EPS Review #21 - Underground

by Haruki Murakami, 2000

Haruki Murakami is the Japanese novelist I reviewed in #4. This is his first nonfiction work, and is about the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway on 20 March 1995, by members of the cult Aum. Murakami writes that he had been living outside of Japan for seven or eight years, in Europe and America, and wanted to go back to Japan and understand it. When I bought this book, I thought how suitable it was for Murakami, with his obsession with underground things in his novels. Alas, he points this out in so many words in his essay, and also mentions other themes, such as the unreliability of memory, and so of personal experience. He lets all the victims who were willing to speak (60 or so) speak in their own words. They could cut whatever sections they wished (some bits that he, as a novelist, was very sorry to see go). They are still very interesting to read. On the purely factual level, people described the smell of sarin as putrid, stinking of rotten onions, sweet like coconut, odorless, or more of an acrid feeling than a smell. On the personal level, we see people staggering through their workday at the Quickie Mart suffering from poisoning and tunnel vision, but unwilling to let down their colleagues in their important Quickie Mart endeavors. There is one particularly painful story of a girl who is still in the hospital, and able to say only a few words.

The second part is interviews of (former) Aum cult members. What mostly comes through there is, to me, a perfectly reasonable yearning for a more unworldly life. You see more of Murakami's opinions in this part (as interviewer), especially as he tries to get people to explain how the killings could have happened. But in his final essay, he points out how everyone buys into a story or narrative of his or her life, and that the salaryman narrative is a strange one itself.

Kirat wrote: I do agree with you that M. does get a bit stale after a while, A Wild Sheep Chase & Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World were my favorites. I liked the ear model in a wild sheeps chase, she was a call girl, but she would never show anyone her ears.