Monday, July 11, 2011

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
Copyright 2002
Vintage - Fiction/Short stories
132 pages

From the cover (again - a really well-written cover blurb I must defer to):

The economy was booming. People had more money than they knew what to do with. And then the earthquake struck. For the characters in After the Quake, the Kobe earthquake is an echo from a past they buried long ago. Satsuki has spent thirty years hating one man: a lover who destroyed her chances of having children. Did her desire for revenge cause the earthquake? Junpei's estranged parents live in Kobe. Should he contact them? Miyake left his family in Kobe to make midnight bonfires on a beach hundreds of miles away. Four-year-old Sala has nightmares that the Earthquake Man is trying to stuff her inside a little box. Katagiri returns home to find a giant frog in his apartment, on a mission to save Tokyo from a massive burrowing worm. 'When he gets angry, he causes earthquakes,' says Frog. 'And right now he is very, very angry.'

This [...] collection of stories, from one of the world's greatest living writers, dissects the violence beneath the surface of modern Japan.

I've only read part of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, prior to purchasing After the Quake (which, I should add, I am capitalizing in spite of the lack of capitalization of the title in that cover blurb, above). I didn't finish the book for reasons I don't recall, but I was very, very impressed with his writing and I've pretty much been collecting Murikami's books, ever since. After the Quake and Underground are two that I haven't been able to find easily, so when I saw them in a little store I like in London, I snapped them up. Husband just rolled his eyes.

I read the stories in After the Quake after finishing My Dear I Wanted to Tell You (I promise I'll review My Dear, soon - it is yet another story that really swept me away). There is something tremendously quirky yet real about Haruki Murikami's stories. He has a tendency to make you wonder, "Where the heck is he taking me?" and then he suddenly has his characters do something so bizarre, just as you think you may possibly have it figured out, that you just have to keep reading. That's one reason I'm a little perplexed that I didn't actually finish reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle . . . which, by the way, my eldest has since carried away.

I had a couple favorite stories in After the Quake, of course, although I enjoyed the experience of all of them, in general. "Landscape with Flatiron" is probably my absolute favorite. Junko has been living a dead-end life with her boyfriend, Keisuke. Her friend Miyake calls her up to ask if she and Keisuke would like to come join him on the beach as he builds a bonfire. Miyake has a thing for bonfires; he has learned how to tell when the tide will bring in lots of driftwood and with the driftwood he collects, he uses the special technique he's developed to keep the fire going a long time without burning out.

Keisuke is a jerk. He makes a lot of wisecracks about sex and picks on Miyake's refusal to share his history, which Junko eventually draws out of him after Keisuke leaves. Keisuke's departure leaves Junko and Miyake to share their deepest, darkest secrets. Miyake tells about his real home and his recurring nightmare. Junko talks about her emptiness and her favorite short story.

If you know your Jack London -- and most people have probably read the story that's referred to (but not by name) -- then you'll recognize the parallel when you read it, but I don't want to give any details away. Suffice it to say, "Landscape with Flatiron" is a very touching, skillfully rendered parallel to a Jack London short story. It is sad but beautiful.

I don't think I'll rattle on about the other stories, but After the Quake is a slender book at 132 pages containing 6 stories that are all unique in a way that makes your brain curdle just a bit. What an imagination he has! "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo" is particularly mind-bending.

The bottom line:

A unique set of short stories by one of the world's most imaginative, possibly somewhat twisted, minds. Definitely recommended, but I'd say it's about a PG-13 because of all the sexual references. Can't remember if there's anything graphic, although one fellow ends up in bed with a virtual stranger. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more by Murikami.

I don't know how many books I plan to read, but this was the first book I've completed for Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge 5. I'll definitely be reading more. I just don't know what and when. Fortunately, this challenge is a long one, from June of 2011 to January of 2012.

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  1. I absolutely adore Murakami. His stories are so surreal and unpredictable. It can be quite challenging to find some of his titles, which is a shame.

    Have you read his "What I Think About When I Think About Running"? It's a short non-fiction book that I think you would really enjoy. He seems like a delightful person.

  2. Kookie,

    "Surreal" is a good way to describe his work. No, I haven't managed to locate a copy of "What I Think About When I Think About Running," yet, doggone it. It's one of the books I most desire to read. I'm also really, really looking forward to reading "Underground". Hmm, may just have to order "What I Think About, etc." I keep hoping it'll show up at PBS but no luck, so far.

