After the Quake

Author: Haruki Murakami
Published: 2002
Website: Wikipedia page

After the Quake is a collection of six of Murakami’s short stories which take place following the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. Murakami’s stories are powerful because none of them center on the earthquake; instead, in each story one of the characters refers to it as if it took place in the distant past or foreshadows a future earthquake in Tokyo. The earthquake affects each story without becoming the focal point, yet since the earthquake is the only connection between the stories, it emphasizes to the reader the earthquake’s tragedy and destruction without seeming overdone. This collection was remarkably fresh when compared to Murakami’s full-length novels because none of the short stories have a chance to reach the monotonal form of Hear the Wind Sing or the repetition in Norwegian Wood. After the Quake reminded me most of Murakami’s series of tangents in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle which ranged from wartime flashbacks to spontaneous discussions of wells. It is these tangents and the blending of magic with Murakami’s thoughts about the Kobe Earthquake which make After the Quake crisp and informative while remaining unconventional.

I picked up this book because I loved The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Sputnik Sweetheart, and as the first collection of Murakami’s short stories which I have had a chance to read, I am once again awed by his sometimes hilarious and other times poignant use of magical realism. No other author, with the possible exception of Neil Gaiman, mixes the magical with the real so well. And while Gaiman can rely on the fantasy genre to support much of his magic, Murakami has the added challenge of adding magical and spiritual moments to a book which has so many of the characteristics of historical fiction. Life-size frogs and wizened fortune-tellers enter the world of Japan and Thailand as characters struggle with the Kobe Earthquake and their life’s troubles. It is this confluence of real and unreal which gives After the Quake the spark which is so hard for most other authors to create.

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