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Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Panther) [Paperback]

Haruki Murakami , Alfred Birnbaum , Philip Gabriel
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 Feb 2001 Panther
This is an account of the Tokyo subway gas attack in 1995, in which 12 people died, as told to Murakami by the survivors and the Aum cult members responsible for carrying out such an outrage.

Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The Harvill Press; New edition edition (8 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860468438
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860468438
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,022,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949. Following the publication of his first novel in Japanese in 1979, he sold the jazz bar he ran with his wife and became a full-time writer. It was with the publication of Norwegian Wood - which has to date sold more than 4 million copies in Japan alone - that the author was truly catapulted into the limelight. Known for his surrealistic world of mysterious (and often disappearing) women, cats, earlobes, wells, Western culture, music and quirky first-person narratives, he is now Japan's best-known novelist abroad.

Product Description

Amazon Review

On Monday 20 March 1995 the Japanese Aum cult released a deadly cloud of Sarin nerve gas into the Tokyo underground. 12 people were killed and an estimated 3,800 suffered serious after-effects. Haruki Murakami, one of Japan's leading novelists (considered by many to be one of the most important writers now writing), was both shocked and fascinated by the awful event. Murakami's response was to interview as many of those affected as he could (only 60 victims were willing to be questioned), interested as he was in the stories created by this one awful event on so many lives. He also interviewed a number of members of the Aum cult: "I'm sure each member of the Science and Technology elite had his own personal reasons for renouncing the world and joining Aum. What they all had in common, though, was a desire to put the technical skill and knowledge they'd acquired in the service of a more meaningful goal ... that might very well be me. It might be you". The result is Underground his first work of non-fiction. Murakami writes complex, sometimes overbearing and dense novels but he here makes very little intervention into his text, simply presenting a background sketch of each before allowing the victims and cult-members to speak freely for themselves through the transcripts. They present an intricate, rounded and cinematic view of day that none of us should ever forget. --Mark Thwaite --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Murakami shares with Alfred Hitchcock a fascination for ordinary people being suddenly plucked by extraordinary circumstances from their daily lives" (Sunday Telegraph)

"Not just an impressive essay in witness literature, but also a unique sounding of the quotidian Japanese mind" (Independent)

"A scrupulous and unhistrionic look into the heart of the horror" (Scotsman)

"The testimonies he assembles are striking. From the very beginning Underground is impossibly moving and unexpectedly engrossing" (Time Out)

