Review Of After The Quake, by Haruki Murakami
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 1/20/07
Haruki Murakami is one of the most well known Japanese novelists still living, but his small collection of six short stories, After The Quake, is a good intro to this writer. The bookís stories revolve around the brief time between a January, 1995 earthquake that devastated the city of Kobe, and the terrorist poison gas attacks in a subway a couple of months later in Tokyo.
The earthquake is not the direct cause nor star of the tales, but its presence is felt in aftermath. In the first tale, UFO In Kushiro, an electronics salesman, named Komura, finds out his wife has left him after watching five straight days of earthquake coverage on the news. This is her Dear John note:
The problem is that you never give me anything, she wrote. Or, to put it more precisely, you have nothing inside you that you can give me. You are good and kind and handsome, but living with you is like living with a chunk of air. Itís not entirely your fault, though. There are lots of women who will fall in love with you. But please donít call me. Just get rid of all the stuff Iím leaving behind.
It comes as a shock to Komura, because heís still young, handsome, and successful, while his wife is not attractive. Murakami describes Komura as an everyman, but one who is indeed as his wife describes him:
Komura was tall and slim and a stylish dresser. He was good with people. In his bachelor days he had dated a lot of women. But after getting married, at twenty-six, he found that his desire for sexual adventures simply--and mysteriously--vanished. He hadnít slept with any woman but his wife during the five years of their marriage. Not that the opportunity had never presented itself--but he had lost all interest in fleeting affairs and one-night stands. He much preferred to come home early, have a relaxed meal with his wife, talk with her for a while on the sofa, then go to bed and make love. This was everything he wanted.
To relieve his state a co-worker, Sasaki, asks him to deliver a package to his sister on Hokkaido, where he finds a new sense of purpose, and perhaps love from a woman who provokes him out of his trance-like life- with tales of bears and UFOs- where when asked if his wife was right about him he replied, ĎIím not sure....I may have nothing inside me, but what would something be?í This is a very good tale, and Murakami makes the characters believable by including touches lesser writers ignore- the little tidbits that make lives real and individuated.
The next tale, Landscape With Flatiron, follows a mysterious middle-aged painter named Miyake, from Kobe, whose obsession seems to be collecting driftwood from the beach and worrying over a dream that he will die suffocated in a refrigerator. Along the way he meets up with twentysomethings. One he connects with is a girl named Junko, who is fascinated by the painter, and his obsession with bonfires, and a Jack London story, To Build A Fire. The two muse and philosophize together one night as the fire dims, and make a real connection, beyond love or lust.
The weakest tale is All Godís Children Can Dance- the title tale in the Japanese version of the book- wherein a young man Yoshiya seeks out his father to avoid his domineering and lecherous Born Again mother. As a child he was told The Lord was his father, but soon realizes he was the product of a fling between his wanton mother and her abortionist, whom he stalks to a bad neighborhood, where he learns about himself. Itís not a bad tale, but simply lacks the freshness and individuation the other tales do.
The fourth story is Thailand- a terrific piece about a female Japanese thyroid doctor, named Satsuki, from a Detroit hospital, who vacations in Thailand while attending a conference, and meets a mysterious chauffer named Nimit, who over the course of her vacation helps her deal with lingering anger and resentment over a Kobe lover she left over three decades earlier, before it consumes what remains of her life.
My favorite tale, although not the best, is Super-Frog Saves Tokyo, in which a harried bank officer name Katagiri has a psychotic break after the Kobe earthquake and believes that an overgrown Frog has appeared to him to solicit his help in defeating the great earthquake causing Worm, who plans to devastate Tokyo with an even larger earthquake in a few days. Frogís requests end up causing Katagiri his sanity. This tale is a great allegory because Frog represents a lost thing in Kobe whose destruction has affected him deeply. That we never find out exactly what really was lost by Katagiri is a wise narrative decision.
The last tale, Honey Pie, follows a short story writer named Junpei, through his artistic struggles, and unrequited love for his best friendís wife, and his determination to let the earthquake free him from the boxes that others have tried to put him and his work in.
Murakamiís tales are realist and fantasist, but they work far more than not because he has an understanding of the little compromises and rationales that people make up to cope with lifeís ills- be they great losses like an earthquake, or the little resentments that gnaw through the years. All the main characters are lonely or loners by choice, yet all have moments that take them away from the self. Sometimes the effects are good, other times not, and other times there is no effect. Yet, each tale, even the weakest, is far better than the dreck being spewed out by the PC Elitists who control American publishing, for they all contain insight, and not in the usual Zen-like koans that Westerners always associate with Oriental thought. It is this ability, most of all, that perdures translation, and proves Murakami an excellent writer in any language.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Laura Hird website.}
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