It’s been nearly 20 years since the devastating Kobe earthquake took place. Lives were lost and destruction happened all around. And yet as we’ve come to see, life goes on; even for those who lived too far away to get caught up in it, but were nonetheless affected by it anyway.
That’s what Haruki Murakami’s “after the quake” was written to show. Originally published in 2000 and released in English in 2002, “after the quake” is a collection of six stories; all of which take place within the month following the earthquake. Characters of all sorts are introduced in each of these stories, each of whom arrive at a turning point in their lives within the aftermath. From a woman who befriends her rather interesting chauffeur while on her vacation in Thailand, to a writer who wrestles with the love he feels for his recently divorced friend from college; from a woman learning about the honesty of fire, to a man who’s approached by a giant talking frog to aid him in saving Tokyo from destruction.
This is the second short story collection I’ve read by Murakami, and an interesting one at that. I read that this book, along with with his books “Underground” and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” was a way for him to look and explore the Japanese national conscience. He spent five years writing each of the six stories that I read, and I can tell that he did with a purposeful, honest intent in mind.
None of the stories were entirely centered around the aftermath of the earthquake. Instead, each made head nods to it, in a way of acknowledging that it did, in fact, take place, and that on some level or another, it left an impact on each of the characters. It’s also wise to note that unlike what he’s known for, most of the stories don’t contain any elements of magical realism (the exception being “super-frog saves tokyo”). What I can say though is that some of them certainly don’t shy away from suggesting such happenings of a kind otherwise (such as a UFO sighting and the honesty of a fire).
The short stories in “after the quake” were relatively simple to read, but don’t let that undermine the impact that they have. I’m glad to have read this particular collection of works by Murakami, and I’d definitely consider it a recommendable one at that.