‘Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche’ is a non fiction work by Haruki Murakami about the terrorist attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995 by members of the Aum cult. I am a big fan of Murakami’s fiction and admit that I only picked up the book from the library because it had his name on the cover. I also didn’t know too much about this particular incident before reading about it this week but ‘Underground’ seems to have been the best place to start as it is a balanced and insightful view of the dreadful events of 20th March 1995 whilst also exploring further questions about the Japanese mentality towards their everyday lives.
Even though most of the first part of the text is drawn straight from transcripts of interviews with the survivors, Murakami still makes his mark on it through his thoughtful portraits of each survivor before they tell their story. These careful presentations of each individual prevent the thirty or so interviews from becoming too repetitive. The second part of the book consists of interviews with former and current members of the religious Aum cult. This section was originally published separately after the survivors’ interviews but bringing the two together in one volume was a sensible move. In the preface of the second part, Murakami’s writes ‘What I am trying to provide here is [….] not one clear viewpoint, but flesh-and-blood material from which to construct multiple viewpoints; which is the same goal I have in mind when I write novels’. The second part answered a lot of the questions that I found myself asking about Aum whilst reading about the survivors’ experiences making this ‘documentary’ of sorts a more rounded and balanced work.
I believe that Murakami is more skilled as a novelist than a journalist but ‘Underground’ is still a worthwhile if slightly chilling read. In particular, the sensitively handled research is a welcome contrast from sensationalist media reporting about similarly tragic events.
4 responses to “Underground by Haruki Murakami”
I’m currently reading ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ by Murakami, which is the first time I have encountered his writing. Everyone in my creative writing class was saying how fantastic his writing is so I wanted to give him a go. I have to say that initially I was surprised and didn’t take to the book as I felt that the short stories were plotless. However, the more I read on I am more and more amazed that he can turn everyday events into something interesting and yet I still can’t put my finger on how he does it! Admittedly I wasn’t considering reading another Murakami book ‘Underground’ seems more like something I would normally pick up. I think real life events make such interesting reading – whether they are true or fictional accounts – so I might give this one a go after all!
I read this last year and it was refreshing to read a non-fiction reportage of Murakami after reading all of his fictional work. I’m glad you like it.
I recently finished this and I think Murakami does an amazing job in portraying not only the victims but also the Japanese psyche and maybe what it is that made the people join Aum in the first place. I liked the book a lot.
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