Haruki Murakami is a highbrow intellecutal AND he's Japanese -so you have at least two reasons to feel like you "don't get" these stories. Highbrow intellectuals...nobody "gets" them, and to a Western reader, a lot of Japanese short stories feel quirky and maybe unsatisfying because they tend not to wrap everything up in a neat ending... "it just ended without telling me what happened". The title story, "The Elephant Vanishes" kind of leaves you hanging like that. I don't know whether it's modernism, cultural differences between Japan and the West, Murakami's quirky style, or just obscurantism... but Murakami seems to be an aquired taste. Perhaps the point is to create a mood or an atmosphere (as with the tale of "Sleep"); or looking at just one idea instead of telling a conventional fable (e.g. "The Dancing Dwarf"). Some of the odd content like that, and the surrealism (a factory that assembles elephants?) remind me of David Lynch. If you like Lynch, I think you may like Murakami. The narration tends come first-person from characters who aren't particularly emotive or insightful. That part is not very engaging; it's almost a bit distant from the reader. In defense of Murakami, I'll say that some of his fans are very passionate about his works, and one of the best book-related conversations I ever had was with a Murakami fan, about this book. From that experience, I admit that the stories here are more complex than I first gave them credit for. If you think about "Sleep", for example, you have to wonder whether the attack at the end was random or intentional. Was it by strangers or somebody she knew? Was it retribution for her secret double life? If all that sounds like it isn't your cup of tea, but you're curious enough to test the waters, try the story about the boy who fought in high school. That is a more traditionally told story, with a a very Western feel.