Desire by Haruki Murakami
By Haruki Murakami
Published by Vintage (2017)
Haruki Murakami’s work never failed to give me that strange unsettling feeling: it felt kind of disturbing but it was slight and not that depressing. I just could not explain what the feeling was; it just stirred something, somewhere deep inside my heart.
Desire contains five short stories that goes around the theme of “desire” – that strong feeling of wanting, which could come in various forms. A longing for food, a longing for love, a longing for a better life, a longing for sex – were all explored in this selection of stories. Some of the stories here had previously appeared in other books / publications.
The Second Bakery Attack follows the story of a newlywed couple who were suddenly overwhelmed by extreme hunger in the early morning hours just over midnight. The husband recalled a memory during his younger days where he and a friend had attempted an armed robbery on a bakery: they came not for the money but to steal some bread to quench the hunger they felt. Instead of feeling terrified, the bakery owner had actually given the bread quite willingly. And strangely, while the incident was supposed to already past, the husband had always felt disturbed whenever he thought about it. He felt as if there was something unsettling about the bakery attack. So his wife suggested that they go for another round of bakery attack to settle that feeling once and for all. This time his wife became his accomplice. Finding no bakery which was still opened at that time of the night, they went to attack a McDonald’s instead. The husband and wife teamed up to siege a McDonald’s to get 30 Big Macs on the dot. They only came for the burgers, and nobody got injured during the attack. They then get on their way and began to stuff themselves with the burgers. Strangely, the unsettling feeling that the husband felt all the years after the first bakery attack had suddenly vanished as soon as the second attack was accomplished.
On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning was a melancholic story about a missed opportunity to get acquainted with a potential soulmate. When a man walked pass a woman on the streets of Harajuku one day, he had a sudden feeling that that woman was The One for him, his soul mate, his 100% perfect girl. He had thought about what to say to her when they passed by one another – he was quite undecided – but then the opportunity slipped away too soon. Suddenly the woman disappeared among the crowds and he never had the chance to talk to her. Later on did he wished that he had stopped her on the street and told her about a sad love story where two people who were supposed to be meant for each other, had simply walked past.
“I know from fifty yards away: She’s the 100% perfect girl for me. The moment I see her, there’s a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as a desert.”
“Maybe you have your own particular favourite type of girl – one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you’re drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. Sometimes in a restaurant I’ll catch myself staring at the girl at the table next to mine because I like the shape of her nose. But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type.”
In Birthday Girl, a girl celebrated her twentieth birthday working part time at a popular Italian restaurant in Roppongi. She had had a big argument with her boyfriend a few days before, so she had not expected anything special to happen on that day – when a lot of people considered their 20th birthday celebration to be a very special day (come to think about it, I myself don’t remember whatever took place on my 20th birthday, which happened almost 15 years ago). This birthday girl had the opportunity to meet the elusive and mysterious owner of the restaurant she worked at on her birthday. The owner was an eccentric old man, and he had offered to grant her one wish – and only one. It was not known what the girl had wished for, but some years later she seemed to have enjoyed a good life and had her own family. She only offered that what she had wished for on that night seemed to have come true, but still, her life is still a long way to go before she could really say if the wish had truly be granted. Whatever she wished for, it must have been something that took time to be realized.
Samsa In Love took place in Prague during a time of turmoil – although no specific timeline was mentioned in the story, it was most probably set during the Prague Spring of 1968. Gregor Samsa was a young man who was lame and mentally slow, and he woke up one day in a confused and very hungry state. He was in a deserted house, but found freshly cooked food served on the table. Nobody was at home then. He did not remember who or what he was; he only knew that his name was Gregor Samsa. When a young woman arrived at his doorstep, claiming to have been summoned by Gregor’s parents to repair the lock on a door in the house, Gregor welcomed her in and seemed to be fascinated by her. The woman was hunchbacked, but Gregor found her attractive. He did not understand the feeling due to his mental limitation, but he knew he wanted to see the woman again and talk with her. He longed to talk a lot of things with the woman. He wanted to discuss many things, because he also did not understand a lot of things in the world. He wanted to learn about life and this world. The woman, who had been subjected to a lot of ridicule due to her hunchback physique, was skeptical at first. But when she saw the sincerity and honesty in Gregor Samsa’s face, she warmed up to him and assured that they will meet again someday despite the upheavals happening around town at that time.
“If you think of someone enough, you’re sure to meet them again,”
The last story in this book was titled A Folklore For My Generation: A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism, where the writer reminisced about his youth days during the 1960s. The writer particularly focused on the issue of virginity among the women in the Japanese society then: while some did not put much importance on virginity, some women were adamant to remain pure until they got married. Then follows the story of the writer’s old friend in school who had the good looks, aced in his studies, excelled in sports, and looked up to as a leader – in short, he seemed to be the true epitome of perfection. The boy coupled up with a girl who was also the epitome of the perfect girl: beautiful, intelligent, good in sports and also a leader. Underneath all the perfection, their love was apparently flawed. The girl was determined to stay a virgin until she got married, and that had not been a problem, until she made clear that she saw herself married to another man and not the boy whom she claimed to love so much. The girl loved the boy, the boy also loved the girl – there was no doubt about the sincerity of their feelings towards one another. But the girl had a perplexing view that a woman should marry someone older, and that her boyfriend should then find a younger woman to marry. Even more baffling, she had even assured the boyfriend that she will only have sex with him after she got married (to another man). In the end, the boyfriend whom she had always claimed to love did not accept her extra-marital sex offer and their goodbye had left a bitter taste in both their lives. Her boyfriend married another woman a few years later and they never met each other again.