Tuesday, April 26, 2005

After the Quake

On January 17, 1995 a powerful earthquake hit Kobe, Japan, killing hundreds of people, causing millions in property damage, and reminding a world just how fraglie and precious life truly is. The aftermath of this horrible event functions as a cultural backdrop for Haruki Murakami's collection of short fiction, After the Quake.

An obvious choice for a story following these events would be tales of the direct effects of the earthquake. Startling sensory descriptions of the devastation, the lives of those who were killed, and the struggles of those who managed to survive. Murkami opts for a subtler method, focusing on characters only tangentially afffected by the quake. These people live in other parts of Japan and watched or heard about the quake through the media. Some had family or friends in Kobe, although none they had spoken to in years, while others knew no one involved in the tragedy. Despite the events, life for these people moves on.

Like Murakami's novels, these stories move quite gracefully between realism and fantasy. For example, "UFO in Kushiro" features an electronics salesman who receives a dear john letter from his wife. Spurred by friends to take a vacation, he delivers an enigmatic package to some even more enigmatic people. In "All God's Children Can Dance", Yoshiya comes to terms with the idea that he just may not be the son of god, despite what his well-intentioned mother keeps telling him. And loan collector Katagiri finds himself face to face with a giant talking frog, who wants to enlist his aid in a battle against a giant worm that wants to destroy Tokyo for waking it from it's nap.

With his plainspoken, yet poetic language (I'm sure due in no small part to the wonderful translation by Jay Rubin), quirky subject matter and compelling characters, After the Quake carries you into a dreamworld familiar to fans of Murakami's novels. But one key difference on a technique level between Murakami's short stories and novels is the use of dialogue. His novels contain dialogue, but are driven quite heavily through action, descriptive detials and exposition. This collection showcases a wry ear for dialogue, and Murakami makes it the driving force behind most of these stories. This use of dialogue places a little more focus on the characters, their relationships and how they live over the unusual events that happens to undergo during the time of these tales. Placing character over plot and fantasy, I found Murakami has layers and layers of stories to tell about the condition of the human heart.


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