“But really,” she said “you’re only at the beginning”-UFO in Kushiro (After the Quake)
When Typhoon Ondoy hit Manila it changed so many people’s lives. It never occurred to most of the metropolitan’s city dwellers that such an event would take place so close to home, but it did and somehow we were all faced with life’s big questions all summed up to: What’s next? Its variants were questions like, how will I survive this? How will I move on? Which ultimately produced the ultimate question after a tragedy: Why?
In After the Quake, Murakami connects six different stories through the Kobe earthquake. Each story is independent of the other, but all exploring the lives of seemingly regular Japanese men and women whose lives were changed, directly or indirectly, by the Kobe earthquake.
Given such a synopsis one would think of 6 lives and 6 different perspectives on one event, but Murakami at some points in the story uses the earthquake in a more metaphorical manner in his characters. He takes a macro event. A literal earth-shaking event that changed a country that believed itself invulnerable, into a micro occurrence where lives set in its regularity is shaken by the abandonment of a wife, the words of a fortuneteller and even by a frog.
It is not an easy feat to review a collection of short stories as it is inevitable that one likes some of the stories and dislike the others. Compared to his other short story collections such as Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman or The Elephant Vanishes, After the Quake is thinner, briefer and more cohesive in its overarching theme. Like all other Murakami stories, his characters are “regular” by that I mean average human beings with barely anything exceptional about them. They are not super successful people, you can even say they are a bit mediocre in their lives. But again, maybe that’s what makes his story, despite its fantastical elements more appealing to a regular reader.
After The Quake has three stories whose titles are far more intriguing than the actual collection’s title. The collection begins with story called UFO in Kushiro, a man abandoned by his wife five days after the earthquake and prior to that his wife spent every day watching news about earthquakes. And like a balm one can only assume it was the earthquake that forced her to abandon life as she knew it. As to the reasons of her leaving, the reader is left wondering – along with the protagonist. Maybe the earthquake forced her to ask the all-important question as to whether she is living the life she wants to live?
The next story, Landscape in Flatiron, derives its title from one of the character’s paintings. There isn’t much that can be said of the story except it involves an obsession for bonfires and a desire to die. The earthquake in this story revives a past in a man’s life, a family in Kobe whom he abandoned years ago.
All God’s Children can Dance brings to center a mother-son relationship. A mother whose preoccupations concern a Christian community she is a part of and a son who was told that his father (biological father) is God. The earthquake barely visible in the storyline offers the son free time away from his mother who has gone to Kobe to help the victims.
The fourth story is called Thailand, where a woman after a medical conference in Thailand extends her stay in the country for a vacation. In the story she meets Nimit, a tour-guide extraordinaire whose ability to touch the inner wounds of people changes the protagonist’s life. The reader can only guess the hate and the pain that our main character holds in her heart, but one can taste the anger.
Super-frog Saves Tokyo is, of all the stories, the strangest as it main characters are a bank collector and a giant frog. Murakami veers towards sci-fi in this story as he narrates that Worm, an angry creature that digs in the dark, caused the earthquake in Kobe. It’s partly fantastical and partly mind-bending. Strangely, however, in the third story the phrase “Super-Frog” was used to refer to the son’s strange dancing. How it’s connected, I am not so sure. Another interesting thing to note in this story is its constant quotations/reference from great writers and thinkers may it be Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, or Nietzche.
The last, and I think most straightforward story in the collection, is Honey Pie. It is about friends, lovers, and a love triangle that isn’t as conflicted as most love triangles. Much of it is matter of fact. It’s main character, Junpei, is reminiscent of Murakami himself and I can’t help but wonder how much of him is in that story.
As a whole, After the Quake is an easy and entertaining read. However, it doesn’t offer concrete closure to the question What next? It only tells us that each character has decided to do something. Whatever it may be – is left to the reader’s imagination.
After the Quake still features Murakami’s love for the psychological (i.e., subconscious/conscious) and the unusual occurrences that chance upon the average man/woman. If I were to introduce a wary reader to Murakami, I’ll most likely pick this as it is a bite size version of his different novels.
Challenge update: 3 of 7