Thursday, August 18, 2005

Book 18: After the Quake, by Haruki Murikami

Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Vintage; Vintage edition (May 13, 2003)

Americans may find all too familiar the angst haunting the characters in Haruki Murikami´s collections of six stories, After the Quake. In each story, a tumultuous event provides ample reason for buried fears to rise to the surface consciousness of the an individual character. In one instance, catastrophe escaltes the progres of a love stalled by years of friendship. In another, the earthshaking event leads a woman to reconsider her life and her punctuated hatred of her ex-husband. But in all the story, Murikami´s characteristic masterful use of simple language for profound ends allows the author evoke a sensitivity and passion in not just his characters, but the reader as well.

Murikami is perhaps the foremost Japanese novelist. His works include Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World along with the novel generally regarded as his masterpiece, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. But After the Quake, provides a rare glimpse of the novelist in short story form. It is a glimpse full of promise and reward and thoughts with a universal applicability.

Americans may recognize the scnearios faced by Murikami´s characters, but few will have deep knowledge of the tragedy involved. The Kobe earthquake wrought havoc on the Japanese city when it struck in 1995, measuring a devastating 6.9 on the Richter scale. It had the same type of effect on Japanese life as 9/11 did for many Americans. What had seemed stable was suddenly undermined and frighteningly ephemeral. What foundations were left? Who was to blame, how to prevent another such tragedy, when the "enemy" was so evasive? It is the fear of living that Murikami tackles in the foremost, his six stories exploring how people come to deal with fear and go on living even as they are forced to realize every moment could be their last.

Unlike many short story collections, each story in After the Quake is a unique entity on its own, while tying into the work´s larger thematic emphasis. In "Frog Saves Tokyo", the main character is beset upon by a Gregor Samsa like gigantic Frog to battle the devil earthwarm that will cause an earthquake beneath Tokyo like no natural disaster before. However, in the longest story, "Honey Pie", Murikami is much less fantastical, dealing with love and the classic Hamlet paradox of inaction versus action. Fear, whether personal or in the form of a potential destroyer, may lead us to turn in ourselves to seak safety, but disengaging from the world rarely provides us with the answers we´re looking for. In the end, what arises most from Murikami´s wonderful and entertaining stories are the human ability to persevere despite horrendous circumstances and a willingness to face life head on. As his stories suggest, Murikami sees avoiding life as being as frightful as anything mother nature can muster.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this.