The aftermath of the devastating 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, is the thread that connects the six short stories in Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s 2002 collection after the quake*. While none of the stories are set in Kobe, all of the characters are affected by the catastrophe, either directly or indirectly.
The stories in after the quake are “ufo in kushiro” ; “landscape with flatiron” ; “all god’s children can dance” ; “thailand” ; “super-frog saves tokyo” ; and “honey pie.” With the exception of “super-frog saves tokyo,” the stories contain few of the surreal elements that characterize most of Murakami’s novels and short stories. All of the stories are written in a thoughtful and engaging manner, but my favorite stories are “thailand” and “honey pie.”
In “thailand,” Satsuki, a pathologist whose research involves the thyroidal immune system, finds more than rest and relaxation on a vacation to Thailand. During the course of her trip, a series of events, including an encounter with a woman who predicts people’s dreams, prompts her to make peace with her past and accept her mortality as an inevitable part of the cycle of life. The past Satsuki confronts involves a doomed relationship with a man who lives in Kobe and may be a casualty of the earthquake.
In “honey pie,” a child’s frightened reaction to news coverage of the earthquake provides the framework for exploring the long and complicated history of college friends Junpei, Takatsuki and Sayoko. Close throughout college, their friendship is tested when Takatsuki and Sayoko fall in love and later marry. The three remain close as they pursue their careers– Junpei becomes a short-story writer, Takatsuki joins a newspaper as a reporter, Sayoko enters academia– and in time Junpei becomes a surrogate uncle to Takatsuki and Sayoko’s daughter Sala (whom Junpei named). What appeared to be a perfect marriage to Junpei eventually ends in divorce, but he remains close to both Takatsuki and Sayoko. When Sala experiences nightmares triggered by coverage of the earthquake, Junpei is asked to comfort her. Through the process of calming her fears, he begins to contemplate his own response to the earthquake, and realizes it is time for him to acknowledge his feelings for Sayoko.
What I found the most compelling about the stories in after the quake was the way in which Murakami was able to convey the far-reaching effects of the earthquake without being heavy-handed or exploiting the tragedy. after the quake is a haunting and beautifully crafted collection that should appeal to readers of short stories and established Murakami fans.
(*The title of Murakami’s collection, as well as the titles of the stories, are written in lower case. I decided to keep the titles stylized as published.)
Check the WRL catalog for after the quake