After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

after the quake

Translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin

Published: 2003 by Vintage
My copy: borrowed from the Library where I work

Memorable quote: “Strange and mysterious things, though, aren’t they – earthquakes? 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 true…”

The terrible Kobe earthquake of 1995 is the thread that connects all the tales in this slim volume of short stories. None of the stories are set in Kobe and none of the characters that Murakami depicts experience the horrors of the quake first hand, but such an earthquake sends shockwaves through the national psyche as well as through the ground: as news of the devastation spreads people are forced to re-evaluate their lives and contemplate love, loss and mortality head on. Few writers are more adept than Murakami in dealing with these intense themes. Very little actually happens in these stories; an artist and a young girl build a bonfire on the beach; a doctor takes a relaxing resort break in Thailand; and yet I came away from each of them with a remarkably full picture of the protagonists all of whom seem to have an aching void inside of them. This is a melancholy collection, as you might expect given the theme, although the final story, “Honey Pie” manages at once to tie up all the disparate themes of the preceding tales and to introduce a greater element of hope, it’s a beautiful tale.

Sometimes when I read Murakami I’m left feeling that I’m just not hip and tortured enough to fully relate to the book (Norwegian Wood particularly does that to me). But – though thankfully I live on a very stable plot of ground – this collection felt very universal, perhaps because all the characters were themselves detached from the scene of the carnage, and were watching their televisions and exchanging gossip and rumour like people all over the world after any disaster. Some short story collections deserve to be eked out and enjoyed over the course of a week or two; After the Quake is one to devour, as I did, in just one sitting and to think and reflect on as the rain hammers down outside.

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