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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into ordinary lives disrupted
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...
Published on 8 Jan 2004

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars March 20, 1995
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...
Published on 18 Feb 2007 by KareNina


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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into ordinary lives disrupted, 8 Jan 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (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. Very interesting, but it was the ordinariness of the victims that gripped me so in the first part of the book. The cult interviews were very superb, I enjoyed Murakami’s interjections, and certainly the interviews demonstrated similarities in the backgrounds / perceptions whilst growing up, among those who later joined Aum. The book certainly gave an insight into the workings of the cult and those who had joined, for a range of reasons.
I sincerely recommend this book, even to readers who prefer fiction. The interviews even feel at times like exquisite works of short fiction, but all the more poignant for the fact that they are accounts by real people of their horribly disrupted lives.
A superb work of non-fiction by one of my favourite writers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars March 20, 1995, 18 Feb 2007
By 
KareNina (Bratislava, Slovakia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Well..., 25 Aug 2009
By 
N. S. Hartshorn (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A portrait of survivors, henchmen and Japan, 22 Mar 2004
This review is from: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Paperback)
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. Fortunately Murakami remembered to interview relatives of survivors who are so disabled by the attack, that they usually wouldn’t be included in a study, and he didn’t forget to ask about relatives’, friends’, colleagues’ and employers’ reactions either. The interviews underscore how great the human costs of the attack were and presents the foreigner with an important account of “the Japanese psyche”. Don’t expect to read this book very quickly – the interviews provide too much food for thought to be read casually. For instance it is remarkable how long time it took for many survivors to accept that they were sick; how life went on as usual few meters away from the contaminated stations, the Japanese pride in “impossible” working conditions and that several survivors agree with Aum’s complaints that the Japanese have become too materialistic.
The Aum-members who participate come from Aum’s rank and file; they don’t belong to the top. It seems like many of Aum’s members were recruited among people with low self-worth, people who were unwilling to think for themselves and people who constantly felt cheated or misunderstood. Keeping Aum’s crimes in mind it is quite nauseating to read about some of the members’ self pity and denial.
This reviewer’s sole problem with “Underground” was the translation. Probably the two translators were very busy, stuck closely to the Japanese text or had a very limited vocabulary. In any case the translation is ridden with clichés and does not make for fluent reading (admittedly just like this reviewer’s reviews!).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 27 Oct 2007
By 
Mrs. K. A. Wheatley "katywheatley" (Leicester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Paperback)
I love Murakami's fiction and doing a college project on New Religious Movements gave me the excuse I needed to read this book. Murakami became interested in the events surrounding the gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum cult and decided to interview both those who perpetrated the attack and the victims of the attack. He explains in his preface that he was interested in the peculiarities of the Japanese mindset concerning the attack, particularly those of the victims, many of whom felt guilty or ashamed of their involvement, despite being the injured party. He handles the interviews with dignity and the multiple narratives of the same event, give a fascinating and multilayered perspective on what happened. There is no sense of voyeurism or sensationalism in this work at all, and it is a fascinating piece of reportage by a great author.
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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
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This review is from: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Paperback)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account of one of the key events in Japanese history since the end of World War II, 20 Dec 2008
This review is from: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Paperback)
Even though this volume, an abridged collection of two closely related works published in Japanese, published in English back in 2000, I have only just read it, having read all the other English Murakami works beforehand.

I love Murakami's fiction. This book looked a bit too gritty, a bit too realistic, for my tastes. However, I found it compulsive reading and got through it very quickly.

Murakami gets a lot out of his interviewees - an assortment of 60 victims of the gas attack - in Part 1 and an assortment of Aum members and ex-Aum members (Aum was the cult religious organisation that perpetrated the attack) in Part Two. Both parts are equally fascinating.

The Tokyo gas attack is one of the key events in Japanese history since the end of World War II. Murakami pieces together a factual and emotional picture of exactly what happened on 20th March 1995 in minute detail. The reports from those involved, and sometimes their close family members, are riveting, illuminating and, in a few cases, upsetting. Part Two gives insights of what it must have been like to be in Aum at the time and why the people who did it might have done what they did. The whole work is gelled together by some very thoughtful essay-type material by Murakami. Excellent.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The second half is better! Why join Aum?, 20 Oct 2009
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This review is from: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Paperback)
The first section is a compilation of accounts of witnesses of the underground Sarin gas attack. Murakami carried out the interviews himself. The interviews shed light on the Tokyoite character. More often then not, even when it was clear there was a problem, commuters chose to do nothing because other people were not reacting - a disturbing form of denial. Accounts of the different ways people suffered after the event, both mentally and physically was also fascinating.

Accounts did become repetitive. I absolutely understand that after carrying out interviews with witnesses and editing content Murakami possibly didn't feel he could simply dispose of some of the less compelling stories. Or maybe he simply didn't want to.

I absolutely enjoyed the second section the most: interviews with Aum Shinrikyo, and the various reasons these members joined the cult. It becomes possible to catch a glimpse of life within the cult, and how people were used by leaders: for sex, for prestige, for manual labor and to carry out the attack.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Tales of quiet heroism, 27 Mar 2009
By 
Mr. G. Carroll (LDN | HKG | SZX) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Paperback)
Murakami is best known for his book Norwegian Wood, but I chose Underground as my first Murakami book. It is only non-fiction work (at least to my knowledge). Murakami fled Japan after the success of Norwegian Wood and was lacking context around the Sarin attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

Underground was his way of making sense of it. He interviewed survivors and protagonists telling the stories in their own words. It is antithesis of Tom Wolfe's new journalism: Murakami manages to let the people speak for themselves. What comes out of their stories a strength, modesty and stoicism that shines through the horror of the experience that the people went through.I was told that it was a dark book that is heavy going, but I didn't find this to be the case at all. The sarin attack was a shocking event and both systems and processes broke down, but what came out also was the heroism of the people involved in dealing with the tragedy and their deeply ingrained ethical system.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating piece of history, 4 July 2012
This review is from: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (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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Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami (Paperback - 4 Sep 2003)
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