Friday, 24 February 2012

Foreign Language Friday: after the quake by Haruki Murakami

Dear blog,
So.  I wrote a review, finally!  You'll have to forgive me if it sounds badly written.  I am so out of practise, but it will be good to get back into reviewing again. 

Original title: Kami no kodomo-tachi wa mina odoru
Author: Haruki Murakami
Original Language: Japanese
Translated by: Jay Rubin
Summary (from Goodreads): The economy was booming. People had more money than they knew what to do with. And then, the earthquake struck. Komura's wife follows the TV reports from morning to night, without eating or sleeping. The same images appear again and again: flames, smoke, buildings turned to rubble, their inhabitants dead, cracks in the streets, derailments, crashes, collapsed expressways, crushed subways, fires everywhere. Pure hell. Suddenly, a city seems a fragile thing. And life too. Tomorrow anything could happen. For the characters in Murakami's latest short story collection, the Kobe earthquake is an echo from a past they buried long ago. Satsuki has spent 30 years hating one man: a lover who destroyed her chances of having children, and who now lives in Kobe. Did her desire for revenge cause the earthquake? Junpei's estranged parents also live in Kobe. Should he contact them? Miyake left his family in Kobe to make midnight bonfires on a beach hundreds of miles away. Four-year-old Sala has nightmares that the Eathquake man is trying to stuff her inside a little box. Katagiri returns home to find a giant frog in his apartment on a mission to save Tokyo from a massive worm burrowing under the Tokyo Security Trust Bank. "When he gets angry, he causes earthquakes" says Frog. "And right now he is very, very angry."

Review: So, this is a selection of six short stories all set directly after the 1995 Kobe earthquake.  I thought I would review each story one by one.

UFO in Kushiro- I think this is actually my least favourite of the bunch. That's not to say that I disliked it- I did, the same way that I like everything that Haruki Murakami writes, just within certain degrees of liking as opposed to active dislike- but I suppose that I just found it rather ordinary, with all of the trademark aspects of his work that you would expect from his writing.  Look at it this way: as a kind of introduction, a prologue that sets the scene with the things that keep all of the stories in after the quake interlinked: people's lives that are outwardly so ordinary in many aspects, but which are somehow thrown slightly out of balance, and the way that the Kobe earthquake is somehow relevant to their lives.  UFO in Kushiro, to my mind, kind of establishes all of that as a lead-up to the rest of the book.

Landscape with Flatiron- is quite possibly my favourite of the six, and also quite possibly my new favourite Murakami short story.  The surreal and supernatural is something that's often one of the most prominent themes in his writing, but this collection is (apart from Super-Frog Saves Tokyo, which I'll get to in a minute) kind of devoid of all that. Yet Landscape with Flatiron reads as quite dreamlike and surreal in a way that no giant frogs could ever be, with the imagery that it conjures up, the fleeting dialogue, and the way that the story meanders along quietly, like it's hardly there at all.  You hardly notice that it's finished, the way it kind of trails off in an unfinished thought.

All God's Children Can Dance- is best described as...slightly disturbing, or maybe slightly unsettling would be a more accurate description.  There are all kinds of vague underlying themes and undertones to the story, like everything is lurking just underneath the surface.  You wouldn't think it when you first start reading and meet the protagonist- who wakes up alone at home with a hangover- but it's the darkest story of the six, and the deepest, too.  I found the conclusion of this story particularly satisfying: it opened in one place, seemed to go on a slight detour as a kind of intense character study, before concluding in what felt like a full circle.  Though the story was only around twenty pages long, by the end I felt like I knew everything about the main character and the world he inhabited.

Thailand-  Is it possible for a short story to pull you in gradually?  If it is, Thailand did exactly that. I started out thinking, "well, this is an okay story," but then as it kept going I felt myself more and more gradually drawn into it.  All the stories in after the quake are linked in differing ways, but I found the way that this was connected the most interesting; the main character, Satsuki, wonders if her hatred of one man is what caused the earthquake. 

Super-Frog Saves Tokyo- Reminded me a lot of the story The Little Green Monster from the collection The Elephant Vanishes, and was just as much fun. It's as strange and as quirky as it sounds, but always in the most delightful way possible.  A bank employee named Katagiri comes home from work one evening to find a six-foot-tall frog waiting for him in his apartment, and, after the frog has asked Katagiri to close the door behind him and take off his shoes, Frog proceeds to warn Katagiri that they must both work together to "do mortal combat with"...drumroll...a gigantic worm, in order to prevent aforementioned worm from destroying Tokyo.  Every page gets more and more random, but for that I absolutely love it.

Honey Pie- I envy Haruki Murakami for his writing skills so much, and he makes me feel like such a mediocre writer. How are his characters so fully-formed and believable, even when we only stay with them for such a short period of time? I know that this is a highlight of the collection for a lot of people, but I was initially a little confused about where the focus of the story lay.  It started off in one place, with a young girl being told a story by her Uncle Junpei. Then it sort of takes a detour into the lives of Junpei and the girl -Sala's- parents, only it's sort of too long to be a detour and seems to become the central point or idea of the story, before coming back to Sala again at the end.  Still, whatever story the reader wants to get from it- and there are many within it- it remains ultimately heartwarming and hopeful.

In Three Words: surreal, profound, emotive.
Recommended for: everyone!  I think it's a good introduction to Murakami's short stories.
Rating: 4.

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