Book Review | Haruki Murakami’s “Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche”

To say that ‘Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche” is a book about the Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche is to do it a severe disservice. “Underground” takes accounts from victims of the gas attack, conversations between Murakami and members of the cult responsible for the attacks, and pieces of Murakami’s own opinions and weaves them together into a work that is fiction and non-fiction, truth and lies, right and wrong, but always reality.

Murakami asks questions about what “caused” the gas attack, showing threads of similarity that run between cult members and outsiders, between “they” and “us.” If you’re looking for explicit answers then this isn’t the book for you; he doesn’t come out and say “X and Y is the reason why the attacks occurred and Z is the way to prevent them from happening again.” Almost ironically, the book seems to show that it’s the very willingness to understand and accept catch-all statements of facts as law from any source as the very reason the attacks took place at all. “Underground” is a “non-fiction” book written by a novelist; at its core it is a story we are meant to travel through, learning more about ourselves than anything else by the time the back cover is reached.

As someone who has always felt like an outlier in society, the second part of the book stands out in particular for me. Accounts of the Aum cult members resonated with me in ways that I didn’t expect, and I often found myself having a hard time rationalizing the anger and sadness I felt when reading the victims’ accounts with the empathy and sorrow I felt when reading about the cultists’ desire for enlightenment and feelings of alienation… perhaps that’s exactly why this book exists. Our 24-hour news-cycle world polarizes every debate, cuts every opinion into a 3-second good-or-evil sound byte, and as our minds conform to the mould these pundits cast, we leave out the fact that real, earnest people are the ones committing every single one of these acts, for better or for worse. I was originally tempted to give this book a 4-star rating because I felt like some of the narratives in the first section went on too long, but the opinions, the mixed feelings of hate and love and apathy and discontent that run throughout the victims’ accounts are echoed by the cultists, only serving to heighten the effect of the book once you reach its end.

“Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche” is, by extension, a book about every “terrorist” attack and every country’s psyche. In an age where people can’t step into a midnight premiere of a superhero movie in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” without being gunned down in cold blood, where mass murder and rape are used as weapons of everyday combat, where subway tunnels are blown to bits by suicide bombers and people are put to death simply for being part of the wrong faction of the “right” religion, it only seems natural to ask “Why? What is happening to our society that breeds this kind of ill-will, this kind of violence and bloodshed?” There is no specific answer, no one magic potion that could have prevented those attacks, but the more we reflect on the past and on ourselves, the better chance we stand to stop our world from falling into the chaos of those events in the future.

Review: 5/5 stars. Review can also be found using the Goodreads app on Facebook or by going to www.goodreads.com.

Love in a Life of Fear

UPDATE: Today, August 24th, a man gunned down a former co-worker, then ended up in a gun battle that left him killed and nine others wounded. 9 injuries. 2 corpses because of bad blood after being fired. Not even three weeks since the last crazed shooting. It hurts to read about, but not nearly as much as it should. I can feel myself being conditioned, becoming desensitized. Check your Facebook, your Twitter…tell me how many people know, or how many people even care.

Something needs to be done.

 

 

Maybe I missed a memo somewhere that said it’s fine to shoot people now. I don’t watch the news as much as I should lately, just enough lately to see people being gunned down in cold blood. Six people murdered in their house of worship. (Keep in mind if this were an Arab man shooting up a Lutheran church there’d be a nationwide hunt in progress, but that’s a completely different subject.) If the Dark Knight Shooting in Aurora, Colorado was a fire firefighters would just be starting to hook up hoses to the hydrants, but we’ve barely had time to try to put out that blaze before six Sikh worshipers were caught in the blaze of extremism.

For as much as our US media shit-talks the “extremists” of other countries/cultures, I think we’re pretty damned good at being extremists ourselves. We create our own extremism. We live in feedback loops, constantly absorbing the rhetoric of our own beliefs spewed through reblogs and retweets and timeline posts filled with ignorance and hatred. No, let me correct myself: our posts are filled with fear. We live our lives in fear: fear of our country falling apart because the wrong straw-man President was elected, fear that our dollars will be spent on banning/promoting gay marriage when we eat chicken sandwiches, fear that the world will explode because we spent too much money on the environment/promoting businesses and not enough money on social welfare programs/abstinence-only education to save the souls of our youth.

I feel like I talk about this all the time, talk about our country’s penchant for absurd discourse, but that’s maybe because I do. Somebody should. Somebody should stand up and say, “Wait a minute, maybe we’re ALL being idiots. Collectively.”Can somebody raise a hand and say, “Enough people have died because we’re simply not willing to talk. Enough people have died for our fear.”

I think that, secretly, we’re afraid that if we listen to the other side, if we give them our ears instead of throw them our lead, then we’ll find out that they make sense. We’ll find out that the “villains” in our life stories have families, friends, are are just trying to do the right thing like we are. And then, if we really think about it, we’ll realize that we can’t hide in our metaphorical (or literal) xenophobia and pretend that everyone is crazy but us and our friends.

Let’s stop the feedback loop. Start READING opinions different from yours, don’t just scan them for points to mock. LISTEN when someone contradicts you instead of waiting for a chance to justify yourself. See your villains as humans instead of monsters.

And for the sake of whatever ethereal presence/lack-of-presence you believe in, just TRY TO LOVE. Trying makes all the difference.