Birthday Stories

I call this book a treasure, and rightly so. I found it amongst piles of books on sale at the Om Book Shop and what attracted me to it was not only its author but also the title of the collection, Birthday Stories. I may have left the adolescent period far behind but the charm of birthdays refuses to leave me. And the book, as expected from Mr. Murakami, doesn’t disappoint.

Haruni Murakami is a popular contemporary Japanese writer and translator. He is often distinguished from other Japanese writers by his Western influences. He has churned out works like Kafka on the Shore, After Dark, Blind Willow Sleeping Woman etc. Birthday Stories is a collection of twelve birthday stories from some of the most distinguished authors of recent years, selected and introduced by him.

His book has been dealt with a certain reverence for the Western culture, particularly American pop culture of the 1950s and 1960s. He found that most stories about birthdays are, contrary to expectations, dark and cynical. That is why this is not a book to be given lightly as a birthday present; it carries enough weapons of emotional destruction to shatter a naive, not-yet-cynical heart.

I have a lot of personal favorites in the collection. “Timothy’s Birthday” by William Trevor touched my heart the most. It is the story about a young man who cannot get himself to go home and face his parents on his birthday and so he sends his friend. The conversations are simple yet contain within them a deep and profound meaning.

“The Birthday Cake” by Daniel Lyons is a tale about a birthday where an old woman makes her weekly trip to purchase a birthday cake for her darling Nico. Nico, if she had been alive, would have loved the cake, and so the old woman insists on having it despite the little girl not being there to enjoy it. This emotional demonstrates the depths of her suffering, devotion and loneliness.

Andrea Lee’s “The Birthday Present”, she being one of the only three female writers in this volume, provides a much snappier take on the notion of weird sexual birthday gifts. It leaves one unsure whether to judge the ending as happy or not.

Overall, it might not be the best birthday present to gift someone. But on ‘dark’ days, it serves to be a perfect treat. This book aptly conveys “the absolute oddness of ordinary life” So happy reading!!

Shruti Choudhury


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