After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

“I want to write about people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for the light so they can hold the ones they love.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 132 pages.
Read from August 12, 2021 – August 19, 2021.

On January 17 1995, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake rocked Hyōgo Prefecture in Japan. This earthquake was the first-ever recorded earthquake to top the charts of the Japan Meteorological Agency. Nearly 6500 people lost their lives that day, around 4600 of them from the city of Kobe. Around 200,000 buildings collapsed that day. Even now, the Kobe earthquake still holds as one of Japan’s deadliest earthquakes. A few months later, Japan with hit with another tragedy with the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway. These two events altered the Japanese people and will forever be imprinted in people’s minds and history books.

A damaged highway in Kobe as a result of the earthquake. Photo from the Wall Street Journal.

I picked up this novel shortly after reading Underground by Murakami, which is suiting considering how close these real events occurred. While Underground is a non-fiction work from Murakami, After the Quake is a collaboration of six fictional short stories that all relate to the Kobe earthquake event. Murakami lived abroad until 1995 and it was after these events that made him decide to move back to Japan. Japan is a geological terror of a location as it is an epicentre for earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons. It’s not a matter of if, with Japan, it’s a matter of when the next big event will happen (enter massive tsunami in 2011) and with climate change making matters worse, Japan sits in a precarious situation.

This novel contains six short stories, each of them set in the months following the earthquake and the sarin attack, with each story evoking a similar atmosphere of emotions created by the disaster. The first story follows a man whose wife abruptly left him after the earthquake. After taking some leave from work he is asked to deliver a mysterious package to one of his co-worker’s sisters. In the fourth, a woman is on a trip to Thailand when she realises she needs to let go of the resentment she has towards her ex-husband. The fifth is probably the most interesting of all the stories in that a man returns home from work to find a human-sized talking frog in his kitchen pleading with him that he needs his help to defeat a super worm in order to prevent a giant earthquake. While some stories carry more realism than others, each carries a heavy tone of longing, hope, sadness, regret, and relief.

Murakami uses these stories to capture the voice of Japan after the quake as well as using it as means to come to his own terms with the tragedy. The earthquake event is prolific in each story, though not always in the same manner. From news reports of the event, a disrupted relationship, to prophetic and metaphorical fights of giant frogs and worms. Murakami’s writing is, as always, poetic and mystical while engrossing readers with a unique story and feel.

A solid choice for Murakami fans who have not read this book yet and a good introductory to a tragic piece of Japanese history.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”


4/5 stars.
ebook, 432 pages.
Read April 7, 2021 to April 13, 2021.

I adored The Kite Runner so I was excited that this novel was picked for one of my book club reads. Hosseini has a magical way with words and characters that can draw in any reader. This novel is also a relevant and timely read with the resurgence of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

A Thousand Splendid Suns depict the intertwining of two women in war-torn Afghanistan in the 1990s. After her mother kills herself, Mariam, who is still a teenager, is wed to Rasheed, a conservative man that is old enough to be her father. Every decision, dream, and hope Mariam had for her life is robbed from her and she resigns herself to the same misery her mother endured. Unable to give her husband a child, Rasheed’s affections turn into violence.

Laila came from a family that supported her education and individuality, though Laila’s mother was rarely present as she was never able to come to terms with the death of her brother. Laila’s father, however, was there for her and wanted the best for her. Young and in love with her closest friend, Tariq, the support Laila has from her loved ones isn’t enough to stop the war from finding them. When war comes to her doorstep and her loved ones are wiped out, Laila finds herself alone, pregnant, and unwed. Wanting to protect her unborn child she agrees to become Rasheed’s second wife. The dynamic between the Mariam and Laila is strained to start with but during one of Rasheed’s violent outbursts on Mariam, Laila tries to protect her. Eventually, the two form a bond of friendship that makes their married lives bearable. However, war is still all around them and Laila refuses to live her life by the confines of Rasheed.

Hosseini’s ability to create realistic, dynamic, and believable female characters is extraordinary. He depicts the impact of the Taliban regime on women and the suffering that so many of them endured and are still enduring in a remarkable way. The suffering that Mariam and Laila endure is so visceral moving and moving but the bond of love and sacrifice that they share in the end is intensely endearing. Hosseini’s writing is enthralling and beautifully composed and despite its heart retching content, is a novel that I did not want to put down. I love when I beautifully written book is both a stunning piece of literature but also an intensely important book that reflects and brings attention to real-world issues.

With the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, this book is a must-read for everyone though it may be triggering to anyone who has suffered domestic abuse or war-related PTSD.

Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski

“A baptism of fire, the Witcher thought, furiously striking and parrying blows. I was meant to pass through fire for Ciri. And I’m passing through fire in a battle which is of no interest to me at all. Which I don’t understand in any way. The fire that was meant to purify me is just scorching my hair and face.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 288 pages.
Read from March 15, 2021 to March 22, 2021.

Next to The Last Wish, this has been my favourite Witcher book in the series so far.

Geralt has found himself in quite a predicament. He almost died after the Wizard’s Guild fell and has been separated from Ciri. He is recovering from his injuries in the Brokilon forest, of which he is a rare male exemption amongst the female dryads. While Geralt is nowhere near healed, he must find Ciri as rumours are circulating of her capture and impending marriage to the Emperor. Little does he know that the Ciri in the Niflgaardian court is an imposter. The real Ciri has found the company of thieves and has managed to keep her identity a secret, for now. Despite Geralt’s desperate situation he attempts to maintain his gruff lone wolf mentality by trying to shrug off some very unique companions as well as finding himself involved in a battle he wanted no part in.

The story in this book really revived the series for me and makes me want to replay and rewatch the games and TV show (especially before the second season starts this Christmas). Geralt is a stubborn brute and I love him for it. The character work and Geralt’s internal conflict in questioning who he is a Witcher and what he stands for as well as his interactions with his new, and generally unwanted, companions that stick with him through thick and thin are what make this book one of the best in the series. His new companions are robust and dynamic characters that I fell in love with immediately and the surprise reveal of one of them really caught me and had me loving and appreciating this story even more.

The books, games and TV shows are each such innovative takes on Geralt’s path and the Witcher world. With any other series, I might be annoyed at the discrepancies and inconsistencies with character appearances and the chosen focused storylines, however, with the Witcher I’ve really enjoyed each medium’s differing takes on Geralt’s story, the characters that he meets, and the trouble he finds himself in.

A highly recommended read for fantasy lovers, it’s definitely worth reading the whole series just to get to this book. Here’s hoping the next book continues to impress.

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