Moonit's Reviews > Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

Underground by Haruki Murakami
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's review
Mar 04, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in March, 2011

This is nothing like any other Haruki Murakami book I've read. If you are a fan of his novels, you may or may not like this book. I don't know. It is totally dissimilar to them, so I have no way of predicting that. I would say it would be more up the alley of fans of the true crime genre.

The structure of this book was interesting to me. The first 2/3 consists of interviews with survivors of the Tokyo subway poison gas attacks. The interviews are fairly short, generally between 4 and 8 pages, and they take up the first two hundred pages of the book. Each person talks about what they were doing the morning of the attack, how they experienced it, and what kind of after effects it has had on their lives. A lot of their stories are similar, and so you hear the same story from a lot of different perspectives. In that way, it reminds me a bit of Rashomon or Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

The last third of the book consists of interviews with current and former Aum members. It's an interesting look inside the life of a cult. Some of those interviewed are still members of Aum, and others have left and speak out against it, so you get quite a range of opinions.

Murakami explains that he tried to be as objective as possible in conducting the interviews, and to allow people to present themselves in the way that they wanted. He sent them proofs of the interviews and allowed them to add things in they had forgotten to mention, to remove things they didn't like, and to give the final ok, so that no one would be surprised or displeased by what they saw in print later. If the interviewees said things that were factually inaccurate, unless they were egregious, he left them in, in the interest of preserving their perspective. He did this for both the victims and the Aum cult members, so (particularly with the latter) at times you get a sense of there being a faulty narrator, which I think makes it even more intriguing.

The pacing of this book is kind of slow, though, and the repetitive nature of the beginning section may not be for everyone. Also, because a great amount of text is dedicated to describing physical effects of sarin poisoning (headaches, nausea, vomiting, loss of vision, etc), I would recommend against reading this book on public transportation, like I kept doing, if you are at all prone to motion sickness.

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