Wednesday, September 2, 2009

251. After the Quake – Haruki Murakami

History: First published in 2000, it was released in English as after the quake in 2002 (translator Jay Rubin notes that Murakami "insisted" the title "should be all lower-case"). The stories were written in response to Japan's 1995 Kobe earthquake, and each story is affected peripherally by the disaster. The stories in after the quake repeat motifs, themes, and elements common in much of Murakami's earlier short stories and novels, but also present some notable stylistic changes. All six stories are told in the third person, as opposed to Murakami's much more familiar first person narrative established in his previous work. Additionally, only one of the stories contains clear supernatural elements, which are present in the majority of Murakami's stories. All of the stories are set in February 1995, the month between the Kobe earthquake and the Tokyo gas attacks. Translator Jay Rubin says of the collection, "The central characters in after the quake live far from the physical devastation, which they witness only on TV or in the papers, but for each of them the massive destruction unleashed by the earth itself becomes a turning point in their lives. They are forced to confront an emptiness they have borne inside them for years."
ufo in kushiro – Komura’s wife is traumatized by the earthquake, and leaves him, eventually writing him asking for a divorce, no reason given. After a few months of shock, he asks for some time off work, and goes up north to deliver a package to a coworker’s sister. His sister and a friend, Shimao, meet him at the airport, and go out to eat together. Afterwards, he and Shimao end up in the hotel together. And while they are in bed, Shimao tells him that what was in the box was a part of him that he will never get back. Komura begins to feel violent towards her, but forced himself to calm down.
landscape with flatiron – Junko is a runaway that is living with a man next to the beach, and friends with Miyake, a mysterious middle-aged painter whose obsession seems to be collecting driftwood from the beach and worrying over a dream that he will die suffocated in a refrigerator. Miyake is also from Kobe, his family is there however he says they live away from the destruction. The bonfire this night is especially wonderful and significant. Miyake is from Kobe, and his family is still there. They have a meaningful conversation in front of the bonfire on a very cold night.
all gods children can dance - Yoshiya rises from bed with a hangover, his mother has gone to Kobe to help the earthquake victims. Yoshiya was raised by his mother, a religious fanatic that is in a pseudo-cult. Yoshiya had no father, his mother said the lord is your father. He grew up believing this, which prevented him from marrying his girlfriend. His mother told him eventually that his father was a doctor who performed abortions, and she met him when she was 15 after having an abortion. He had a missing earlobe. One morning, Yoshiya was on his way home from work, with a horrible hangover, and he sees a middle aged man with a missing earlobe. He follows him closely, but loses him in a deserted baseball field, where Yoshiya begins to dance.
thailand – Satsuki goes to Thailand for a conference, and stays on afterwards at a resort for rest and relaxation. Her chauffeur, Nimit, a pseuo zen type and jazz lover like her, is also her guide, and takes her across the mountains to swim in an indoor swimming pool. Satsuki refers to “he”, a lover from three decades earlier, who lives in Kobe, but she doesn’t know if he survived the earthquake. On her last day there, Nimit takes her to a fortune teller. She tells her that there is a stone inside her body, there is something written on it but she can’t read it because it is in Japanese. She tells Satsuki that she must get rid of the stone, or otherwise when she dies and is cremated the stone will still remain. She tells her of a dream about a snake that she will have, and that she has to hold onto it until she wakes from the dream. She also says that “he” survived the quake without a scratch. The next day, Satsuki feels great, and wants to tell Nimit a big secret, but he stops her, saying words turn into stone. At the end of the story we find that she still has not had the dream.
Super-frog saves Tokyo – Katagiri finds a giant frog in his apartment one day when he comes home from work. He is very alarmed, the frog seems to know everything about him. The frog is predicting that a large earthquake will strike Tokyo in three days, bigger than the one in Kobe a month ago. Disaster and great destruction is expected. To prevent the earthquake, frog and Katagiri must go beneath the bank where Katagiri works and fight Worm. The plan was to go underground the night before the earthquake. However, that evening Katagiri gets shot walking to the bank by a thug. He wakes up in a hospital room the next day, shocked to find that there was no earthquake, and apparently was not shot, but was found passed out in the street. Frog came to the hospital that night, telling him that they did defeat Worm in a dream. As Frog described the battle, he slipped into unconsciousness in exhaustion. Suddenly huge boils appeared all over his body and burst, slimy worms came out and climbed up the walls. Katagiri called for the nurse, and when she appeared, everything disappeared and she said he had a nightmare.
honey pie – Junpei is a writer of short stories who is in love with Sayoko, who has a daughter. Sayoko and Junpei are old college friends. He has always been in love with her, but she married Takatsuki, who was Junpei’s best friend. The three of them were always friends, but Takatsuki and Sayoko got a divorce. Sala, the daughter keeps having nightmares about earthquakes, after the one in Kobe last month, and Junpei's storys are all that calms her. Takatsuki gave Junpei permission to ask Sayoko to marry him, and at the end of the story he decides to do so.
Review: Murakami makes the characters believable by including touches lesser writers ignore - the little tidbits that make lives real and individuated. Murakami’s 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 life’s 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. Because Murakami characters feel so little sense of historical continuity, they often make abrupt, irrevocable breaks from their pasts. 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.
Opening Line: “Five straight days she spent in front of the television, staring at crumpled banks and hospitals, whole blocks of stores in flames, severed rail lines and expressways.”
Closing Line: “I will never let anyone – not anyone – try to put them into that crazy box- not even if the sky should fall or the earth crack open with a roar.”
Quotes: “The huge bed stretched out around him like a nocturnal sea. He heard the freezing wind. The fierce pounding of his heart shook his bones.”
“We take it for granted that the earth beneath our feet is solid and stationary. We even talk about people being ‘down to earth’ or having their feet firmly planted on the ground. But suddenly one day we see that it isn’t so true.”
Rating: Good

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