Saturday, 11 June 2016

"I have no roots, he thought. I'm not connected to anything"

after the quake is a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami which all deal in some way with the aftermath of the devastating Great Hanshin earthquake which hit the Japanese port of Kobe on January 17 1995. Each story is set within a month of the earthquake at a time when the entire country was reflecting on the huge loss of life and livlihood including Murakami's own parents who lost their home in the disaster.

There are 2 standout short stories within this collection, Super-Frog Saves Tokyo and Honey Pie, which both demonstrate a different Murakami trope; firstly the whimsical and supernatural and secondly the theme of the lonely adult.  

In Super-Frog Saves Tokyo young bachelor Mr Katagiri returns home from work to find a giant and highly articulate frog waiting for him. Frog explains to the unassuming Mr Katagiri that his help is needed to battle a giant worm who is set to unleash a second earthquake, this time on Tokyo itself. In this story Murakami typically makes overt references to other literature, the opening scene is both Kafka and Manga-esque in itself, and other writers such as Hemingway and Tolstoy who are both mentioned by Frog to convince Mr Katagiri that it is his obligation to help in the battle with Worm. Mr Katagiri is the 'everyman' jolted out of his everyday routine and forced to face a life changing challenge. There is a sense here of Murakami himself exploring his own role in repairing the battered Japanese psyche.

In Honey Pie (another story named after a Beatles song following Norwegian Wood) Murakami writes about a college love triangle and a young girl haunted at night by The Earthquake Man. Murakami's skill as a writer of short stories is evident throughout Honey Pie which includes a story within a story, which protagonist Junpei reads to the young girl, aswell as a flashback to college life which sets up the relationship between Junpei and his friends. This theme of the lonely and isolated adult coming to terms with decisions made in the past is classic Muramaki but in Honey Pie the overarching theme is one of hope. Building on the idea of Murakami questioning his own role as cultural guide in Super-Frog Saves Tokyo, in Honey Pie we find an example of Murakami offering solutions and faith.

The fact that there is so much to say about only two of the stories in this collection demonstrates just how good a read this is. Admittedly some context is required to fully appreciate the stories but this is exactly where reading digital books is an advantage. There are times when you'll want to delve into Wikipedia to drill down into information about Murakami himself and about the Kobe earthquake. Some readers find this distraction an anathema to reading literature but for me its a open door to more layers of meaning. 

I read this collection of short stories on Kindle in June 2016 in part at the St David's Hotel at Cardiff Bay.

after the quake by Haruki Murakami, published by Vintage Books, 162 pages

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