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.

Longing and Other Stories by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

“When I go out into the world, will I have to endure the same suffering and distress as my parents?”

3/5 stars.
ebook, ARC.
Read from November 29, 2021 to December 6, 2021.

A big thanks to Netgalley for the ARC copy of this book and for continuing to expand my reading repertoire. Considering my love for Japanese writing, it’s weird that this was my first time reading something by this author. I intend to add a few more of his works to my TBR pile.

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki was one of Japan’s most prominent modern writers in the early 20th century. He passed away in 1965 and was known for writing honest accounts of family life that was not often depicted out in the open within Japanese society. This collection of short stories was written early in his career between 1916-1921.

This collection contains three short stories, ‘Longing‘, ‘Sorrows of a Heretic‘, and ‘The Story of an Unhappy Mother‘. Longing details the dreamlike sequence of a boy trying to find his way back home to his mother. What he encounters is eerie and complete with a sad revelation at the end. Sorrows of a Heretic is about a despicable young university student and his relations with his family and friends. He is a liar, a cheat, and relentlessly selfish, even in the face of the death of people he deems close to him. His narcissism is hard to stomach throughout this story. The Story of an Unhappy Mother is another one that will make you feel uncomfortable. By all appearances, the mother in this story seems to have the perfect family with her doting sons. However, she has expectations of them that they can’t seem to be able to meet. After her one son gets married she crashes their honeymoon of which an accident occurs that no one wants to speak of. The mother falls into a deep depression and is never the same afterwards. This results in tragedy in which the real outcome of the accident is finally revealed to the reader and remaining family members.

There is some arguably autobiographical content in this book as it relates to the stories. Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s mother passed away of a heart attack in 1917 and he was not able to make it to her death bed.

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki has a great way of setting a distinct tone for his stories that create the unnerving atmosphere he is trying to instil in his readers. These stories are meant to make you uncomfortable and the fact, that 100 years on, these stories can still evoke these feelings showcases the author’s talent. Jun’ichirō Tanizaki had a way of merging ideas and shifting perspectives that made his writing approachable while also making readers uncomfortable as he showed them stories and ideas that may have been taboo or in bad form to discuss. With this collection, he specifically discusses family and how society perceives what makes a good family and asks the question about how far our duties extend to our family and what exactly do we owe them? This also shows the clash of Confucian ideals with that of the West in early 20th Japan.

Overall an engaging read that made me want to explore what else this author has to offer.

The Fruit of My Woman by Han Kang

“He’s been extremely kind. He bought a huge flowerpot and planted me in it. On Sundays, he spends all morning sitting on the balcony threshold catching aphids.”

3/5 stars.
Online read, 28 pages.
Read on December 18, 2019.

Read the story for FREE here: https://granta.com/the-fruit-of-my-woman/

Since I can’t currently read any more novels in English by Han Kang, having read them all already, I’ll take what I can get.

This unique metamorphosis story set the stage for Han Kang’s The Vegetarianone of my all-time favourite novels. The story is narrated by the husband of a married couple. He starts to explain how his wife woke up one day with bruises that were not going away and continued to spread all over her body. He details the nuances of their marriage and some of her personal traits. As a reader, you begin to pick up on aspects of the marriage in which the woman might not be happy with as the husband is oblivious to his wife’s needs, desires, or wants. For the wife, marriage has not turned out how she expected it to be and as a result, the couple is not communicating well.

‘This isn’t living,’ she spat out, ‘it only looks like it.’ Her voice was edged with hostility, like a drunk’s slurring declamation, This country’s rotten through! ‘There’s no way anything could grow here, don’t you see? Not trapped here in this . . . in this stifling, deafening, place!’

As the bruises spread, the woman feels a pressing urge to sit naked outside in the sun. She slowly starts eating less and less as the bruises spread and deepen in colour. The doctors, of course, can find nothing wrong with her. Eventually, the husband comes home to find his wife stagnant on the floor gasping for water and from there, the wife slowly progresses into the form of a tree. The story switches narration to the wife and her thoughts as she progresses into her final form.

What makes this story remarkable is that you get both sides of this marriage and that in the end, the husband states that he had never seen his wife so beautiful. It’s as if, the wife, by finally letting go and growing into something vibrant and alive the husband finally comes to see the person that she really is and give her the care that she deserves.

Poetic, beautiful and extremely visceral, which is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Han Kang and her translator Deborah Smith. If you haven’t read anything by Han Kang or are looking to try a book in translation I would highly recommend starting with this gorgeous short story.

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