Underground by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Underground is half of Murakami's attempt to deal with the sense of alienation he explains experiencing upon viewing catastrophes that hit Japan whilst he was living outside of his homeland. While his story collection, after the quake, deals with the events surrounding the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Underground acted as an attempt for the author to come to terms with the 1995 sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway.
Murakami's Underground, one of only two nonfiction books published by the author thus far, is composed almost entirely of edited interview transcripts. The book is divided into many sections, delineating between survivors and former/current members of Aum Shinrikyo (Aleph), the group responsible for the attacks. The book is further broken down to include where survivors experienced the attack (which trains, what direction, what line, etc.) and overviews of the day's events. There are additionally three passages in which Murakami speaks to his own motivations and hesitancies in completing these interviews.
One of the explanations Murakami muses as a cause of the attacks is the alienation of youths in urban Tokyo. In the interview section with Aum members, he highlights that many of the interviewees and persons involved with the sarin attack were ostracized in school or otherwise found themselves unable to enter social environments. He describes the apathy that accompanies this separation, yet only after readers have spent 250 pages reading interviews with victims of the attack.
It is this effect that makes Underground such an important read. For when we begin to read about this lack of empathy, we may have already noticed the lack of feeling eventually accompanying our readings of the survivor interviews. The stories of the sarin attack become mundane and repetitive, yet just as soon as we make it past, we are made to realize that in losing our empathy for the survivors we have been made to feel some degree of empathy for the perpetrators.
It is a difficult piece if only for this reason alone, but an extremely significant intervention in the apathy epidemic of the modern age.
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