"There is no artifice or pretension in Underground. There is no need for cleverness. What Murakami describes happens to ordinary people in a frighteningly ordinary way. And it is all the more bizarre for that" (Observer) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I have read three of Murakami’s fictional works so far, and have really enjoyed them all. It is partly because of him that I am interested in learning more about Japanese culture and society. I rarely read non-fiction, and thoroughly enjoyed this.
Of course, the content isn’t light, nor is it entertaining, but it’s a fantastic insight into ordinary people who were caught up in the Sarin attack on the Tokyo subway. I actually preferred the first half of the book – accounts by victims of the gas attack - which I have heard some people refer to as repetitive. I don’t find this to be the case at all. Though interviewees are all recounting their version of the same day, their stories are VERY different. Their lives, backgrounds, recollections, experiences of the attack, reasons for being there and experiences since the attack, vary dramatically. It is this that makes the book so striking and compelling. These people are all individuals, not the faceless crowds portrayed by the media. I was touched by all their stories. I was shocked at how many people wouldn’t have been on the train or in the subway on that day or at that time but for a string of unusual or unfortunate circumstances.
The details about the lives of these people is wonderful reading. I learnt a fair bit about Japanese culture. Many Japanese still count on a job for life, choosing a career at the start of their working life, something I find rare here in the UK. I was also surprised by the number of people who, experiencing odd symptoms after their train journey, even knowing there had been a gas attack, continued to the office. I really warmed to all these interviewees.
I enjoyed slightly less, the interviews with Aum members / ex members.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A portrait of survivors, henchmen and Japan 22 Mar 2004
By syhob
On March 20 1995 members of the Japanese sect Aum dispensed the nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo underground railway system. “Underground” is an extremely interesting tale by Nobel prize-candidate Haruki Murakami about the survivors’ experience. Unfortunately Al-Quaeda’s attacks have made the book even more topical than before. The book provides readers from abroad with a very fascinating view of the Japanese psyche – the very modest author didn’t exaggerate, when he chose the ambitious subtitle “The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche”.
Murakami acknowledges his debt to the American writer Studs Terkel, but Murakami writes in a style of his own. Like an antropologist he painstakingly describes how he and his two assistants found the persons he interviewed in 1996 and thoroughly discusses whether these persons are representative. It seems like Murakami sticks much closer to the interviews than Studs Terkel does, providing us with both his questions and the interviewees’ answers. Therefore “Underground” is not as fluent a read as Studs Terkel’s “The Good War”, but Murakami’s almost scientific approach makes it much easier to judge, whether the interviewees’ experiences were typical.
“Underground” contains interviews with 28 survivors of the gas attack, three relatives to people who died in the attack, two doctors who were involved in the treatment of the victims and eight former or actual members of Aum.
The interviews are very illuminating and moving in their descriptions of ordinary people’s reactions to a totally unexpected danger and their reactions afterwards.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Noble but Tedious 3 Oct 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was something of a struggle to read, Murakami is an excellent novelist and his talent with words is impressive so I was disappointed to find that the majority of the text is uninterrupted testimony from the victims of the Tokyo Gas Attack. While it was noble of Murakami to give a voice to these victims and family members of victims, it does become a tad repetitive, each chapter essentially being a variation of the same story. It's only towards the end when he speaks to medical practitioners and family members that the stories vary and the book becomes more interesting.
Murakami received criticism for Underground that he only really took the perspective of the victims and missed out the perpetrators altogether. In the second part he makes up for it by interviewing members of the Aum cult responsible for the Gas attack, but not the ones directly involved. It makes for a fascinating portrait of how people get caught up in new religions and become trapped while escaping one society by another (that's not too dissimilar to the one most of us inhabit. The testimonies vary significantly and as a result this makes a much more interesting read than Underground.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars March 20, 1995 18 Feb 2007
On a cloudless spring morning in 1995, Aum Shinrikyo unleashed hell in the crowded Japanese subway network. Sarin nerve gas was released in various underground trains, poisoning thousands of commuters and killing twelve. Nobel-prize candidate Haruki Murakami tells the tale of dozens of survivors, relatives of the victims, and Aum followers. "Underground" is a compilation of interviews and personal profiles, reporting the tragic events of that March morning from a multitude of angles. This work aspires to be journalistic in nature, but is emotional in tone. The publication is well researched and respectful of the victims and their privacy. The quality of the translation however is disappointing, reducing what could have been an impressive documentary of the sarin gas attack to a disjointed collection impressions and colourless personal narrative.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight
Once a gain a Book Club choice and provided good discussion.
Fascinating read, and although a book of 'reports' around the atrocity, it was easy to read, and fascinating in... Read more
Published 2 months ago by MJB, Scotland
3.0 out of 5 stars Facts yes - but less insight
After riding the Tokyo subway and liking Norwegian Wood I gave this try. An awful event seen through witnesses' eyes but the Aum sect remains vague as the perpetrator. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Partial Mind
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great read
I've been meaning to read for some time and was not disappointed.

Great insight into Japanese culture. A compelling read in spite of the format.
Published 4 months ago by mijbo
3.0 out of 5 stars Humanity
"Underground" consists of two parts (published in Japan as separate volumes): 60 interviews with victims of the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack - mostly survivors, with some family... Read more
Published 7 months ago by chickpea
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible
This is an important book. It deals with so many dark subjects - terrorism, cults, fear of death. Also as a westerner its fascinating to see how the Japanese view themselves as a... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Ultrawarden
5.0 out of 5 stars Five star
A perfect copy, in perfect condition and a really quick turnaround much appreciated. One, two, three, four, five more words.
Published 14 months ago by Joe Walter
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating piece of history
Reading Murakami's transcription of statements and witness accounts from both victims of the gas attacks and those involved with the cult responsible was one of the most... Read more
Published on 4 July 2012 by bethanchloe
4.0 out of 5 stars Studies in scratching surfaces
After having read almost all of Murakami's published fictional works, I was curious to read some of his non-fiction, especially as this was recommended by a friend; and so I bought... Read more
Published on 23 Dec 2011 by M.B.
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, Haunting and very Real
Fantastic book, helped by the writing which conveys a sense of sympathy with all involved, and the normalcy of lives that were disrupted. Read more
Published on 11 Mar 2011 by G. O. Thomas
3.0 out of 5 stars One for the Murakami fans
Admittedly I have a hit and miss affair with Murakami; loves Sputnik Sweatheart, Norwegian Wood but found some of his more core work harder to access. Read more
Published on 2 Feb 2011 by aus_books
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