Short story: “Samsa in Love”

by look i have opinions

“Samsa in Love,” by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Ted Goossen

Appeared in the New Yorker on October 28th, 2013 (online here)

7,206 words

Irritated by this. Maybe something is lost in translation, but to me the whole story reads as a very literal, obvious riff on its two central concepts: a bug is transformed into Gregor Samsa; Samsa falls in love. The experience of an arthropod turned human is nicely drawn and funny (the running gag about birds, for example), but nothing remarkable. I get impatient waiting for Samsa’s experience to develop into something more.

I don’t get why the world is in a menacing state of political upheaval. I mean, yes, Kafka, but I don’t get why checkpoints and soldiers and tanks. Maybe this story is supposed to take place after the events of “The Metamorphosis,” or as an alternate ending to that story. The Samsa family’s hopes have been destroyed by the Nazi occupation of Prague or some similar horror; they were arrested or forced to flee immediately before sitting down for breakfast. In that case, this story’s ending is sort of the opposite of that of “Metamorphosis,” in which the strong and healthy are lost, while the weak and handicapped are thriving and falling in love—also a subversion of the Nazis’ efforts at racial fitness. That’s interesting, but the story seems too vague and too centered on Samsa himself to really support that interpretation.

I’ll admit I haven’t read anything else by Murakami,* so maybe I’m reading this piece in the wrong context.

I was surprised by the sudden shift to the woman’s point of view and then back again. I don’t see any point in the shift; unlike Samsa himself, the reader can easily guess the woman’s thoughts from her demeanor. Maybe a cultural difference?

A few notes on wording. It’s puzzling to me that the first sentence contains so little echo of “The Metamorphosis.” Did Murakami deliberately avoid Kafka’s “one morning” (“eines Morgens”) and “uneasy dreams” (“unruhigen Träumen”) for fear of striking an inappropriate note of parody or cliché? Or did his translator do so? Or perhaps by omitting those details, Murakami is echoing the standard Japanese translation of “Metamorphosis.” In that case Murakami’s own translator has done him a disservice by not choosing to echo one of the standard English translations.

*Edit: It turns out I have read one story of his, “Sleep,” many years ago, and it had a great effect on me. Until now, I was uncertain of its author, having read it in an obscure anthology. I am grateful for the slightly cheesy New Yorker summary that allowed me to make this unexpected find.

Another edit: There is one line that sounds like the moral of the story. “Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.” I’m not a fan of this line. It’s a little sappy, and it’s entirely opposed to what I think of as the “moral” of “The Metamorphosis.”