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Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (edition 2001)

by Haruki Murakami

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1,668354,300 (3.83)97
Member:clsnyder
Title:Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche
Authors:Haruki Murakami
Info:Vintage (2001), Edition: 1st Vintage International Ed, Paperback, 384 pages
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Underground by Haruki Murakami

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The author interviewed many of the victims of the March 20, 1995, terrorists' placing of bags of sarin on Tokyo subway cars. Many of these victims said much the same thing and after reading some I did not think it was too helpful to read the many more interviewed. He also interviewed members of Aum, the group which was responsible for getting the sarin on the cars. I suppose this was valuable to show the mind set of the kind of persons attracted to the cult. I cannot say I could comprehend how the perpetrators figured this was a good thing, though they were in the cult and one knew some of the cult members would do what the persons contolling the cult wanted done, no matter how evil or stupid it was. Nothing in the book illuminates the thought process of the cult leaders. Since the event is so bizarre I suppose this book should be read, but that it was a book I lked to read cannot be said. ( )
  Schmerguls | Feb 11, 2014 |
http://wineandabook.com/2013/10/15/review-underground-the-tokyo-gas-attack-and-t...

Murakami begins his short story collection, After the Quake, with the following quote from Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou:

“radio:…garrison already decimated by the Vietcong, who lost 115 of their men…

woman: It’s awful, isn’t it, it’s so anonymous.

man: What is?

woman: They say 115 guerillas, yet it doesn’t mean anything, because we don’t know anything about these men, who they are, whether they love a woman, or have children, if they prefer the cinema to the theatre. We know nothing. They just say…115 dead.”

One of the themes that pervades Murakami’s work is the examination of the individual and the search for their inherent humanity. No character is either good or bad, but complex and multifaceted and capable of both great compassion and great indifference. Given this, it didn’t surprise me that Murakami was drawn to examine the events and people involved in and affected by the Tokyo gas attack.

The book is actually two linked pieces collected in one place. The first 2/3 of the book, Underground, was published first separately, and is comprised of a series of meticulously transcribed interviews Murakami conducted with the victims and survivors of the 1995 sarin attack perpetrated by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult on the commuters on Tokyo’s bustling subway system. Murakami spent hours interviewing, transcribing and editing the testimony of those caught up in the terrifying events of the day, and really succeeds in creating a full, vivid picture of what transpired. Interview subjects range from commuters from various walks of life to the dedicated subway workers who handled the sarin as they did their best to protect the Japanese public from the mysterious invisible toxin. What I appreciated about Murakami’s interview style was the extreme care he took in both selecting his subjects and in recording their testimonies. He comes from the very human place of trying to make sense something that he knows really defies understanding, and approaches all involved with respect and humility.

The last third of the book, The Place That Was Promised, examines current (well, current when the book was first published) and former members of Aum. Murakami is correct in asserting that we can’t truly understand an event so complicated without attempting to look at it from all sides, even if (especially if) it’s uncomfortable. He interviews both cult members close to the Leader, Shoko Asahara, and those who had not yet worked their way up into his most trusted inner circle, to discern the impact of the cults horrific actions on members at all levels. Many claim to have no knowledge that the attacks had been planned, but most admit that they believe in Aum Shinrikyo’s involvement. What’s fascinating is the varied, complex feelings those interviewed still have of the cult and its teachings, and the narrative Murakami was able to pull together reflects this complexity.

In an era where the news media is all too focused on painting with the widest brush, with spinning a specific story as opposed to seeking out and sharing the full picture, it’s refreshing to read an account of events that aims at something higher though far more complicated: the truth.

Rubric rating: 9 I LOVE Murakami and hope that one of these days, he’ll take home the Nobel that he has absolutely earned :) ( )
  jaclyn_michelle | Oct 15, 2013 |
Un saggio che raccoglie le interviste dell'autore ad alcuni di coloro che hanno vissuto sulla propria pelle l'attentato alla metropolitana di Tokyo del 1995.
Molto interessante, per quanto ovviamente sia necessario rendersi subito conto che di saggio parliamo e non romanzo e quindi la sua lettura potrebbe annoiare qualcuno. Consigliato a chi abbia per il Giappone una passione che va oltre manga, anime o videogames. ( )
  Tonari | May 19, 2013 |
There are two halves to Underground. The first consists of Murakami's conversations/interviews with survivors (and relatives of victims) of the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo, the second half are interviews/conversations with former Aum members (the cult that perpetrated the attacks). I found the first half of the book to be engrossing and moving (especially a few of the interviews toward the end of the section). The second section was much harder to get into, but ultimately more interesting and less emotionally stirring. As someone who hasn't spent much time reading about cults, except in the vaguest sense, Murakami's conversations with former Aum members was eye opening.

Overall the book was interesting and while the second half has a similar set up (brief bio and then the interview/conversation), it has a totally different tone than the first. The most important thing to remember and Murakami brings this up a few times, is that we're reading people's opinions and recollections, which will always be distorted from the truth of what actually happened, as memories are prone to be. Regardless, I found the whole book interesting and I wonder if some of Murakami's inspiration for 1Q84 (which I read quite recently) came from these interviews and conversations. ( )
  callmecayce | Apr 4, 2013 |
Outstanding. This is a Studs Terkel-like oral history of the experiences of the Tokyo gas attack victims. Amazingly powerful. ( )
  mjennings26 | Apr 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (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)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Haruki Murakamiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Birnbaum, AlfredTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gabriel, PhilipTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375725806, Paperback)

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.

In March of 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, and 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 and vital and as wonderfully executed as Murakami’s brilliant novels.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:41 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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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