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Landscape With Flatiron, by Haruki Murakami – Short Story Review

afterthequake.jpg “Anyhow, let’s wait till the fire burns out,” Miyake said. “We built it, so we ought to keep it company to the end. Once it goes out, and it turns pitch-dark, then we can die.” -From Landscape with Flatiron-

This short story, part of a group of stories entitled After The Quake, occurs over the course of one night with three friends sitting around a bonfire. Miyake is an older man with an obsession in building the perfect bonfire. He befriends Junko, a young woman who lives with her boyfriend Keisuke and is estranged from her family. Whenever Miyake is going to light a bonfire, he calls Junko to come down and watch it burn; and the two of them have an unusual connection. Junko’s boyfriend, Keisuke, is a musician who lives in the here and now and has difficulty understanding Miyake and Junko’s relationship.

“The trouble is, I don’t have a damn thing to do with anything fifty thousand years ago – or fifty thousand years from now, either. Nothing. Zip. What’s important is now. Who knows when the world is going to end? Who can think about the future? The only thing that matters is whether I can get my stomach full right now and get it up right now. Right?” -From Landscape With Flatiron-

Much of the story revolves around a philosophical discussion between Miyake and Junko. It is important to understand that Murakami wrote this story shortly after the Kobe earthquake; and the themes of death, an uncertain future and the larger meaning of life resonate throughout the prose. I have heard many interesting things about Haruki Murakami’s literary works – but until I picked up this short story on line at Ploughshares, I had not read anything by this writer. Murakami’s prose is full of symbolism and beautiful imagery. Initially the story’s meaning completely eluded me…but I read this for the 21st Fiction Yahoo group and discussing it with the group gave me insights I had missed on my own. My appreciation for the story grew as we discussed the various parts of it.

This is a writer who I am curious to read again. I would recommend this short story with some reservations – for many readers, it may be a frustration in trying to tease out the symbols and understand the underlying messages (which I admit I am still working through). But this is an excellent short story for group discussion, and the writing itself is worth the effort.

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5 Comments

  1. May 5, 2008    

    Isn’t that just the wonder of reading groups? I value reading as a solitary activity, but I do also very much cherish the growth of understanding that can come from discussion. I don’t know this writer, so thanks for the review

  2. May 5, 2008    

    I do hope you read more of Haruki Murakami. I find his stories and novels engaging, enjoyable, sometimes difficult yet all are well-written.

  3. May 5, 2008    

    Ann: *nodding* That is why I love reading groups. I find sometimes that my appreciation for a book (or story) is much enhanced after discussing it.

    Lightheaded: I really need to read one of his novels. I have read rave reviews on his books – but I have always been nervous about reading him because he is ‘deep.’

  4. John John
    June 16, 2009    

    Murakami is a really curious writter, for me his short-novels are most the time better than his novel. “Landscape with Flatiron” is with “Honey Pie” the best short-novel I’ve never read. I hope you’re going to read his other text because even if we can say it’s strange, difficult or boring, there’re always many quite interesting ideas.

    PS: I’m french, so I must apologize for my quite incorrect english…

  5. June 17, 2009    

    John: Thanks for stopping by – your English is just fine 🙂 I have not read a novel by Murakami, so your insight into his short stories being better is intriguing to me. I like to be a little challenged by a writer, and so I did enjoy this author…I will definitely try some of his other work at some point.

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