Haruki Murakami: After the Quake – Review

No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself. It’s like your shadow. It follows you everywhere.

Enjoyed this far more than I expected to. In fact I read the whole book in almost a single sitting. Although Murakami is still one of my favourite authors I’ve become slightly jaded by his writing. Anyone who’s a fan of his surely knows all the criticisms reviewers throw at him: recycling the same themes, similar characters in almost every book, and the feeling which initially strikes you as an intense dreamlike surrealism can (after 4 or 5 of his books) become dull and overly predictable.

The key I’ve found to enjoying Murakami when you’ve read so much of his work is to know the right state of mind in which to read him. You have to be willing to be swept away by his thoughts. Saying that, this usually requires long periods of delving into a particular story, and considering this was the first collection of his shorts that I’ve read I wasn’t expecting much other than a few entertaining, easy, stories to read in my breaks at work.

Instead I found a really fantastic and at times bizarre collection. And this is coming from a huge fan of Borges, Calvino and Kafka who are the absolute peak fantastical and surreal short fiction in my eyes.

The opener UFO in Kushiro was a very familiar Murakami tale that included all the classic Murakami tropes (distant women, strange hotel rooms, sensual flashbacks etc.) but it really hooked me. In fact it put me into that dreamlike state which in my opinion is necessary to get the most out of Murakami’s writing.

The other two stories that stand out were Super-Frog Saves Tokyo and Honey Pie. Honey Pie was the final story in the collection and it was actually a beautifully written modern love story. By the end of the book it really tugged on my heartstrings. I imagine it’s very similar in style and content to Norwegian Wood (which I have never got round to reading!)

But it was during Super Frog (absolutely the most bizarre thing I’ve read by Murakami since the famed Johnny Walker scene in Kafka on the Shore)that I really understood what Murakami was getting at with this collection:

“A very, very big earthquake. It is set to strike Tokyo at eight-thirty a.m. on February 18. Three days from now. […] Buildings will be transformed into piles of rubble, their inhabitants crushed to death. Fires everywhere, the road system in a state of collapse, ambulances and fire trucks useless, people just lying there, dying. A hundred and fifty thousand of them! Pure hell. People will be made to realize what a fragile condition the intensive collectivity known as ‘city’ really is.”

Japan, throughout the last hundred years, has been subject to events such as this numerous times, from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to Kobe and Fukushima. The aftermath of the 1995 Kobe earthquake is a common theme throughout the book, hence the name, but what Murakami did excellently here was to show how an unplanned natural catastrophe can echo the fragility of an individual’s personal experience. This imagery reverberates in some way or another through every story here.

In a country whose values are so routed in tradition and stability, yet whose modernisation has come through such an unsettling time of accelerating development and unplanned disaster, the Japan that Murakami writes about is a country coming to terms with this struggle.

Similarly to The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and Kafka on the Shore, Murakami tries to reflect aspects of the Japanese psyche that have been affected by the turbulent times in it’s history. This is something that is arguably not talked about enough in regard to his writing. But all in depth analysis aside, I really enjoyed this. It made me remember why I love reading his books. No doubt Mr. Murakami still deserves his place on my top.5.