'You could never get away from yourself'
This had to be the seventh Murakami book I've read since I was seventeen. Back then, there are only two authors whose works I faithfully consumed. One was Murakami-sensei, the other was Chuck Palahnuik. Both have exceptional writing styles that stay with you and often haunt your days and nights if you allow them. I remember reading a Murakami anthology (The Elephant Vanishes) but since it was only a borrowed copy from the library, I never got to finish (I plan on re-reading that next year). This is the second anthology I was graced with and it was composed of six measly short fictions that are, in the truest Murakami sense, irresistibly consuming. The theme for this collection deals with the catastrophic 1995 Kobe earthquake and the lives of his characters who have to cope in its wake.
Each of the stories had protagonists who are already so immersed in wanton longing and abandonment, and it was only after a disaster took that place that they became even more uncomfortably acquainted with their mortality, as well as their ultimate irrelevance in the grander scheme of the cosmos. But there's hope of course. Losing themselves to oblivion has to occur only so they regain stability and purpose once more as soon as the dust settled and changed the course of their destinies forever. Passages of existential crisis for me have always been Murakami's strongest quality in writing after all. The following stories that are comprised of After the Quake are UFO in Kushiro, Landscape with flatiron, All God's Children can Dance, Thailand, Super-frog Saves Tokyo, and Honey Pie.
"I want to write about people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for light so they can hold the ones they love. But right now I have to stay here and keep watch over this woman and this girl. I will never let anyone--not anyone--to try and put them into that crazy box--not even if the sky should fall or the earth crack open with a roar."
Three out of the six stories struck me as very memorable and meaningful. First is UFO in Kushiro that told the story of a man named Komura whose wife had ran away because she accused him of being an empty vessel. In her own words: "Living with you was like living with a chunk of air." Trying to adjust to this abrupt abandonment and now feeling even emptier than usual, he goes to deliver a package to his sister, a box whose contents he was curious to find out but never got to.
The second story that I thoroughly enjoyed was Thailand. A young doctor named Satsuki travels to a foreign place, accompanied by an insightful cab driver who introduced her to a fortune-teller during her stay. Satsuki's symbolic dreams reveal the suffering she has carried with her, a weight that makes it unable for her to escape her doom, no matter how much she traveled because there is simply no way one can get away from oneself. Murakami's prose for both stories explored a human being's tendency to erase themselves or become less than what they are in fear of never becoming whole again.
Both Komura and Satsuki gain a newfound perspective about who they are once they were able to free themselves from the torment and distraught that their respective spouses have inflicted on them. Komura learns he is important regardless what his wife had said, while Satsuki is finally able to put to rest her vengeful thoughts about her husband. The symbolic use of the earthquake as a catastrophe that transforms lives was fully realized in the third story that is the most surreal of the six.
Super-Frog Saves Tokyo was about Katagiri, an ordinary man whose assistance was required by a six-foot frog who claimed that they are the only ones who can stop an attack underground permeated by a large worm who apparently has just woken up and was about to throw a tantrum fit which will destroy the city. Katagiri agrees in spite of hesitation and the battle between the two creatures was definitely something worth reading that I won't spoil here in the review.
The other three stories of the collection were just as unique and contemplative and I think out of those least three favorites, I can recommend All of God's Children Can Dance most of all. It simply reads like an amusing coming-of-age story due to its awkward and unassuming young protagonist Yoshiya, who is dealing with his strenuous pseudo-Oedipal relationship with his beautiful mother who claims he was the second coming of Christ, but later on he also comes to terms with the real identity of his estranged father, and how to talk to him and make him understand. Before he could make that choice, he witnesses an earthquake happening from a distance where he stood in shock.
In a nutshell, After the Quake is a worthwhile read filled with retrospective tales and the lonely characters that inhabit them. I don't consider it as one of Murakami-sensei's strongest works, but the three stories that became my favorites are at least worth checking out for yourself.