Murakami’s “Underground” bookby Carolyn Classen on Jul. 09, 2010, under Arts, Life, Politics
On March 20, 1995 five members of a religious cult (Aum Shinrikyo lead by Shoko Asahara) entered the crowded Tokyo subway system at Monday morning rush hour, and released sarin poison gas onto thousands of innocent commuters. 13 people died, and more than six thousand were injured, some disabled and still suffering today. It was one of the most vicious acts of domestic terrorism in our world history.
I just read Haruki Murakami’s non-fiction book “Underground” about this vicious act of terrorism in Japan. He interviewed 60 of the victims and tells their harrowing stories about what happened to them that day. It is riveting reading to say the least, and so heartbreakingly tragic. These were all innocent workers (in their twenties to fifties and sixties) who were “unlucky” to be in the subways cars where the bags of sarin liquid were released.
According to the book “Sarin is a nerve gas invented by German scientists in the 1930s as part of Adolf Hitler’s preparations for WWII. During the 1980s it was used to lethal effect by Iraq, both in the war against Iran and against the Kurds. 26 times as deadly as cyanide gas, a drop of sarin the size of a pinhead is sufficient to kill a person.”
One of the victims Hiroshige Sugazaki (age 58) asks in his narrative “What on earth were these people sacrificed for?” Many Aum perpetrators and co-conspirators who were caught & tried were sentenced to the death penalty, and some to life imprisonment. Many Aum believers found “a purity of purpose they could not find in ordinary society” writes Murakami (in his Afterword), who also interviewed 8 Aum members for this book.
I have lived in large metropolitan areas like Boston and Washington D.C. where there are underground subways, and there would be no escape if a substance like sarin was released under the ground in that enclosed space. No wonder so many were afflicted in Tokyo, just by breathing that poisonous gas. I can not conceive the mentality of those who would commit such mass terror and mass murder. (Fortunately there is no subway here in Tucson, Arizona.)
What amazed me in reading these narrative accounts was that many victims were not hateful towards the perpetrators, as they said that spreading more hatred was harmful.
Haruki Murakami is a popular, contemporary author in Japan, who mostly writes fiction. I’ve read several of his books–”A Wild Sheep Chase”, “Dance Dance Dance”, “Kafka on the Shore”, “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle”, “After the Quake” (short stories), “Norwegian Wood”, and “South of the Border, West of the Sun”.
Most of his novels are about different male Japanese protagonists and their adventures with women and questions about existential existence. Reading Murakami, you get a glimpse into the psyche of the Japanese man. I guess being Japanese American, I wanted to read these for a contrast to American men, and learn about Japanese culture. But I warn you, some of his quirky literature is far out fiction (i.e. giant worms, a man who dresses as a sheep, talking cats), and there’s a lot of suicide (which is definitely part of the Japanese culture) and some graphic violence.
Nonetheless, Murakami’s non-fiction “Underground” is a well-written, thought provoking narrative of one of Japan’s worst tragedies, hopefully never to be forgotten or repeated.