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Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche Paperback – 4 Sep 2003


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (4 Sept. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099461099
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099461098
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 82,334 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.

Review

"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)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 8 Jan. 2004
Format: Paperback
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By KareNina on 18 Feb. 2007
Format: Paperback
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mike Andrew Dawson on 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 By N. S. Hartshorn on 25 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback
An interesting proposition - an attempt to unearth the mysteries surrounding the aum religion and the tokyo gas attack via what are first hand accounts of the victims and those who were members of the aum cult.

The problem is there are such similar accounts that to a certain extent once you have read two or three the rest are fairly similar - only the brief background to each respondent gives a unique perspective to their account.

However, I did enjoy the book and the fact that Murakami didn't dominate the interviews with questions and let the respondents say what they wanted to see without leading them or offering a biased viewpoint was a definite plus. I am sure the experience would certainly have helped some of them deal with a recent and unnecessary atrocity.

The implications for other terrorist organisations and attacks is disturbingly easy to fathom due to the testimonies of the aum cult members.

If only this book was highlighting a unique attack.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By BCT on 4 July 2012
Format: Paperback
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 enlightening things I've read in a long time. This book told me all about an event in history that I previously knew nothing about and it told me about the people who were involved in it. What more could I ask for? I am extremely interested in social history above all other elements of historical study and that's why this book really worked for me. Particular accounts, including those of the wife and parents of one of the deceased victims and also the account from a woman who was severely disabled by the attack were particularly powerful and written very respectfully.

Another really interesting element of this book was the accounts from the Aum members and ex-members. Through reading each account it was almost understandable why they had been tempted by the organisation and their backstories almost seemed to correlate. Murakami's interviews showed me that people of a certain personality type or way of life may be easily infiltrated by cult groups and `religions'.

I found the whole reading of this book extremely interesting and found myself researching every few pages trying to find out more about everything that went on. It's amazing how a historical event so huge in one country managed to remain below my radar completely, despite considering myself quite interested in history around the world.
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