Cover Image: Record of a Night too Brief

Record of a Night too Brief

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Member Reviews

Great characters, compelling plot, amazing setting. Will definitely recommend this book. Can't wait for the public to discover it!
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I really enjoyed this collection of stories - many of them had  a surreal, almost creepy atmosphere that reminded me a lot of Murakami or even "Number nine Dream." None of the topics were particularly deep, but the imagery from some of the scenes resonated with me for a bit after finishing the book.
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Thank you to Pushkin Press for providing me with a copy of Hiromi Kawakami's short story collection, Record of a Night Too Brief, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- Japanese author Hiromi Kawakami's short story collection, Record of a Night Too Brief, is comprised of three short stories that are surreal and magical. Translated to english by Lucy North.

LIKE/DISLIKE- Normally, I break what I like and dislike about a book, into two separate areas, but with Record of a Night Too Brief, the likes and dislikes blend together, and I thought it would be easiest to simply discuss the book as a whole.

The stories in Record of a Night Too Brief are quite bizarre. They are works of surrealism, with bits of magical realism, and I wondered how much of Japanese folklore was being worked in, that I wasn't picking up on. Normally when I read translated fiction, I feel like I understand the cultural context, but perhaps because these stories were so unusual, I felt like I was getting lost in translation.

I have a confession: Until reading NetGalley's description of the collection a few minutes ago, I didn't realize that this was a collection of three stories. I thought it was a bunch of very short stories with two longer ones at the end. I'm not sure how I missed it ( perhaps because it was so bizarre and confusing) but I didn't not catch on that the short chapters at the beginning of the story were actually one story, rather than individual shorts. Being totally honest, I didn't understand them. I read them more as stories that elicited an emotion, rather than stories that make sense from a storytelling standpoint. It was like walking around a modern art exhibit.

The last two stories, I enjoyed far more. The first was about a woman who is haunted by her older brother, who has died. This brother had been arranged to marry a local girl, who does not know what he looked like, so the family simply marries her to his younger brother, without telling her. The dead brother haunts the household, but only his sister can see him. In one chilling scene, his ghost attempts to make-out with his would-be bride, which his sister can see and she watches as her new sister-in-law struggles to breathe, because a ghost is pressing on her chest. 

The last story features a woman who comes home from work to discover a snake in her house. This snake can shift into a woman. It turns out there is a whole world of people who can turn themselves into snakes and they try to lure other people to join them. Animals and transformation are themes woven throughout this collection.

RECOMMEND- Maybe. Record of a Night Too Brief wasn't my cup of tea, but I did find the story about the ghost to be engaging. Overwhelmingly, I felt like I wasn't understanding these stories. If you are able to read Kawakami's stories in Japanese or know more about the Japanese culture, I suspect you would have a very different experience. This collection did win Japan's Akutagawa prize.
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I was hooked on this collections of short stories from the opening line: “What was that itch on my back? I wondered. And then I realized that it was the night — the night was nibbling into me.”

Beautifully translated from the Japanese by Lucy North, Kawakami’s trio of stories leave a striking impression on the reader. Reading these tales is like being caught in a surreal recounting of dreams, or rather more like recalling and reliving the dreams of another, ethereal, dark, and sublime. With these stories the reader can’t be distracted by over-concentrating or over-thinking — you have to give yourself up to the reading, to the journey into something akin to the absurd. Fantastic events occur on nearly every page and no one, not even the narrator, gives any of these occurrences a second thought. The fantastic blends with the mundane seamlessly. The nearness of these stories to magical realism had me thinking of Marquez or Murakami, but Kawakami’s approach is entirely her own.

Kawakami’s writing is lovely, expressing an expansive imagination and a unique approach to storytelling. The stories are contemplation provoking, touching something deeper than mere analytical in the dedicated reader. I’d not experienced her before, but I will definitely be delving deeper in the worlds of Kawakami in the future.
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Probably the strangest and most experimental in the series so far. The stories remind me somewhat of Cesar Aira's turn-on-a-dime narrative style.
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The cover of this book caught me immediately, the synopsis just sounded too surreal to pass down, and the stories themselves were the perfect mixture of matter of fact surrealism and imagery. I wouldn't recommend this as someone's first foray into surrealism, but for those who already know a bit about the genre, whether literary, visual, or both, it's a collection of three well-crafted stories.

