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After the Quake

After the Quake (published in Japan in 2000 and in English in 2002) by Japanese author Haruki Murakami is a collection of six short stories set in Japan right after the Kobe earthquake and before the Tokyo sarin gas attacks in 1995. They're all very Murakami in his bright and breezy style and humor mixed with sentiment and mostly young characters finding themselves in surprising and typically bizarre situations. In "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo," my favorite of the six, a massive frog calls on a regular nine-to-fiver to help save Tokyo from an impending earthquake caused by a gigantic angry worm dwelling beneath Shinjuku. The story at the beginning is delivered like Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” and later feels as if the frog represents a failing sense of duty in the Japanese consciousness, while the worm has been absorbing the frustrations of Japanese society (post-bubble) and perhaps some of its moral decay (it's under Kabukicho), with the end of the story interspersed with dream fragments. The other five have no to few supernatural elements, though they share similar themes, most prominent being that many of the main characters carry within themselves an emptiness that also weighs on them at this specific time, when they, and Japan as well, are at a crossroads. The characters and stories are quite memorable but also left me wanting to read them again.


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