  3. So glad that you read this, that you're participating in the JLC5! I own all of the Murakamis, but I haven't read this one yet. I think that his short stories are a good way to start with him, though, because they come in small doses for one thing. But, the thing that surprised me so much about him was that he's so unique, so imaginative, and so...unlinnear? His stories, his novels, do not have a beginning/middle/end (nor, as I've come to learn, should they). Instead, they're just a glimpse into people's lives, with lots of open-ended parts. It helped me when I read that he feels people should be open to possibility; he doesn't expect us to arrive at a quick solution which was comforting to me. I've read Kafka on The Shore twice, and there's still more I could figure out upon rereading it. Well, here I am rambling on forever when all I wanted to say was I'm glad you read After The Quake. Now I want to, too.

  4. Bellezza,

    I kinda love it when you ramble. :) I hadn't thought about the fact that his work is non-linear and open, but that's definitely something to appreciate, once you become accustomed to his style. I am completely blown away by the scope of his imagination.

    I've already promised my copy of After the Quake to my eldest or I'd send it to you. He's a big fan of Murikami. He keeps walking off with my books, but he does return them so I'm happy. :)

    And, I agree that short stories are a good starting point. I think I was a little intimidated by his brilliance, when I was reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

  5. The Wind-Up Chronicle just seemed to become more and more bizarre the further I went along until at the end I must admit to being rather lost.

    I love that your son enjoys Murakami; what a sophisticated guy!

    Perhaps, if you feel like reading more of his work, you'd try After Dark next. It's not as long as The Wind-Up Bird, nor Kafka on The Shore, but it's not as short as the short stories. Plus, it still has plenty of confusing parts! :0

    p.s. I know exactly what you mean when you say that image on my post today reminded you of a Persephone book. Me, too. If only her face wasn't quite so serious...wouldn't you think sitting in a cafe, alone, with your book would merit a more cheerful expression? Oh, the quandries blog headers give me...

  6. Bellezza,

    I think the reason my son loves Murikami is two-fold: 1) He fancies himself an intellectual and 2) He's always liked to read Weird Stuff. LOL

    I don't have a copy of After Dark, unfortunately. So, next up will probably be Underground. But I might read that Banana Whatever book, first. Yoshimoto? Can't remember her last name. I think I have another book of short stories (Hard-Boiled something something something) and Norwegian Wood. Not sure if eldest has brought back The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I'm pretty sure he hasn't, but he's coming down for a visit so maybe it'll show up.

    P. S. She's concentrating, immersed in a compelling storyline and unaware of her serious expression. Soon, a moment of levity will cause a smile to wash over her face like the lapping of a gentle wave. Does that help? ;)

  7. The title seems so very apt right now. I loved the way you described this!

  8. Constance,

    Yes, it certainly does. Thank you! I wonder if the more recent quake will lead to more of the same.

  9. I have tried to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle several times and just haven't been able to get through it. Having failed at that one, I have been a little reluctant to try any more Murikami because I think he might just be a little harder for me to enjoy than I had previously thought. Your review of this one makes me think that I might, in fact, like this one. The synopsis sounds interesting and I really like weird books, so perhaps you have revived in me a desire to read some Murikami, which (I will be honest with you) no one else has ever managed to do before. I am adding this one to my list. Thanks!

  10. Zibilee,

    It's possible Murikami's just not for you, but I think reading his short stories is probably a good way to find out for sure. The frog story was so bizaare, but in the end I "got it". I think maybe he's a tiny bit easier to understand in short form!

    Oh, how very cool that I'm the first person who has made you desire to read more Murikami! Thanks for telling me that! If nothing else, I think the story I mentioned is worth the price of the book.

  11. I think I will attempt Norwegian Wood next which I hear is his most 'normal'. A twitter discussion suggests that Murakami 's stories are like recordings of dreams. or that they are puzzles with pieces missing.

  12. Care,

    Is it? Eldest has read Norwegian Wood and he liked it. He brought my copy back, not that long ago - it was mine that he read. Maybe I should give that one a go after Underground. Oh, interesting. Too bad I missed that twitter discussion. That makes sense. I'm pretty sure "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo" is either a dream or a hallucination.

  13. this is a great story collection, although I prefer The Elephant Vanishes.

  14. Parrish lantern,

    Just as I was wondering what I should add to my wish list, along you came with a title. Thanks for that. I had an open slot at Paperback Swap. :)


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