The title story, "Record of a Night Too Brief", was my favorite out of the three stories. It's compiled of a multitude of dream vignettes, complete with the abrupt transitions that happen in dreams, which made it all the more realistic; it was the perfect representation of the randomness of a dream. There were many strange creatures that the narrator had to bargain with, strange rooms and realms to figure out, and a recurring girl who followed her around and influenced her decisions (I saw her equally as the narrator's daughter or lover, depending on the exact context I was reading into the scene).

The second two stories, "Missing" and "A Snake Stepped On", were also enjoyable, but the endings both seemed very anti-climactic. I suppose this is actually par for the course with many surreal stories--all of this weird stuff is laid down for you to try and puzzle together, but rather than being tied up, it ends up just fading off into obscurity. Not that there's anything wrong with this, but it's why I like visual surrealism more than the literary type. I like my written stories to have proper endings, while visual stuff doesn't necessarily have to have a cohesive storyline to it. However the stories are both still captivating and lend themselves to some interesting analyses.

They were still very enjoyable reads and I'd recommend them for short interlude reads to anyone who already enjoys surreal/weird literature.
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“Maybe the only reason I kept searching for her was because I began searching for her.”

Night chews on all of us at some point in time, and of course with these  phantasmagorical metamorphoses the reader can take it as it is or read more meaning into every moment. There is a reason Schrödinger’s Cat (from the first story) hung out in the the dark closet of my mind for a while. “How could anyone endure such a state, of having someone there and not there- not there and there- at the same time?”  It’s more than physics, isn’t it? People really can be there and not there, and endure it we do. As for the quote, why does she keep searching for the girl? Why do we do anything? Why don’t we stop?

I fancy writing that loses some people, it’s an art-form. Sometimes it seems writers try too hard to pen something incredibly outlandish, but Kawakami isn’t just throwing strange happenings your way without reason. Or maybe I just decipher the hallucinatory elements in such stories to satisfy my own fancies. Whether our narrator is gathering pieces of a girl,  losing her own flesh, witnessing terrifying transformations helpless to stop them, or running in fear- the first story is eerily entertaining.

The other stories in the collection are just as bizarre. In Missing, family members are ‘spirited away’, simply disappear. When Brother no 1 vanishes, Brother 2 steps in to marry Hiroko. There is Goshiki, family heirloom, ceramic jar inhabited by a speaking spirit that vanishes first. Brother no 1 isn’t really gone, not far from his beloved Hiroko, which may be why she is shrinking. People vanish and are forgotten in this peculiar family of “living pillars”. Hiroko tries to fit in, but in her own sense she is vanishing just as our narrator is expanding. Why is she expanding exactly, what does her brother have to do with that, hmmmm?

In the third, A Snake Stepped On, when a woman steps on a snake, it tells her, “You know, once you’ve stepped on me, it’s all over.” In a puff of smoke it becomes a human being, a woman in her fifties and she is heading to the young woman, Miss Sanada’s, apartment! The snake claims to be her mother, of course she isn’t, but just what is she exactly? The snake wants to lure her to the snake world, but what does the snake really represent? What is the ‘innocent little act’ the snake claims she is putting on? Some have married snakes, she learns. She wants to deny the snake world, but it’s not so easy. A struggle ensues.

A strange book indeed, wildly entertaining if you’re into stories that confuse you as much as your own fractured dreams, the strangest dreams, naturally.

Publication Date: December 5, 2017

Pushkin Press
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This volume collects three stories: "Record of a Night Too Brief," "Missing," and "A Snake Stepped On." All are imaginative, lush, and atmospheric, with that tone of understated emotion that will be familiar to readers of contemporary Japanese literature, such as the novels of Banana Yoshimoto, Yoko Ogawa, and Haruki Murakami. I had not read any Hiromi Kawakami previous to this collection. 

