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Underground is the second Murakami book I ever read, after finishing Hard-Boiled Wonderland (a novel by him) I though that Murakami is the kind of writer that write in quite surreal style. However this book prove otherwise, it's realistic and yet quite emotionally touching. It seem however, the author of this book is not neutral, understandable of course since a decent human being would probably condemn what the terrorist do, yet a writer of his caliber should know better.
The content of the book it self is about the terrorist attack by new religious group Aum Shinrikyo in 1995 at Tokyo underground train system. Underground is divided into two part, in the first half it told us the survival story of those who survive the attack and/or their relative. The second half told us the opinion of former member of the group.
The way Murakami write this book -by interview- is in my opinion quite astonishing considering the private nature of Japanese. The author's brutal yet frank question is surprising, even more so that the interviewee willing to answer. The end result is quite magnificent, this book is filled with emotion of those involved, directly or indirectly, by the attack.
In a way this book could also be seen a social critique on the psychological nature of Japanese, granted that some of those trait are admirable (as could be seen in this book also), however this book clearly show that some of negative trait that most Japanese have is frankly flawed.
Thus, in my opinion this book is as great as many of Murakami fictional work. The fact that he laid out in this book in brutally frank, yet those frankness is what make this book emotionally touching.
I decided to read Haruki Murakami's 'Underground' book after reading MykReeve's opinion on it not long ago, and I agree with the rating he gave and what he wrote about it, but to help myself from not plagarising it, I've decided not to re-read that review again until I write my own one, so I don't end up copying his opinion in a different way, but I'm sure there's parts where we'll meet, maybe. To get you up to brief, this is to date Murakami's only work of non-fiction (and it's his only I've read, so I can't compare to his literally style before, and most of this is fact anyway), and it was a project I believe that was culled up by his own interest in this event which took place while he was away on holiday. The Tokyo Gas Attack, took place on 20 March '95 and was the act of the cult Aum Shinrikyo (which stands for Supreme Truth), a religion that has assocations with Buddhism and eastern philosphy, but has always been given a wary eye by many Japanese inhabitants. Ashoko Asahara (the leader of Aum) sent his elites to plant and pierce packets of sarin (a rather nasty liquid gas, first developed in one of the World War's if I remember, and is pretty much a pesticide, and the side effects in their maximum cases can be horrific) on various designated trains on different lines in the Tokyo underground, and then leaving. Depending on conditions and the placement of passengers on the trains, the effects ranged from mild flu like symptoms right up 'til death. And the ensuing panic inbetween was sheer! People were dropping like flies, and many were unaware of what was really happening and still travelled on to work or whatever, still. Station attendants bore the brunt of the disaster too, as did some of even the cult who may have slightly uwantonly got sarin on themselves. Add to this panic the fact that even though the emergency services were prompt, as a network it was a bit shambolic
and ghastly. And probably rose out of the fact that with Japan being a country which seems to hardly be engulfed by terrorist conflict, they weren't grounded on how to act in situations like these, but fortunately the Japanese overcame these to the best of these abilites. The number of deaths were low, but many still suffered side effects, ranging from nightmares to physical pain. Particulary the most distressing account was that of the girl temporarily reduced to a vegatative state, and still indeed struggling with functioning normally, but nevertheless her survival and recovery were amazing! The book is divided into two accounts (and yes, luckily transcribed into English), titled 'Underground', and the other 'The Place That Was Promised'. The first half deals with the accounts of the victims of the disaster, but not in a terrifying and soulless statistical form, as the media do, but in a very humane approach which makes reading this a little more easier to stomach too. He deals not only with all of the accident accounts, but the lives of the people before and after. This first section is divided in terms of underground lines, and most of them are preceeded by an account of how the sarin was planted and released on that line. As I remember recalling MykReeve's review, the only irritation is that because all of these people obviously shared the same experience (but obviously with difference views), you hear the same accounts ring quite a few times and even though that's a minor gripe, it's the only one that slightly irritates you (if that's the right word, I'm not sure myself); and quite rightly Murakami did not edit these interviews much (only to suit the interviewee and himself), and so they're pretty pure and raw. And because they're written in a non-mechanical way, it's easier to stomach the accounts, and it's intriguing, but still horrific. I remember going on the underground while reading this boo
