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

Underground by Haruki Murakami
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's review
Jan 04, 2010

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bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in December, 2009

Apparently, Mr. Murakami is a well-known novelist in Japan. However, in this non-fiction book, he covers the heavy topic of the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway by Aum Shinkryo, a fringe religion. He does this largely through interviews with survivors of the attacks, family members of victims, doctors who treated victims, and members of Aum Shinkryo (although none of the ones who committed the attacks).

The book was a little dull in places. Many of the survivors' stories were surprisingly similar, right down to the same words and phrases (a quirk of translation, I wonder?). I skipped over the middle section of the book - Mr. Murakami's own reflections - entirely, and gave up partway through the interviews with the cult members, declaring myself done. I just didn't find the cult members' stories compelling or interesting - surprising, given that fringe religions were my MA focus.

Still, I largely enjoyed the book. I know very little about Japan or its culture, and I found many aspects of the survivors' stories fascinating. I think the thing that struck me most was how many of the victims decided to keep going to work after being gassed. "I couldn't see....I could barely walk...I was having trouble breathing...so I went to work." I often found myself perplexed yet, at the same time, in awe of them. I was also moved by how few of them wished ill on their attackers, a far cry from the standard "string 'em up!" response heard in the U.S.

There are a couple of interviews that completely make the book worth reading in and of themselves - one with the brother of a victim who was left a vegetable by the attacks and one each by the widow and parents of one of the deceased victims. Really gut-wrenching stuff, but also very beautiful.

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