Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Haruki Murakami’s “Samsa in Love” (tr. from the Japanese by Ted Goossen) was originally published in the October 28, 2013 issue of The New Yorker.

Click for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.

I’ve never liked anything I’ve read of Murakami (which has been little), but obviously this is some kind of play with Kafka:

He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa.

So I was intrigued. In fact, what we have here is — maybe — a kind of sequel to “The Metamorphosis.”

“Samsa in Love” forms a part of a short story collection Murakami compiled, Ten Selected Love Stories, which was released in Japan last month. The collection includes stories by various writers, like Alice Munro and Peter Stamm, and includes this “love story” from Murakami. Honestly, this story is enough to make me want to read more Murakami, something that has just never sounded appealing.

When this creature wakes up to find itself transformed into the human Gregor Samsa, it has no idea where it is or what’s going on around the bed it’s in. The room is barren, other than the stripped bed. The windows are boarded up.

Samsa had no idea where he was, or what he should do. All he knew was that he was now a human whose name was Gregor Samsa. And how did he know that? Perhaps someone had whispered it in his ear while he lay sleeping? But who had he been before he became Gregor Samsa? What had he been?

Learning to maneuver the human body, Samsa crawls out of bed, stumbling around as he learns to stand on two legs. It’s all very inconvenient. Worse, as he stands up naked, he realizes with worry that the human body has no means of self-defense.

Still clumsy, probably making a lot of commotion, he makes his way to the door and finally down the stairs where he finds a curious scene:

A glass vase bearing a dozen lilies occupied the center of the table. Four places were set with napkins and cutlery, untouched, by the look of it. It seemed as though people had been sitting down to eat their breakfast a few minutes earlier, when some sudden and unforeseen event sent them all running of. What had happened? Where had they gone? Or where had they been taken? Would they return to eat their breakfast?

But Samsa had no time to ponder such questions.

Starving, he stuffs himself with the food, giving no consideration to taste. Finally satisfied, he has a moment to process. At this point, we may have our suspicions about what’s going on. Perhaps this Gregor Samsa is really Gregor Samsa, come back from being a bug (and from the dead). Locked away in his family’s past, here they have heard him emerging, and they’ve fled the house. Maybe.

Maybe not.

The story takes an interesting turn into a love story when a hunchbacked young woman comes to the house to fix a lock, the lock on Samsa’s door. Samsa, worried about birds, lets her in. Interestingly, because she’s a hunchback in a brassier, she writhes her arms, buglike, a few times. Essentially, Samsa falls in love with her. He’s extremely interested in what she knows of the world, and, though he doesn’t understand what’s going on, he’s sexually attracted to her. Suddenly, being human isn’t such a ridiculous proposition.

A sequel to “The Metamorphosis”: what an interesting, and even somewhat touching, love story. Amidst all of the emotional poverty of the original, and amidst the troubles going on in Prague outside the door in this story, here’s a strange moment of connection.

By | 2013-10-24T12:41:26+00:00 October 21st, 2013|Categories: Haruki Murakami, New Yorker Fiction|12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. sshaver October 22, 2013 at 11:24 am

    That “this could be a good or bad thing” made me smile….

  2. jio October 23, 2013 at 11:54 am

    this is some kind of play with Kafka:

    wow–think so?

  3. Trevor October 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    That’s a good question. Yes, I do.

  4. lucie (@luciee) October 25, 2013 at 11:58 am

    haha my absolute favorite part is when the hunchback girl is about to leave, Samsa tells her to watch out for the birds, and she nods back at him straight faced, solemnly.

    do you remember which works turned you away from reading more of murakami? I find his realist ones impossible not to enjoy, like “South of the Border, West or the Sun.” 1Q84 (magical realism?) didn’t do anything for me though.

    one quote from “Kafka on the Shore” seems to sum up his stranger works-“…and some things we aren’t meant to understand, I suppose”

  5. cbjames October 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Now I’ll have to get a hold of The New Yorker. I love Murakami, but have not read him in far too long.

  6. Roger October 25, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    One funny thing about this story, for me, was that it seemed so implausible at first , but then made sense. When Samsa starts falling in love with the hunchbacked young woman, the story seemed realistic. Of course he’s falling for her, with those special movements she makes! The humor of the situation and Samsa’s earnestness almost made me forget about the premise.

  7. Michael October 29, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    I’ve read a bit of Murakami: Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and a couple other novels. To me, this felt very lightweight compared to some of the novels I have read. Perhaps, though, that’s because I’ve never read Kafka.

    Murakami’s writing is often very deliberate in its metaphorical, its symbolically charged pacing. In reading his novels, it’s often what they add up to, the sum of their parts, that make the writing so compelling. I wonder if the short story form just simply isn’t well suited to Murakami’s style of writing. Perhaps there simply isn’t enough time to really add up to anything.

    Or maybe I’m just burnt out on Murakami. I agree that he is often hit or miss when it comes to his novels. I also feel he is a bit over rated as a writer in general. But, despite my tepid response to the story, I wouldn’t rule out reading more of his short work.

  8. Birdbrain November 2, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Reading this piece I am moved by both the simple and complex richness of being human.

  9. Ken November 4, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    I only know Murakami from his New Yorker stories of the past years, but I’ve enjoyed every one of them. Trevor, what about him do you not like? I find his stories often surreal in the best sense–showing the stangeness and mystery of reality. This one, of course, is obviously fantastic and I thought it worked very well as an extension of Kafka’s story and was touching in its own right.

  10. Mark Richardson November 5, 2013 at 1:55 am

    I love Murakami, both his novels and short stories. I didn’t, however, find this story to be all that wonderful. If you’re interested in checking out more of his short stories, I recommend “Sleep” and “Barn Burning” and “The Elephant Vanishes” and “The Dancing Dwarf” and “Airplanes.” All are great!

  11. Trevor November 6, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks, Mark. I’ll check those out. The reason I haven’t clicked with Murakami in the past is a bit of an enigma to me. I don’t actually know fully. I am not usually a fan of magical realism, if that’s what it can be called, more because of its usual tone than for the fantastic elements. For example, this story had the right unsettling tone, something Lynchian, to bring in film. I’ve usually found the other Murakamis I’ve tried to be more clever and light, which I just don’t care for. I think it’s just me.

  12. tauhida parvin October 3, 2016 at 12:06 am

    I think this story is a sequel to as well as a subversion of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. The nihilistic tone which permeates the atmosphere of The Metamorphosis. the ending of this Murakami short is very interesting. I t does not hold the absurd belief of Kafka about human existence. In the beginning of the story Samsa wails upon his transformation into human being. but falling in love with the hunchback girl makes him love the world. he thinks it is not so bad to be transformed into human being. after all love conquers the world.

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