Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel.
March 20th 1995 changed the lives of thousands of Japanese people, forever.
This review will be different from most others you will see on my blog. It will be much less a critical review of the writing but more a look at how the acclaimed fictional author Murakami approached this gut-wrenching topic.
Background: On March 20th 1995, member of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo unleashed a lethal dose of the poisonous gas Sarin into several carriages of the Tokyo subway system. Miraculously, only 12 people died but thousands were injured and many were left with serious after-effects. Murakami’s book does not have a point to make and does not draw any conclusions. It is purely a series of interviews with those affected, the families of the deceased and members of the Aum cult.
I found the way that Murakami approached the interviews with those affected, found in the first part of the book, to be very sensitive, although he describes it as being very difficult to find willing participants. In the second section of the book, where he interviews past and present members of the cult, he is far more challenging of the ideas the interviewees present to him.
Underground also addresses the way in which those affected deal with the situation at the time. I found this part to be particularly interesting, with one victim even going to buy his milk and going to work, even though he could not see and certainly could not walk straight. Imagine if this were to happen in place like the UK or the US? I imagine the reaction would be incredibly different.
Although I found it a little difficult to read, whether that is down to the gap in my own knowledge around Japan and its culture or due to the way in which the book was set out, I did enjoy it and find myself drawn to read other books concerning the Japanese culture. Is it worth a read if you’re interested in the attack itself, doomsday cults and/or the Japanese psyche? Absolutely.
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Peace and pages
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