First of all,the title is a bit misleading.The book is not a collection of stories from Murakami,but rather one from diverse authors,including the Japanese.In fact Murakami only selected the birthday stories which he deems best for his anthology and in the end,decided to write one himself.For this Vintage edition,which is also the first English edition,as the collection was hitherto only available in translated Japanese,he even wrote an introduction.
From the way he talked about the theme of birthday and how the idea to create an anthology sprang into his mind,I thought that the short stories would be really,really good.The collection started pretty well with The Moor,a touching and very simple story exploring a theme which had moved me in Perfect Mothers,a loosely-based adaptation of Doris Lessing’s The Grandmothers.The three following stories,Dundun,Timothy’s Birthday and The Birthday Cake,are excellently written and have unexpected endings.I guess I liked those four stories because they all had something in common; that soft narrative voice,always vague and always leaving chunks of mystery in its account,which hypnotically has us turn the pages till the end.
I didn’t like the subsequent stories,save the last one and Angel of Mercy,Angel of Wrath,as much.They are very good,written with great techniques and originality,but they failed to move me,to make me think that I did well to buy this anthology.The main factor accounting for my minimal gratification is undoubtedly the diversity in style.As opposed to the first four stories,the rest have barely anything in common.For instance,after Angel of Mercy,Angel of Wrath,a highly intriguing and subtle story about the visit of two crows at an old woman’s place upon her birthday,we have The Birthday Present,in which we see an American woman deciding to offer his Italian husband two high-class prostitutes along with a box of viagra as birthday presents.
The book however ends on a high note with Murakami’s Birthday Girl.The story is very enchanting,yet bafflingly simple.I am very much interested to read Murakami’s novels,and this short story certainly encouraged me to buy his other more known books!
‘Lukewarm’ best define my feelings on this book.On one hand it does have some great stories,and on the other,the anthology did not live up to its promises.I would advise people who’re interested in buying it not to make a priority of the book.Their money will be better spent on a collection of short stories from one author only,so that they can better appreciate the author’s writing style and the beauty of the stories; no story will strike you as incoherent then.Of course if you don’t have any book on your wish-list and think you don’t have better use for $10,then you can buy this collection.