people maybe regarded his act as a plagiarism of his own works. For me, it’s okay to do that, besides the fact that his readers may get bored of this kind of repeating part of story.
“...both ‘Firefly’ and ‘Man-Eating Cats’, with some changes, were incorporated as parts of, respectively, the novels Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart.”
Despite that, I found myself easily enjoying his stories, which each of them always has mystery, and fused some simple everyday experience with some kind of unreal parts. His stories are both real and unreal in same time. He loved to emphasis his characters’ (most of them was a lonely and gloomy individual) ways of feeling and thinking, and sometimes neglected the conclusion and coherence. Sometimes, I could not get the relevance between one part and the other parts of a story. But he was the expert in playing enigma and got me through his story easily where I could not push aside till I finished reading it.
“Get the tone right and you have a true story on your hands. Maybe some of the facts aren't quite correct, but that doesn't matter -- it actually might elevate the truth factor of the story. Turn this around, and you could say there're stories that are factually accurate yet aren't true at all.”
Some people judged Murakami for writing the same genre and kind of stories with Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s. So, after that, I started to read Akutagawa’s stories, Rashomon and Other Stories.
I read the edition which consisted of In A Grove, Rashomon, Yam Gruel, The Martyr, Kesa and Morito, and The Dragon. And actually I could see that these two authors have three same characteristics, i.e.:
- Both of them were the masters of tone (if you don't judge Murakami followed the lead of Akutagawa in writing this way).
- They liked to be unseen as a narrator. When entering their stories, they chose a slight role of observer or listener. It was like Murakami in Birthday Girl and Akutagawa in Yam Gruel.
- As written by Howart Hibbett in Introduction of Rashomon and Other Stories, Akutagawa loved to “dramatize the complexities of human psychology, and study.... the precarious balance of illusion and reality”. Murakami was also doing this kind of approach in his stories.
Through his stories, Akutagawa spoke about the deterioration in Japanese people’s morality, like the one he used as main theme of In the Grove.
“To me killing isn’t a matter of such great consequence as you might think. You kill people with your power, with your money. Sometimes you kill them on the pretext of working for their good. It’s true they don’t bleed. They are in the best of health, but all the same you’ve killed them. It’s hard to say who is a greater sinner, you or me.” (Tajomaru, In A Grove)
And, also, in Rashomon.
"Indeed, making wigs out of the hair of the dead may seem a great evil to you, but these that are here deserve no better…. There was no other choice. If she knew I had to do this in order to live, she probably wouldn't care.""Then it's right if I rob you. I'd starve if I didn't."
The third stories collection I read was Anton Chekhov’s The Steppe and Other Stories, which were written between 1886 and 1889.
Title : The Steppe and Other Stories
Author : Chekhov, Anton
Genre : Stories
Written : 1991 (English edition)
Length : 325 pages
Translator : Constance Garnett
Original in : Russian
I don’t finish it yet until now, so I can’t tell much about it, since I have to read other stories, i.e. Yang Hidup dan Mati, by Rabindranath Tagore, a well-known author from India. These stories were written between 1891 and 1895. Tagore tell us about many social issues in Bengali at that time, including early-marriage phenomena, broken justice, the mournful life of poor people, discrimination, etc. Most of his stories have distressed endings, where the main characters ended up catching death, committing suicide, or having hard times. But, it feels okay for me, because that the reality in life is tough, it isn’t flabbergasting. Tagore’s stories just seem so real for me. The thing I dislike the most about this stories collection is that it had been translated two times, from India to English, and then from English to Indonesia, so there are some parts that lost their correct senses. Some translated words, or sentences in it don’t feel appropriate.
Title : Yang Hidup dan Mati
Author : Rabindranath Tagore
Translator : Sovia Veronica Purba
(translated from Selected Short Stories, London: Penguin Books)
Length : 384 halaman
Publisher : DIVA Press/Desember 2014
Then, what kind of books did you read recently?