On the day of the Kobe earthquake a friend of mine was due to stay over with a friend in Kobe. The bedroom she would have stayed in was crushed by a falling building. The rest of the apartment survived almost undamaged, but if she had gone there, she would have been killed. Luckily, like Kazuo Ishiguro I grew up across the world (though without his talent) and did not suffer the quake’s destruction.
For Murakami Haruki, Japan’s greatest and most popular living author, the quake and the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo underground were a wakeup call. After the Quake is his attempt to look at the effect of the quake ok people far from the actual tragedy. While many have connections to Kobe they are all divorced from it somehow, and this is a current theme in Murakami’s work, the self-divorcement from society.
The book is split into 6 short stories and is purely fictional, unlike his books on the Sarin gas attack (Tokyo Underground). First, before introducing each story I would like to praise translator Jay Rubin for his excellent work. Translators are often undervalued in English-speaking countries. The book starts with UFO in Kushiro and revolves around a man whose wife has left him. As a way to get away a colleague offers him a free trip to Hokkaido to deliver a seemingly empty box. Landscape with a Flatiron follows a girl who moved away from Tokyo to the coast. There she meets an artist who builds perfect bonfires on the beach from scrap wood and does not have a fridge. All God’s Children can Dance is a story of a boy called Yoshiya who does not know who his father is. He is following the doctor he suspects is his father while thinking of his mother who is an evangelical Christian volunteering in Kobe.
Satsuki in Thailand perhaps represents Murakami’s feelings as a Japanese who lived in a foreign land. She is on a conference in Thailand when her Thai personal assistant asks her to visit an old lady who diagnoses a very Murakami-style problem. Super-Frog Saves Tokyo is as close as Murakami gets to an all action story. In this one a frog visits a salaryman asking for him to be the frog’s cheerleader as the frog fights a giant worm intent on causing Tokyo’s next big quake. As Tokyo is long overdue a “big one,” it plays on their fears of a Kobe-style scenario.
For once, Murakami finishes on a high with perhaps one of his most normal stories. That is to say that Honey Pie is full of feeling, warmth and dare I say, a happy ending? It follows a guy who could not make a move on the girl he fancied and lost out to his best friend. As his best friend ruined the relationship he remained friends with the girl and her daughter Sala. In telling the girl stories about a pair of bears he learns to make the right decisions in his life at last.
Typically for Murakami the book is dominated by quiet and bare prose, wonderfully original descriptions and situations. The themes of loneliness and suicide are abound as normal. Yet, it is also a very diverse and paradoxically focussed collection. Murakami branches out and offers some interesting pieces, finishing with a pair of crackers.