after the quake – Haruki Murakami

August 15, 2009 § 10 Comments


Another Murakami, another on for the Japanese Literature Challenge. This time, it’s not a novel, but rather a collection of his short stories. And short they are too!

This book is a collection of 6 short stories, all completely unrelated to each other, except for one minute detail, which is that they are all set during the period after the Kobe earthquake.

My favourite of the six was .. I rather think it’s actually quite difficult for me to pick a favourite, because each one of them had quite a different flavour from one another, and had a different appeal. Though saying that, if I simply had to choose, I’d say it’s a toss-up between ‘landscape with flatiron’, and ‘thailand’.

‘landscape with flatiron’, I particularly enjoyed because I found it very deep and soulful. The story was told in such a way that I felt like I was sitting there with the characters, watching the fire as it grew, completely entranced with it.

As for ‘thailand’, perhaps it is because I come from Malaysia, and since Thailand is the only neighbour country that connects physically with my own, I felt the intimacy, and also felt quite strongly the distinct Thai flavour within the story, despite it also being very Japanese in character.

All the stories though, had a very dignified quietness to them. Although the stories were set during the period after such a natural disaster, there was almost none of the hysterics that one would normally associate with the aftermath of an earthquake. In fact, the stories felt almost serene.

But then again, ‘serene’ is actually quite a vague way to put it, and might I add, maybe even a little inaccurate, because there are unimaginable twists and unexpected turns inserted at some very odd junctions of each story. Just when you start to think you’ve got the characters figured out, he shows you otherwise. And the story ends without you ever being the wiser.

I’m probably only not satisfied with one thing, and that is the stories were indeed SHORT. In a sense, I had wanted some of the stories to go on for a little while longer. But they always end a tad too quickly, making me wish I could catch at least one more glimpse of what the character was thinking, but instead was left hanging on that final sentence.

Maybe short stories are supposed to be that way. Maybe they’re supposed to leave us hanging, to let our own imaginations fly. Maybe short stories are supposed to engage us in thought even after the story is done. Maybe short stories never actually end.

Conclusion: I’d rate this at 4 out of 5. I’ll be reading more of his short story collections to see if I still get that feeling of “It’s not enough!”


Postscript: My computer crashed again. It’s the second time in as many weeks. Sigh..


§ 10 Responses to after the quake – Haruki Murakami

  • Mark David says:

    Yes, “serene”, that’s a perfect way to describe it. Particularly the story Thailand. It’s almost like the whole story is about calm. When I was reading the book though, I didn’t quite get the story Landscape with Flat Iron, so unfortunately it was the one I least liked. But now that I think about it, considering what you said, it really is quite an evocative work. The beach scene was marvelous.

    About Murakami’s stories ending somewhat short, I actually love it that way. That’s how I expect every Murakami to end… if you think about it, no story in real life ever has an ending. There’s always space left for something more, for something else 🙂

  • This sounds great. Yet another Murakami to add to my list!

    I’m not a big fan of short stories, but, this kind-of reminds me of Kundera’s The Book Of Laughter and Forgetting – a few short stories, all based in and around the same time/place – and I loved that book to bits.

    PS: Computer crashes are so annoying. They’re worse than… English weather!

  • su says:

    @ Mark David: You’re right about stories in real life that are always left hanging. It’s not really that I don’t like short stories, or hanging endings that aren’t endings, it’s just I simply wished his stories lasted longer!

    @ anothercookiecrumbles: Ah, I’ve got another book suggestion to put onto my list! I’ve got Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being sitting on my shelf, and if I find that good, I might just got for the book you’re mentioning. The title is very seductive!

    PS: Yes, computer crashes are super annoying. Don’t know about English weather, but.. definitely worse than winter in Auckland!

  • Tony says:

    This was my very first Murakami book, many years ago, and while my wife was unimpressed, I was keen enough to try another. I bought ‘Norwegian Wood’, and the rest, as they say, is history 😉

    Now that I’ve got all the novels I can find, I think it’s time to go back to the short-story collections…

  • su says:

    @ Tony: Aw.. I still can’t find Norwegian Wood anywhere in the libraries! And I’m wanting to read it so bad! I’ve already lost count of the number of people who say that Norwegian Wood made them Murakami fans for life.

  • Mark David says:

    I really think you’re going to like Norwegian Wood 🙂 Hope you find it soon!

  • su says:

    Thanks Mark David. I do believe I’d enjoy the book immensely. But then again, since I’ve got so many library books on my shelves already, I might just “save” that book till a later date (or at least, until the book is finally returned to the library).

  • Bellezza says:

    I’ve been wanting to read this book for quite some time, even though I’m not a terribly big fan of short stories. Like you, I want them to continue to develop when they’re suddently truncated. But, for Murakami’s writing, I’ll read anything. I love the mood he creates, the serentiy as you said, and I’m learning to appreciate the “leave you hanging” thing he’s so adept at doing.

  • su says:

    @ Bellezza: I guess after a while, you do get kind of accustomed to the hanging feeling. It does, I feel, leave me with more to think about, as opposed to stories that are nicely bundled in the end.

  • I loved The Unbearable Lightness Of Being as well – it’s so beautifully written.

    best of luck looking for Norwegian Wood 🙂

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