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Murakami’s birthday girl

birthday girl‘The Birthday Girl’ is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. Published initially in the Guardian in 2006, Haruki Murakami’s story tells of a girl who made a wish when she was twenty, working her shift in a restaurant.

I loved it when I first read this story, and to tell the truth, a few years had gone past and it has grown on me ever since. I feel that it is about what we really want to make out of life, the spontaneous choices or decisions that somehow made us. The girl refuses to reveal what she wished for. She says only time will tell whether the wish has come true. There is a deliberate contrast between her current and past life. Now a mother and housewife with a seemingly comfortable lifestyle as opposed to the poor waitress who worked her long evening shift on her 20th birthday, the girl tells her tale in an unaffected, self-absorbed tone, and there is no letting on whether she is happy or not. This is precisely the magic of the short story – the briskness of it all, the enigma, the uncertainty as to whether one has attained what one has set out to do. Tobias Hill describes it as the refusal to reveal.

The story speaks to many because it is a question on everyone’s mind: if you were to be granted a wish, what would you wish for? What do you want to do with your life? I find it irresistible, the imagery of ‘the dent’ in the front of their car – that imperfection in life that you have to put up with, that stays no matter what. I am impressed that Murakami can crystallise this idea of helplessness in life in a poetic and cinematic way. I am touched to see many readers ponder about the same puzzle in the narrative. There are various websites and dialogues on this. An example is the wiki dialogue (

Like many others, I identify with his writing a lot, and I always have the image of him writing away at the kitchen table, daily, in the wee hours after his work at the jazz bar in Tokyo. It left me such a strong impression. In spring 2008, when I was in Tokyo, I went to a bar in Ginza, where a friend used to work and manage the bar business. Many Japanese businessmen went to the bar to chill out after work. In that quaint bar there were posh leather sofa chairs and a long, elegant, dimly illuminated bar where the bartender stood and mixed drinks behind the counter. And I had imagined that it would be similar to what Murakami’s life used to be, managing the bar business, working till late, clouded in that lazy music and dim lights. If he had not become a serious writer instead. If he had not gone back home those nights to scribble down what was swimming in his head. According to what Murakami told the papers, when he was 29 he realised he could become a writer.

In the story, I think the girl wished to become a different person.

Now that Norwegian Wood is going to be out soon across London’s cinemas, I have this longing to reread all his books again. That story still kept me thinking on some nights.

4 comments on “Murakami’s birthday girl

  1. Hi there.

    Can you believe I’ve yet to read Murakami? I didn’t know he had short stories out there. Perhaps I’ll start with those to geta feel for him.

  2. his short stories are as amazing as his novels. i am glad you’re interested in him x

  3. I just finished reading this short story! I agree with you, and I enjoyed it very much! It really got me thinking of all the birthday wishes I’ve made in life…

  4. Meryll Khamy

    I think she wished to see what her life would look like with all of the things that most people would ask for at that age. He even asks her why she doesn’t wish for the real wishes – she wants to know if these things are worth it and can really make for a better life. She doesn’t wish to be pretty or wealthy but, instead, she wishes to meet her future self – a future self who had received or worked for these things and this ‘better’ life in the first place. Would it change her? Apparently not.

    He snaps her out of this dream, this illusion, where she is asking her own self years down the road about her life and finding out how happy she is, although she discovers that it hasn’t brought happiness after all. At least any lasting happiness.

    Nonetheless, we could go on speculating the true meanings forever, but it only adds to the beauty of this story (and all of Murakami’s work) that everyone interprets it in such different ways.

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