Kirkus Reviews QR Code
UNDERGROUND by Haruki Murakami


The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

by Haruki Murakami & translated by Alfred Bernbaum & Philip Gabriel

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-72580-6
Publisher: Vintage

A supremely discomfiting piece of literary journalism of the effects of the Tokyo subway gas attacks, all the more disturbing on account of its subdued voice, from Japanese novelist Murakami (Sputnik Sweetheart, p. 75, etc.).

Recreated here, through 60 powerfully observed interviews, are the deadly Tokyo subway attacks of March 20, 1995, that were launched by the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo. All the debacle’s surreal and horrific qualities rush to the fore, though Murakami keeps the tone under control. By keeping the atmosphere immediate, the author allows the irreducible humanity of each person to emerge. There are people who were immediately involved in the gas attack and they speak of the pains in their chest, how their breathing seemed to simply stop and foam poured from their mouths, how blindness overcame them. There is still an enormous amount of shock touching their lives, and tremendous anger: “What am I supposed to do with all this rage?” fumes one survivor. Then there is what Murakami calls the “double violence” of a number of souls. Sarin, the gas deployed, is some 26 times more deadly than cyanide and it leaves as many psychological scars as it does physical ailments in the survivors. These mental scars have resulted in some victims losing their jobs. An enthralling section gives Murakami a chance to dig around in why he had felt dread when confronted with Aum members before the attack, and how their members (former and current Aum members are also interviewed) might well harbor “doubts about the inhumane, utilitarian grist mill of capitalism and the social system in which their own essence and efforts—even their own reasons for being—would be fruitlessly ground down.”

A rattling chronicle of violence and terror.