Translated by Ted Goossen, Haruki Murakami's short story 'Scheherazade' is found online in the New Yorker's October 13 issue. Read it in hardcopy in the plane. Scheherazade is the legendary Persian queen and storyteller of 'One Thousand and One Nights'. You know that one. There's also the entire symphonic suite composed by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888 about it.
In usual Murakami style, the reader isn't told why Habara is held in a house which he can't just leave. We don't know it's done on his own will or against it. He has a woman visitor popping in twice a week. She has been hired to bring him supplies of DVDs and groceries, and also seem to provide sexual services. Readers don't know this woman's name, except that Habara has nicknamed her Scheherazade and referred to her as such in his diary because she likes telling stories and seems to be very good at it.
Habara didn't know whether her stories were true, invented, or partly true and partly invented. He had no way of telling. Reality and supposition, observation and pure fancy seemed jumbled together in her narratives. Habara therefore enjoyed them as a child might, without questioning too much. What possible difference could it make to him, after all, if they were lies or truth or a complicated patchwork of the two?There was mention of past lives and lamprey eels. Murakami kept Scheherazade a mystery. Outwardly a normal average middle-aged Japanese housewife who's still married with children. Readers are left with loads of questions. Why is she doing this? Who is she working for? Who is she? What is her story? What's his story? Who's locked him up? Who's keeping him in?
I didn't really want to go into the gender stereotypes of Japanese society, or think about whether Murakami is commenting on that and whether stereotypes ring true in Japanese men being emotionally isolated and Japanese women who seem more emotionally mature. Too surreal.
After a while, I didn't care if Scheherazade's stories were real. I just wanted to hear them, and towards the end, Murakami sneakily did it to the readers- had Scheherazade begin a story of her 17-year old crush on a classmate, breaking into his house and room thrice, and on the fourth attempt, she was thwarted by a new lock and no more key under the front door mat, and all that. I thought the story would end there. But Scheherazade continued and said that when she was in her...
... second year of nursing school, a strange stroke of fate brought us together again. His mother played a big role in it; in fact, there was something spooky about the whole thing - it was like one of those old ghost stories. Events took a rather unbelievable course. Would you like to hear about it?Of course this tale was annoyingly suspended and readers reached the end of the short story. Scheherazade had to dress and go home to cook dinner for her family. Almost let out a howl of frustration at that point.