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First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami []



This small collection of eight short stories by Haruki Murakami has everything I love about Murakami’s writing: the subtle oddness, the evocative descriptions of ordinary things, his expansive awareness of culture and great enthusiasm for favored subjects from baseball to jazz. Each story here is written in the first person, from the perspective a man, usually a middle-aged writer, examining some past experience. Many of the stories are completely realistic, with a few leaving you wondering whether they might be autobiographical. In one the narrator is even an author named Haruki Murakami! In others, the stories are subtly fantastic: the narrator reflects on the time he met a talking monkey at a hot spring; the narrator finds himself in another man’s body, perhaps. And, in typical Murakami fashion, even some of the most realistic stories leave you perplexed, like the narrator, wondering just what might have been going on.

My favorite story in the collection is, without a doubt, “The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection”—the story with a narrator named Haruki Murakami that reads so much like memoir. In it the narrator tells us of his love of baseball, how he came to become a Yakult Swallows fan, and how, early in his career, he self-published a chapbook of poems about baseball. The story includes a number of delightful poems about baseball (you need not be a baseball fan to appreciate them) and is told in a pleasantly conversational tone. There is no strangeness in this story, except for the mundane strangeness that lies at its very heart—why would a man be a fan of such a losing team?

This is a great volume for fans of short stories. It is sure to delight established Murakami fans, and would be a great introduction to his work for anyone not yet familiar with his writing.

Translated from the Japanese by longtime Murakami translator Philip Gabriel.

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