My descriptions below technically contain spoilers, though my feeling is that plot is beside the point and more information will better convey the appeal of these stories. You have been warned. Also, my descriptions don't begin to convey the nuance, detail, and texture of these truly bizarre tales.

The first story chronicles a long, episodic, and dreamlike night, where our narrator meets, is separated from, is reunited with, pursues, romances, and escapes from a mysterious girl while meanwhile encountering other strange people and things and changing shape and substance more than once. It's very Alice in Wonderland but even stranger—more hallucinatory and with an edge of menace. This one was my favorite. 

The second is about a family in which members sometimes disappear for years on end, still physically there but invisible. When the narrator's eldest brother goes missing, his fiancée transfers her affections to the younger brother and joins the family. Marriage does not sit well with her, and she finds that the younger brother's attentiveness was restricted to courtship and does not extend to a wife. She shrinks, literally, until she is finally returned to her original family. The younger brother then disappears as well. The narrator's body swells and swells until it is time for her marriage to be arranged too. 

The third is about an intense relationship that develops between a single woman and the snake-"mother" who latches onto her, crowding out her solitude with a bizarre, frustrating, and simultaneously toxic and comforting presence. The woman works at a prayer bead store and finds that one of her bosses is similarly accompanied by a snake-person who both drains and fulfills her. Both women become unhinged. 

All three stories challenge what it means to be human, especially a human among—or alienated from—other humans. In all three, the narrators and characters lack control and their human form is constantly threatened, whether by dream transformation, subsummation into a snake world, physical shrinkage and swelling as a result of or in anticipation of marriage, or being rendered invisible and unacknowledged by even close family. I won't dwell on this, but these struck me as allegories about the modern world dressed up in folkloric form and whimsy. In all, I enjoyed these unpredictable and creative tales, and I definitely intend to seek out some of Kawakami's long-form work.
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Reviewed by Hayden Moseley, Columbia College Chicago 

Hiromi Kawakami does an incredible job at weaving a web of dream-like fantasy meshed in with the realism of Japanese society in Record of a Night Too Brief. She's truly a pioneer of Japanese magical realism in modern novella. This is a collection of three short stories, each revolving around different fantastical elements disrupting the ordinary lives of the central female characters.

The first story, Record of a Night too Brief, contains several short, dream-like instances, with one overarching story of two young people and the journey they take across what feels like a universe. While the brief instances come from Kawakami's own dream journal, the story of the two women evolving and having a relationship together that's quite tumultuous sticks out to me most. The narrator envisions the other girl shrinking with each kiss, or that she must rescue her from a box by shattering it to set her free, and all of these symbols are so gorgeous and intricately blended together that even I began to lose sight of myself. The story establishes a closeness with nature, and the supernatural vibe is very earthy and real.

Missing focuses on family, and this one was quite haunting in comparison to its predecessor. In this story’s world, families always stay one size (a maximum of five members), and each family has their own sort of tradition or quirk to them. The main character's older brother, referred to as "my brother number one," disappears around the time he is due to be married, and they end up having her second brother take his place as they accept this new woman into the family. She feels as if she's the only one who remembers her first brother, and the truthfulness of memory starts to come into question alongside her reliability as a narrator, which leaves a strange feeling in the stomach as you read onwards.

A Snake Stepped On was, for me, the best of the three. A young woman trips over a snake and ends up welcoming it into her home, where it takes care of her only to try and coerce her to become a snake herself. The main character, Hiwako, refuses the advances and insists upon staying human, and the tension between her and her snake grows into a battle of pure will. I found this story to be the best one because the character really does question herself and her humanity, and I find internal journey of character to be incredibly satisfying to read, whatever direction the character takes.

