Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sharpie cakes, a short story by Haruki Murakami

Once in a while, I dig up old files of things I did for classes. Sometimes they are worth sharing than keeping them in my hard disk. This is for a long-ago English class. I first read Haruki Murakami at 14 and at that age his writing blew me away, that the feelings I’ve had about alienation and aloneness that I can’t describe was what he wrote about so precisely. It was quite a revelation at that time. The first book I read by him was the short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.
Short story selected: "The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes" by Haruki Murakami

Summary: The nameless narrator read a newspaper ad for a seminar by the Sharpie Cake Company. He decided to attend as he also bakes. In the hotel, Sharpie Cakes were served and he tried it, but it was bad and he thought young people wouldn’t enjoy it. He told a girl he didn’t like it, but he was warned not to badmouth the cakes because the Sharpie Crows would get him.

The company president presented the history of Sharpie Cakes since ancient Japan. The narrator found this ridiculous and funny, but he kept quiet as he worried about the Sharpie Crows. The president said they needed to update the Sharpie Cakes to suit the new age, so they are holding a contest for new cakes. The prize for the winning recipe was 2 million yen and the deadline was the next month.

The narrator baked his own version of Sharpies and submitted it. A month later, he was called by the company to come to their office. The managing director told him his cakes were well-received by the younger staff, but the older ones said they weren’t Sharpies. There was a debate going on, so the director said they would let the Sharpie Crows decide.

The Sharpie Crows were kept in a highly secured room. They were fat birds three feet tall, and only ate real Sharpies. When they were fed non-Sharpies, they cried out angrily. The narrator’s cakes were fed to them, but the birds went into frenzy. Some ate, some squawked for ‘Sharpies!’ The crows brutally pecked each other to death. The narrator decided to leave and not bother about the prize, and he didn’t want to have anything to do with those crows. “From now on I would make and eat the food I wanted to eat,” he concluded.

Plot Analysis: The author Haruki Murakami wrote in the preface, that the story, “reveals my impressions of the literary world at the time of my debut, in the form of a fable. At that time, I couldn’t fit in well with the Japanese literary establishment, a situation that continues until now.” The crows may be a metaphor for the literary critics that judged his work. The different reactions of the crows to the cakes relate the contradicting judgments on his stories. Murakami was also first known in writing competitions. His stories are strange fantasy, and this may have been compared to older and more serious literature (symbolized by the Sharpie Cakes ‘long tradition’).

The interesting part is in the end, the narrator decided to not care about the critics or contradicting opinions and make the things he likes. In any endeavor, be it baking cakes or writing stories or anything else, there will always be critics and admirers. However, all of that will not affect what a person chooses to do. It is better to do things you like, for yourself, whether others like it or not. At least one person is happy.

Murakami, H. (2006). The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. New York: Vintage Books.

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