There's nothing tidy or organized about an earthquake, no real
signal that marks its absolute end. Earthquakes can echo for days,
the repercussions shaking all those poor souls who thought they
These six stories by Haruki Murakami, Japan's most popular living
fiction writer, work in much the same way. Beneath their
crystalline surfaces, subterranean changes of tremendous import are
occurring. Rather than wrapping up with a tidy conclusion, the
stories disintegrate beautifully, leaving readers shaken long after
they turn the last page.
The stories are inspired by the quake that devastated Kobe in
January 1995. The earthquake itself only appears at the edges of
each tale, but Murakami's characters all face sudden,
uncontrollable changes in their lives wrought by external forces.
In effect, each of them is struck by his or her own shattering
In "UFO in Kushiro," an electronics salesman is stunned when his
wife, after watching TV news reports of the quake nonstop for five
days, abandons him ("living with you is like living with a chunk of
air," she writes). A colleague intervenes and sets him on a journey
that turns out to be much longer and stranger than expected. In
"Landscape with Flatiron," a runaway girl finds first comfort, then
despair, in a bonfire artist on the beach. "All God's Children Can
Dance" is a stunning internal safari through the dangerous
emotional landscape of a fatherless young man with a terrible
hangover. In "Thailand," an exhausted pathologist is softened and
broken by the revelation that comes at the end of her week's
vacation. "Honey Pie" is a meditation on love as sweet as its
title, but its sweetness is tempered by nightmares and grief.
"Super-Frog Saves Tokyo" is the strangest of the stories, and the
most closely tied to the Kobe quake. A loan collector, Mr.
Katagiri, comes home to find a six-foot frog in his apartment.
Naturally, he's a little surprised, although he remains typically
polite: "It's not that I don't trust you, but I don't seem to be
able to grasp the situation exactly." The frog explains that he
needs Katagiri's help to fight the giant Worm underneath Tokyo and
prevent an earthquake even bigger than Kobe's. The story, which
begins as a fun romp through absurdity, becomes a dark, even
nauseating tale of a fierce battle that takes place both literally
and metaphorically beneath the surface.
The protagonist of "Honey Pie," a struggling fiction writer called
Junpei, declares in a melancholy moment that "the short story is on
the way out. Like the slide rule." Reading this collection filled
with undeniable passion, intensely fascinating characters, and
sparkling prose ("Time wobbled on its axis inside him, like
curtains stirring in a breeze"), one can't help but think --- and
hope --- Junpei is wrong.
Reviewed by Becky Ohlsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 20, 2011
After the Quake: Stories