I definitely recommend giving this book a read. It’s quick, but you’ll be so filled with imagination and creative energy that you’ll feel compelled to pick up the pen for yourself. It releases in English both in physical and digital form on December 5, 2017, so be sure to preorder it.
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Three stories, beautifully written and bizarre. I thought the translation was well done. The stories were very dream-like and reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. While I enjoyed the oddness I would have liked a little bit more clear resolution to the stories.
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Just not for me. The layout was messy and the translation seemed muddled. I never connected with the writing or stories.
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This book was very interesting! It's three stories about three women who are put through unsettling experiences. The author's style matches what I have read from other Japanese folklore inspired authors. These stories may warrant multiple read-throughs, because their layered and the reader may not catch all the wonderfully crafted parts to the stories. Overall, I enjoyed this book!
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Kawakami Hiromi has been one of the authors I meant to read more of this year (I had only read her short story 「神様2011年」  (translated in English as "God Bless You, 2011") for my Modern Japanese Literature course in my Master's degree last semester), so seeing this story collection published by Pushkin Press (one of my favourite publishers) I just had to get my hands on it. 

This book consists of three separate stories (they're not actually short at all, so I'll just call them stories). The first one, "Record of a Night Too Brief", which gives the entire collection its name as well, is a truly peculiar one and probably my least favourite of the three. It is divided in 19 smaller parts, each one describing a different, utterly peculiar situation. Each of those snipets has a very strange, dream-like quality. 

"The girl was already showing signs of no longer being a girl. In a short span of time, her skin had become like paper, her eyes transparent. The ends of her arms and legs had begun to divide into branches; her hair had fallen out."

The format of this story, being divided into separate sections or dreams, is very reminiscent of Natsume Sōseki's "Ten Nights of Dream" which follows the exact same pattern. The snipets describe utterly absurd situations which can also be characterised as fantastic, 

"No matter how much I poured into the cup, it never filled. And then I realized that the liquid I assumed to be coffee had, unbeknownst to me, turned into night."

but they resemble more nightmares rather than mere dreams, since their endings are often unpleasant. 

The second story, "Missing", is also rather strange and has many fantastic elements throughout. In it, some people disappear (perhaps a metaphor for death) physically but their spiritual form may linger around their past surroundings. The protagonist's older brother disappeared like that one day but his presence in the house was very quickly replaced by the second brother. This story is filled with Japanese folkloric elements, such as lingering spirits, talking utensils, as well as beliefs like every family needing to consist of five people exactly (I'm not sure whether that actually was a true belief in Japan), which add more to the absurd atmosphere of the story. 

"A Snake Stepped On" is the third and final story of the collection and my personal favourite out of all three. Japanese folkloric beliefs and the fantastic are also widely present here as well, as certain snakes are transformed into women and impose themseves on the houses of the people who accidentally step on them, trying to lure them in the snake world (perhaps another allusion to death). This story held my interest for much longer than the previous two and I found it much more intriguing. Interestingly enough, this story is the one which gives the title to the Japanese version of this collection, as it is the one which won the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize in 1996. I'm not sure why the editors decided to change the title in the English version, especially since, in my opinion, the snake story is of higher quality than the rest.

Overall, this collection is very nicely put together, since there are certain themes which can be traced in all them. However, I wouldn't suggest a newcomer to the fictional realm of Kawakami Hiromi to start with this collection, since the absurdity of those stories (especially of the title one) and Kawakami's quirky style of writing might scare them away if they are not very accustomed to it.
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This is a collection of three short stories by the Japanese author Hiromi Kawakami: Record of a Night Too Brief, Missing and A Snake Stepped On. What connects this stories is that the main characters are women searching for something lost and for themselves. The three stories are dreamlike and sometimes they are hard to follow because of this nature. I felt lost many times while reading the story that gives the title to this collection.
The story I liked the most was A Snake Stepped On in which the protagonist, Miss Sanada, stepped on a snake. This snake turns into human form and claims to be her mother. As the story progress we realised that this is not an unique situation and that snakes live among humans.

