Sunday, May 15, 2011
Book #48: Murakami On My Mind
-Haruki Murakami, After the Quake
Two months after the earthquake in Japan, I'm not hearing much about it in the media anymore. It's strange how an event can appear larger than life for so many days - earth-shattering, literally - and then just fade away, as other more current current events take over. Perhaps this is what I find so unsatisfying and unsettling about reading the newspaper and watching the news. But fiction, on the other hand, provides a whole other way of seeing the world, where the everyday details surrounding an event are carefully dissected. And so, lusting after this kind of reading experience, I picked up Haruki Murakami's After the Quake earlier this week.
In this collection of short stories, Murakami writes about how the 1995 earthquake in Kobe transformed the lives of ordinary people in Japan forever. What I found so moving about these stories is the way that they don't focus on the most dire instances of suffering; there are no torn limbs or people trapped under crumbling buildings in these stories. No, Murakami's art is a much more subtle, startling form of grief. A doctor attending a conference in Thailand curses her estranged ex-husband - half wishing that he died in the earthquake - only to learn from a fortune teller that he is still alive, bringing an unexpected relief to her tormented mind. A crazy man dreams that a giant frog has saved Tokyo from being destroyed from a quake. And in my favourite story, a writer comforts the young daughter of the woman he's secretly been in love with for years by telling her whimsical stories about "Masakichi the bear" to distract her from her nightmares about "Mr. Earthquake." Strangely, the earthquake pulls them all together into a new kind of improvised family.
Although Murakami was writing about the Kobe earthquake, I can't help but see these stories as illuminating the more recent earthquake, too. And late at night when I, like several of the characters, also cannot sleep, it's comforting to pick up Murakami and get a sense that life in even the most disastrous circumstances carries on, and people manage to find new forms of happiness, however fragile.
Photo from: here
- Leslie Shimotakahara
- Toronto, ON, Canada
- Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.