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.

My Favourite Reads of 2021

2021 was yet another dumpster fire of a year but at least we all have books. Here are some of the best books I read this year.

I think we’re all a little hesitant about what 2022 could possibly bring considering how the last few years have gone. We’re all approaching it with cautious optimism and concern. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t made a resolution since 2019 and I’m not mad about it. Regardless of what 2022 will bring and the shit show that was 2021 (and 2020, and 2019…) at least we have books. I struggled to meet my reading goal this year for the first time in years. I blame the stalemate that the pandemic has created as we all wait for our lives to get back to normal. I know many places have resumed some form of normalcy but Hong Kong is living in a twilight zone due to its zero-covid goal, meaning our borders have practically been shut for two years now. It’s hard to leave and pretty much impossible to return with a mandatory three-week hotel quarantine meaning travel is out of reach for your average joe-schmoe. To make matter worse, despite not having any local covid cases in over 80 days we still have social restrictions. Here’s hoping we can escape in 2022…

Non-Fiction


5. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

A book club selection that I finished at the tail end of 2021. This non-fiction explores how the psychopath test came to be and how it’s been used in criminology and science. Jon Ronson is known for his humour which created an interesting and entertaining read.

Review to come.


4. Underground by Haruki Murakami

If you follow my blog you know how much I love Murakami. This book is very different from the normal whimsical fiction he writes. Murakami interviews the victims of the sarin gas attack that happened in Tokyo in the 90s and he pieces out the events of the tragedy through the words of the people who lived it. This was another book club selection but I would have eventually read it anyway as I’m very near having read almost everything by Murakami.



3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Another book club selection that really surprised me. I knew little about Trevor Noah when I started this book and was surprised by how much I enjoyed Trevor’s writing and tone. The book recalls his life growing up ‘coloured’ in South Africa during the apartheid, in which he was literally born a crime since white and black people were not allowed to be together.


2. The Choice by Edith Eger

A holocaust memoir unlike any other I’ve read so far. Dr. Edith Eger is a working psychologist and holocaust survivor. At 16, Edith was an aspiring Olympic gymnast before those dreams were robbed by Hitler. Only she and her sister survived the camps but little did she know that the hardest part was still yet to come. Edith gives the details of her life and how she struggled to overcome the horrors of the holocaust and how it led her to her current profession and her desire to help others.


1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This book hit me hard and is one of the most beautiful pieces of non-fiction I’ve read to date. Paul is a young and reputable neurosurgeon who finds out he has stage 4 cancer, meaning that it cannot be cured. While he pursued science, literature was his first love and he had always dreamed of writing a book. This is Paul’s effort to come to terms with his impending death and to leave one last impression for the daughter he was won’t get to see grow up.


Fiction


5. Blankets by Craig Thompson

This graphic novel came highly recommended but it took me ages to get a copy. This book is warm and full of nostalgia as the author details his first love and wrestling with his faith and upbringing.


4. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A stunning graphic novel about one woman’s recounting of growing up in Kabul amidst some of its worst unrest. It’s a coming of age story unlike any I have read before and was a poignant read considering the recent events of 2021 with Afghanistan with the return of the Taliban.


3. Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

This graphic novel really took me by surprise. It’s beautifully illustrated and tells of the author’s experience of abruptly moving to America with her mother against her will. The story details the issues she experienced growing up as an immigrant and the troubles she faced with her family.


2. Rodham by Curis Sittenfeld

If someone told me I would love a fiction about Hilary Clinton I would have laughed at them. When this book was picked for my book club I was not looking forward to it. This premise of this novel speculates how things might have turned out if Hilary didn’t marry Bill. It’s extremely well written and provoking. I thoroughly enjoy this novel.

Review to come.


1. Diamond Hill by Kit Fan

This was novel was a Netgalley find from a local Hong Kong author who now lives in the UK. This novel has Murakami qualities the melds the feel of historical and modern-day Hong Kong. Rich in actual history and set in the 1980s, this is the unique story of a drug-addicted Buddhist monk who finds himself inside a temple in Diamond Hill. He meets an array of unique characters who come to feel like a dysfunctional family. The story captures the feel of Hong Kong while exploring some of its difficult history and future. The writing is exquisite and I can’t wait to see what else this author has to offer.



The Idiot by Fydor Dostoevsky

“Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 780 pages.
Re-read from April 28, 2021 to May 25, 2021.
First read December 21, 2010 to December 28, 2010.

I never imagined that I would be rereading this classic novel 10 years down the road, however, reading this novel the second time around and with a book club gave me even more appreciation for the author and the story.

Small crew to discuss this book but the group leader got us some great mugs with which I then proceeded to drink my beer out of.

First published in 1869, the English translation wasn’t available for this book until the early 20th century. The Idiot begins with the protagonist Myshkin arriving back in Russia after a stint at a Swiss sanitorium. Perceived as an ‘idiot’ for both his epilepsy, honesty, kindness, and naivety Myshkin attempts to navigate Russia high society. Surrounded by greed, lust, drama, and power-hungry individuals, it’s no wonder Myshkin is perceived as an idiot by his peers. However, his otherworldly perspective and kindness do not go unnoticed, drawing his attention to two very different women with which, he will falls in love with them both.

The question that seems to be raised by Dostoevsky is that is it possible for someone to be completely authentic, honest, genuine, and kind without bringing ruin to others and specifically themselves? The Idiot appears to hold a mirror up to Russian society in the late 19th century which, as an exceptional realist writer, Dostoevsky pulls off beautifully. The highlights of the book come from Myshkin’s interactions with the female characters and antagonist, it’s where you feel the most invested in the book. The faults with this book are its length and an extensive cast of characters that, due to Russian naming, makes them difficult to keep track of. Each character serves a purpose in showing the faults and varying virtues of Russian society to give a deeper idea of Myshkin and his ideals. The story also makes extensive references to Christianity and Dostoevsky’s personal views on religion. The novel itself ends tragically which, is no surprise there as many Russian novels do, especially Dostoevsky’s.

While The Idiot made less of an impact on me than Crime and Punishment it is still a unique piece of Dostoevsky’s work that appears to be more personal than his other writings. While the length of the book is somewhat off-putting it made for an exceptional book club discussion. It may not be a book for your average reader but if you enjoy classics, Russian literature, or historical fiction you will find value in this book.

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