It's the first time I read Hiromi Kawakami and I would like to read more of hers to know if all of her stories are like this.
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3.5 stars.

You know when you read something and think "ok I know this is probably an objectively good story, I think I'm just too dumb to get it"? That was my entire experience with this book. It's not you, it's me! It's me that's just... too dumb, probably. I THINK I got half of it? But the other half just flew me right by.

Record of a Night To Brief is a collection of three novellas by japanese award winner writer Hiromi Kawakami. All of the stories are focused on absurdism/surrealism, with reocurring motifs: animal transformations, passive female protagonists observing bizarre events, transgressive relationships, etc. You can either view them as just weird, nonsensical tales, or very well-crafted metaphorical stories that deal with distinctly japanese society themes. That's the crux of it, really: does all of this mean something? Or is it just random, dreamlike, fable-like tales?

From my, admitely, very limited experience with surrealist japanese literature, I'd say it's a bit of both. The aesthetics used here reminded me of Murakami on steroids, and Medoruma Shun (and actually, a lot of Ikuhara, even if his medium of choice isn't literature). I could parse meaning from two of the three novellas; I'd even risk saying I "got" them, at least in a broad sense. There's a lot of familial/societal power dynamics and gender roles being discussed here. 

My problem was with the first and "main" story, the one that gives the collection its name. I just couldn't make any sense of it. And I felt like it WASN'T just nonsense, it did have a purpose, a message it was trying to send; I just couldn't understand what the message WAS. So I left the reading mostly frustrated.

Hiromi's prose is great, and the translation was also very good - of course I can't compare it with the original to make sure, but the stories flew really naturally. I just wish the publisher would've provided some additional content, even just a foreword talking about the stories' main themes. When you translate stories from other countries, JUST translating the story itself isn't sufficient; you have to explain a bit of the cultural aspects that are obvious to native readers and that give meaning to the story, but that international readers will most likely miss. Especially when it comes to stories seeped in magical realism/surrealism like this one.
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I’m mildly conflicted over this book. It consists of three “stories,” all fantastical and dreamlike in quality. I have to wonder if some of the metaphors or allegories have been lost in translation from Japanese to English - if that is what this book contains. I cannot really see a “point” to the stories if not to convey a deeper message that maybe my ethnocentric Western experience can not identify.

Atmospherically this book is beautiful. I found myself often thinking about the FEELINGS that came with what I read. The surreal actions and circumstances of the characters really struck me and I wish the storylines had brought more to the table.

When you write in such a mystical way, you had better know where you are going. Again, I fear I missed something due to my lack of knowledge in Japanese folklore/storytelling, but maybe that is being too optimistic...
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This novel is really well-written - it's a really unique, dream-like story. Great writing/translation, it's really a unique view that you don't often see.
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This book is presented as a volume of three novellas, but it read much more like three lengthier short stories. Kawakami's stories are presented with very little context, bringing together mystical and fantastical elements to normal-seeming situations. There are some passages that are clearly obvious – women struggling to gain power, to possess their own identities, and how women interact with one another – but many of the stories have an absurdist quality that verges on entirely metaphorical.

Unfortunately, these stories were not for me and I had a hard time connecting with the narration or the subject matter. I suspect that these would be interesting to read with some greater context about Japanese culture.
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I feel privileged to review this story so far in advance. Thank you. I would first of all like to say that I read it because the author is Asian, and I have an Asian background. Second, I want to comment that the placement of the shortest stories at the beginning was a good idea so people didn't think lowly of them after the two long stories. Some of the ideas relating to being turned into an animal are a little bare to me and could use reworking. Of the two long stories, my favorite is Missing, which is so positive and good that only a little more could be done to make it understandable, i.e. why the ghost got fat. In the snake story, I feel that it shouldn't have ended on a cliffhanger, in my opinion. I hope that these critiques are worthwhile and helpful. There is a strong feeling of lesbianism as a theme, and a feeling of respect for lesbianism, but never even once explored erotically, similar (slightly) to George Orwell who wrote that way.
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