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Underground by Haruki Murakami


by Haruki Murakami

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,120474,948 (3.83)130
Covers the 1995 Tokyo Gas Attack, during which agents of a Japanese cult released a gas deadlier than cyanide into the subway system, as documented in interviews with its survivors, perpetrators, and victim family members. In March 1995, agents of a Japanese religious cult attacked the Tokyo subway system with sarin, a gas twenty six times as deadly as cyanide. Attempting to discover why, Murakami conducted hundreds of interviews with the people involved, from the survivors to the perpetrators to the relatives of those who died. Underground is their story in their own voices. Concerned with the fundamental issues that led to the attack as well as these personal accounts, Underground is a document of what happened in Tokyo as well as a warning of what could happen anywhere. This is an enthralling and unique work of nonfiction that is timely, vital, and as brilliantly executed as Murakami's novels. From Haruki Murakami, internationally acclaimed author of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood, a work of literary journalism that is as fascinating as it is necessary, as provocative as it is profound. It was a clear spring day, Monday, March 20, 1995, when five members of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo conducted chemical warfare on the Tokyo subway system using sarin, a poison gas twenty-six times as deadly as cyanide. The unthinkable had happened; a major urban transit system had become the target of a terrorist attack. Attempting to discover why, Murakami conducted hundreds of interviews with the people involved, from a subway authority employee with survivor guilt, to a fashion salesman with more venom for the media than for the perpetrators, to a young cult member who vehemently condemns the attack though he has not quit Aum. Through these and many other voices, Murakami exposes intriguing aspects of the Japanese psyche. And, as he discerns the fundamental issues leading to the attack, we achieve a clear vision of an event that could occur anytime, anywhere. Hauntingly compelling and inescapably important, Underground is a powerful work of journalistic literature from one of the world's most perceptive writers. Concerned with the fundamental issues that led to the attack as well as these personal accounts, Underground is a document of what happened in Tokyo as well as a warning of what could happen anywhere. This is an enthralling and unique work of nonfiction that is timely and vital and as wonderfully executed as Murakami's brilliant novels.… (more)
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» See also 130 mentions

English (42)  Spanish (2)  Danish (2)  Catalan (1)  All languages (47)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
What does it say about us as people, that in the face of death (and at the risk of failure) we shrug off the symptoms and continue on to work? ( )
  bcpeterson727 | Dec 4, 2019 |
My wife and I read this toegther in Croatia, just before we were married. This a haunting work of journalism. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
This was originally published as two books, the first, which I've just finished, consists largely of Murakami's interviews with some of the survivors -- not "victims" one insists -- and relatives of those killed in the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 perpetrated by the Aum Shinrikyo cult (now called Aleph, Wikipedia says). ( )
  thsutton | May 18, 2018 |
The interviews of the every day Japanese affected by the sarin gas incident gave a very good insight into the ethos of the culture.

The enlightening part of my read was that I relate better to the people in the second part of the book. It definitely provoked philosophizing, though I won't be sharing my thoughts here. ( )
  yamiyoghurt | Jan 29, 2018 |
In March 1995, five members of the religious cult Aum released sarin gas in 5 different cars an several Tokyo subway lines. Overall, (miraculously only) 12 people died, and thousands were injured, many very seriously. Author Haruki Murakami was living abroad at this time, and later read a letter from a woman whose husband was injured in the attacks. He couldn't get the letter out of his head, and when he returned to Japan a few years later he began interviewing survivors of the attack (and in one case relatives of a deceased victim). This book presents, primarily verbatim, transcripts of about 60 of those interviews, as Murakami attempts to make sense of the attack and the reaction to it, and to ponder on what it means to be Japanese.

In the course of the interviews, the victims, including ordinary workers on the way to their offices as well as subway workers, reflect on what happened, how they reacted, and what they observed of others' reactions. What struck me was how long it took for anyone to realize how serious the situation was. The perpetrators had the sarin (in liquid form in plastic) wrapped in newspaper, which they placed on the floor of a subway car. As they exited, they stabbed the sarin package with a specially sharpened umbrella tip to break the package and release the sarin. Passengers noticed fumes and some would leave the car at the next stop, but passengers at the next stop would see a car with empty seats and get in the contaminated car to continue to the next stop. This occurred despite there sometimes remaining on board people who were obviously very ill or even unconscious. Sometimes at a stop, a subway worker would come on board, remove an unconscious passenger, "mop" up the "spill", and the car would proceed on. Even passengers who felt ill with symptoms such as difficulty seeing (a "feeling" of blackness descending) or difficulty breathing would proceed to work, often walking past people collapsed on the subway platforms or sidewalks, only seeking help when they totally collapsed or when they heard news reports at work about what had happened. One passenger described the scene: "People foaming at the mouth....half of the roadway was absolute hell. But on the other side people were walking to work as usual....It was as if we were a world apart. Nobody stopped. They all thought, 'Nothing to do with me.'"

The volume I read contained an added section of later interviews Murakami did with members and former members of the cult which carried out the attack. These members all claimed to have been unaware that the attack was planned, but many of them admit that had the leader ordered them to carry out these attacks they are not sure they would have been able to resist such an order.

This book is very different than Murakami's fiction (although I guess you could say the general theme of the Japanese character and the ennui and alienation of today's youth apply in both cases). Murakami acknowledges his debt to the oral histories of Studs Terkel. A fascinating read.

3 1/2 stars ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Oct 19, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
"Citing examples from recent and ancient Japanese history, Murakami establishes a pattern of a traditionally proud culture that discourages examining or accepting shame. It is precisely this painful examination that Murakami has undertaken."
"Like ''Sputnik Sweetheart,'' which begins with a straightforward love-triangle plot before developing an odder geometry, the cult members describe humdrum personal histories that suddenly lurch into the bizarre."
"Like Mr Murakami’s novels, “Underground” makes for an unsettling read."
added by Edward | editThe Economist (May 17, 2001)

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Haruki Murakamiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Birnbaum, AlfredTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gabriel, PhilipTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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PREFACE: Leafing through a magazine one afternoon, I found myself looking at the readers' letters page.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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