String from the central theme, each of these stories, as their collective title suggests, takes place in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake, but because none of them is directly linked to it, they allow Murakami to examine its effects obliquely, and has the liberty to narrate a story of different characters which are remotely affected by the earthquake.
I’ll do a quick intro and put in some of my favourite quotes.
UFO in Kushiro
In the first story “UFO in Kushiro,” Murakami introduces us to a woman so shattered by the earthquake that she decides to abandon her marriage, leaving her husband to find his way alone.
The wife glued to the scenes of devastation on television for days after the quake, she rouses herself only to walk out on her husband, leaving him with the thought that “living with you is like living with a chunk of air”.
The husband, Komura, thought that he had all what he wanted, “He much preferred to come home early, have a relaxed meal with his wife, talk to her for a while on the sofa, then go to bed and make love. This was everything he wanted.” (p.3)
Lands With Flatiron
In the second story, “Landscape with Flatiron”, the main character Miyake is a painter haunted by idea of dying trapped in a refrigerator devotes himself to building bonfires. Miyake’s friend, Junko, is also suffocating in an empty relationship. Miyake is haunted by death, while Junko is trying to figure out how to live.
“I never once thought about how I was going to die,” she tells Miyake. “I can’t think about it. I do not even know how I am going to live.” (p.37)
In “Landscape with Flatiron”, a painter haunted by the unlikely possibility of dying trapped in a fridge devotes himself to building bonfires with an obsessive craftsmanship that belies his assertion that their sole purpose is to “warm people’s hearts”. “Stepping back a few paces, he would examine in detail the form he had constructed, adjust some of the pieces, then circle around to the other side for another look, repeating the process several times.” It’s an obvious comment on Murakami’s own writing technique, in which ideas are reiterated and refined until they seem to reach a moment of almost sublime self-effacement.
All God’s Children can dance
Is a story about Yoshiya who is raised by his mother and never knew his father. He struggles with the hole in his life that is left behind by his father and also examines his relationship with God. As he awakened to the existence of his own independent ego, he found it increasingly difficult to accept the strict codes of the sect that clashed with ordinary values. (pg 52) Not long after that Yoshiyo abandoned his faith and that saddens his mother. His closing thought was this:
Our hearts are not stones. A stone may disintegrated in time and lose its outwards form. But hearts never disintegrate. They have no outwards form, and whether good or evil, we can always communicate them to one another. All God’s children can dance.
I felt as if Murakami is making a parallel between the absent father of Yoshiya and the replacement with God the father.
“Thailand” features a lonely divorced Japanese doctor, who takes a colleague’s advice and takes a vacation in Thailand. Her connection to the Kobe quake seems vague at first. Later, it became clear that she despises a man lived in Kobe, and she hopes he has died there. While in Thailand, the doctor does nothing but chill out. The wisdom comes from her Thai driver.
“Strange and mysterious things, though, are not they — earthquakes?” the driver says. “We take it for granted that the earth beneath our feet is solid and stationary. But suddenly one day we see that it is not true. The earth, the boulders, that are supposed to be so solid, all of a sudden turn as mushy as liquid.” (p.68)
This is amongst my favourite quote from the wise driver:
“You are a beautiful person, Doctor. Clear-headed. Strong. But you seem always to be dragging your heart along the ground. From now on, little by little, you must prepare yourself to face death. If you devote all of your future energy to living, you will not be able to die well. You must begin to shift gears, a little at a time. Living and dying are, in a sense, of equal value.”
Super-Frog Saves Tokyo
In this story Murakami abandoned the real-life event with the quirky similarity of Hardboiled Wonderland and End of the world and introduce us to a story where a giant frog persuading a mundane bank clerk, Katagiri, to engage an evil subterranean worm in mortal combat. The frog is also philosophical who quote Hemingway and Dostoevsky and to deliver sentences like “I am, indeed, pure Frog, but at the same time I am a thing that stands for a world of un-Frog”?
Only a master like Murakami could pull this off and made me accept the weirdest idea he wish to implant in my mind.
Despite the darkness of these stories, Murakami restores some of the light and optimism in his last story “Honey Pie.” The lonely but successful short-story writer Junpei, the main character of this story, is in love with his best friend’s wife, Sayoko. But he dares to dream and hope for a change. “I want to write about people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for the light so they can hold the ones they love.”
My common perception is that it takes greater skill to write short stories than a full length novel. A full length novel may start wobbly and hope that it redeem itself by the end. But a short story needs to make an impact at the very start and wrap-up nicely within a couple of pages. It has to be understood subtly the meaning of it when the pages end prematurely, as compared to a full novel.
Honey Pie is my favourite. But every story here reminds us about the flightiness of our lives and that we should keep hoping and make the remaining of our lives meaningful. Tell your loves one you love her, live life forgetting and forgiving those who hurt you, dance while you are living, live each day as if you are doing to die etc. are things that we hear again and again but Murakami give it his own unique spin and I came out gratified with this short story collection.
This is my 10th book for J-Lit 4 challenge.
Paperback. Publisher: Vintage Books, 2003 . Length: 132 pages, Setting: Post Great Hanshin earthquake, or Kobe earthquake, January 1995 Japan. Source: Bracknell Library loot. Finished reading at 17th December 2010. Translated by Jay Rubin.
The Great Hanshin earthquake, or Kobe earthquake, was an earthquake that occurred on Tuesday, January 17, 1995, at 05:46 JST in the southern part of Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. It measured 6.8 on the Moment magnitude scale. The tremors lasted for approximately 20 seconds. The focus of the earthquake was located 16 km beneath its epicenter, on the northern end of Awaji Island, 20 km away from the city of Kobe.
Approximately 6,434 people lost their lives (final estimate as of December 22, 2005); about 4,600 of them were from Kobe. Among major cities, Kobe, with its population of 1.5 million, was the closest to the epicenter and hit by the strongest tremors. This was Japan’s worst earthquake since the Great Kantō earthquake in 1923, which claimed 140,000 lives. It caused approximately ten trillion yen in damage, 2.5% of Japan’s GDP at the time.