Murakami is best known for his book Norwegian Wood, but I chose Underground: the Tokyo gas attack and the Japanese Psyche as my first Murakami book. It is his only non-fiction work to date (at least to my knowledge).
Murakami fled Japan after the success of Norwegian Wood and was lacking context around the Sarin attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995. It was a fantastical and terrible event that sounds like it has been plucked from the pages of a Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum novel.
You have a weapon of mass destruction cooked up by a cult that has echoes of the Mansion family about it.
Underground was his way of making sense of it. He interviewed survivors and protagonists telling the stories in their own words.
It is antithesis of Tom Wolfe’s new journalism: Murakami manages to let the people speak for themselves. Murakami removes himself completely from the work, which is the antithesis of the personal nature in a novel. Instead you get uncoloured reportage. If Wolf did new journalism, Murakami has done ‘Muji journalism’. Simple unadorned content which lets the story be the story.
What comes out of their stories in Underground a strength, modesty and stoicism that shines through the horror of the experience that the people went through. I was reminded of that oft quoted Japanese saying ‘fall down seven times, stand up eight’.
I was told that it was a dark book that is heavy going, but I didn’t find this to be the case at all. These people and their response to the Tokyo underground gas attack are an example to us all confronted with sudden adversity.
The Tokyo gas attack was a shocking event and both systems and processes broke down, but what came out also was the heroism of the people involved in dealing with the tragedy and their deeply ingrained ethical system. More details of Underground here. More Japan related content here.
Picture courtesy of NeilsPhotography