"After the Quake"
by Haruki Murakami
181 pages, hardcover
Short story collection
Review by Liana Manukyan
If the twentieth century has brought any changes to characters in books, it has made them feel alienated from the rest of the world.
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami is about characters trying to reconcile their sense of who they are with the world around them. They are forced to do this while trying to make sense of the tragedy of the Kobe earthquake, which struck this city in Japan in 1995. They run away from their mothers and fathers and husbands and wives, they save a world that may or may not be worth saving, and they are forced to choose whether or not they are going to bind themselves to the people they love.
In all the pieces of this short story collection, the heroes and heroines struggle to understand what it is that makes them who they are, to understand what they are supposed to be doing and believing. The characters are searching for that"something," as the author calls it, that makes them whole. I am inclined to believe, after reading the stories a few times, that this"something" is other people, though in no story (except perhaps the very last one in the collection), is this so simply stated. This struggle to fill an inner void is at the same time the struggle to find their place in the world without compromising their individuality.
In the first story, Komura, a recently divorced man, is lying in bed with a woman when it strikes him that he really might be as empty as the"chunk of air" his wife has accused him of being. The thought is enough to bring him to"the verge of committing an act of overwhelming violence."
In"all god's children can dance," Yoshiya is told as a little boy that "the Lord" is his father. When he grows up he stops believing that he is anyone special, or that his mother has given birth to him through immaculate conception. Because of this he also loses his faith. Then one day, while quietly following a man he believes to be his biological and consequently real father, he happens upon more answers than he expected to find.
In"super-frog saves tokyo," a giant frog asks an ordinary man to help him save Tokyo from a devastating earthquake that he knows is going to strike the city. As the story progresses, the identities of the two characters become less clearly defined, so that we begin to realize that they might perhaps be one and the same. Of the six stories in the collection, this one seems the most contrived, as if the author and his pen were trying to teach us a lesson. His message in this piece is much less subtle, and consequently less convincing and moving.
"Honey Pie" is probably my favorite piece of the collection."There's at least one good thing to tell about even the most ordinary bear," Junpei tells the little girl who is listening to his tale of the two bears. This fairy tale and the main story are interwoven in such a way that we become the little child listening to the narrator as we read. Of all the pieces, it is the one that, I think, most perfectly captures the delicate balance in the relationship between the self and the world. As the author writes, it is"about people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for the light so they can hold the ones they love."