k mid-way, and got terrified when the train stopped...Just for a second, and I smelt cheap perfume *gasp*, but seriously even though not scared, venturing through the lines, there were repercussions of what I read, like, what if this happens here?... The second part talks to members past and present of Aum (these were collected from magazine articles Murakami contributed to), and Murakami himself even interveens in some of these accounts, not to be scathing but to clarify things we'd probably like to ask Aum ourselves. Most of the accounts reveal that even those who left Aum still praise it for the positive healing and teachings it preached, and many of those who left found it hard to leave, but still couldn't condone the Tokyo Gas Attack, although one or two had to question themselves if they would carry it out for 'liberation'. Many people are still in Aum, but it seems that they're either not sure or against it, but their primary reason for joining was not negative, it just turned out that way, only the strong willed didn't get caught up in the conflict. Those chosen to carry out the sarin releasing were Shoko Asahara's elite, those who'd simply become machines and obeyed all of his orders without remorse or question, and many of them were the 'clever' ones (Murakami interestingly has a small dig at the Japanese education system too), but there cleverness also had a naive madness. Most people joined Aum because of some kind of social dysfunction - I'm sure we all harbour them, but these drove some people more than most. How the trials were carried out, I'll never know; I'm sure it was hard. It seems also Aum has now become Aleph and become more law-obiding, and with a new leader, but is there still a risk? I'd be too scared of joining cults like these, they'd creep me out, even though the legitimate accounts were very interesting, such as healing and the like. Aum was an interesting reli
gion, even for me as a reader...But when LSD and weapons got introduced, w'oh...This was being abused! Also Murakami digs at the Japanese psyche, hence the subtitle of the book 'The Tokyo Gas Attack & The Japanese Psyche', and attacks the quiet-acceptedness of the Japanese people, that if not fixed, will make them even more suceptable to attacks like this, and this was just something to prove it. ...Anyway, I won't spoil anymore of this book! =) You can tell by this review about my enthusiasm, intrigue and enjoyment I got out of it, as I loved it a lot, except for the repetitions in accounts that had occured, and understandably too, but it was a small thing. Overall an enjoyable read of harrowing non-fiction, presented in a very digestible, clever and intriguing way, and a must read, totally recommended! I can't wait to read more Murakami! He's an ace writer, and this was a very compelling subject handled exceedingly well. Read it!
This is the third of Murakami's books that I've read, and is also his only non-fiction work. In 'Underground' Murakami paints a worrying and frank picture of the events surrounding the Aum Shinrikyo cult poison gas attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995. The book is divided into two sections. The first half of the book is probably the most fascinating. Murakami has tracked down and interviewed about forty of the survivors of the sarin gas releases, and introduces each of them to us in turn before printing the content of his conversations, written in the first person as though by the interviewee. Each person describes their life prior to the gas attack, as well as their experiences that day, and their feelings towards the cult today. This is stunningly captivating reading, and extremely disturbing, especially for someone who uses an underground network every day. Although over 2,000 people were seriously affected by the gas release, only very few were prepared to talk to Murakami, and some insisted on using a pseudonym. The after-effects of exposure to sarin are extremely severe - of the people Murakami talked to, many no longer have good vision, and some still find sleeping difficult several years on. One victim spent several years in a coma, and eight died as a result of their exposure. This part of the book is divided into five sections, with one section for each packet of sarin placed on the trains, introduced by an explanatory text by the author describing where the gas was released, and the characters of the men responsible for each attack. There is a map of the Tokyo underground at the front of the book, to make the text easier to follow. The second half of the book consists of interviews with people either still in the cult, or who have left it since the sarin release. These conversations are reported in a similar way to those in the first half of the book, but Murakami asks more questions of these interviewees. It
is clear that he wants to understand exactly how someone could feel that this action on the part of a religious cult could ever be justified, and whether the individuals he spoke to feel that they would have been able to go through with releasing the gas, had they been ordered to. It is also interesting to read the various explanations for why people joined the cult in the first place, and worrying to find how few actually found their experiences to be negative. This is an incredibly emotive book, partly for the honesty and frankness of the interviewees, and partly for the sheer disbelief on the part of the victims that something like this could happen in Japan – a country that had never experienced terrorism of this sort. The inability of the emergency services to cope with the disaster is also a recurring terrifying theme in the narratives of the victims. It is clear that Murakami has tried to remain as separate from the events as he possibly can, and he has produced another superb work, giving us a poignant and disturbing insight into the events surrounding the Tokyo gas attack, and the nature of the Japanese psyche that led to it. Praise must also go to Alfred Birnbaum for producing another excellent translation of Murakami's work, and to Harvill for providing a few much needed annotations throughout the work to explain aspects of Eastern philosophy which a Japanese reader would probably already understand, but a Western reader probably wouldn't.
Contains interviews with survivors of the Sarin nerve gas attack by the Japanese Aum cult on the Tokyo underground in 1995. Published by Harvill Press