For the characters in after the quake, the Kobe earthquake is an echo from a past they buried long ago. Satsuki has spent thirty years hating one man: did her desire for revenge cause the earthquake? Miyake left his family in Kobe to make midnight bonfires on a beach hundreds of miles away. Fourteen-year-old Sala has nightmares that the Earthquake Man is trying to stuff her inside a little box.
Katagiri returns home to find a giant frog in his apartment on a mission to save Tokyo from a massive burrowing worm. ‘When he gets angry, he causes earthquakes,’ says Frog. ‘And right now he is very, very angry.
No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself
In a simple, unpretentious, and totally accessible style, Murakami tells six tales, each with a message about life and death and love and loss. Simple, straightforward stories, haunting and hypnotic in tone, belie a complexity of themes and thought-provoking observations about the importance of creating your own identity, building relationships, sharing, and avoiding the emptiness of the bogeyman’s box, “ready for everybody…[and] waiting with the lid open.”
All the main characters are single or separated, and all feel isolated and empty, naïve in matters of love and life.
He once told me about polar bears – what solitary animals they are. They mate just once a year. One time in a whole year. There is no such thing as a lasting male-female bond in their world. One male polar bear and one female polar bear meet by sheer chance somewhere in the frozen vastness, and they mate. It doesn’t take long. And once they are finished, the male runs away from the female as if he is frightened to death: he runs from the place where they have mated. He never looks back – literally. The rest of the year he lives in deep solitude. Mutual communications – the touching of two hearts – do not exist for them. So, that is the story of polar bears – or at least it is what my employer told me about them.’
How very strange.’
Yes, it is strange. I remember asking my employer, ‘ Then what do polar bears exist for?’ ‘ Yes, exactly,’ he said with a big smile. ‘Then what do we exist for?
In “UFO in Kashiro,” an abandoned husband agrees to help a friend by delivering a box to Hokkaido, only to discover that the box “contains the something that was inside you. You’ll never get it back.”
In “Landscape in Flatiron,” a 40-ish artist and a young girl meet and build a bonfire. “The fire itself has to be free,” he remarks, while the young girl comments on the emptiness of her life, and they make plans for the rest of the evening.
I want to write about people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for the light so they can hold the ones they love.
In “All God’s Children Can Dance,” a young man pursues the man he believes to be his father to an abandoned baseball field, “chasing the tail of the darkness inside [him].”
“Thailand” features a doctor in her 40’s who is told that she must get rid of the stone inside her and that “living and dying are, in a sense, of equal value.”
You are a beautiful person, Doctor. Clearheaded. Strong. But you seem always to be dragging your heart along the ground. From now on, little by little, you must prepare yourself to face death. If you devote all of your future energy to living, you will not be able to die well. You must begin to shift gears, a little at a time. Living and dying are, in a sense, of equal value.
Strange and mysterious things, though, aren’t they – earthquakes? We take it for granted that the earth beneath our feet is solid and stationary. We even talk about people being ‘down to earth’ or having their feet firmly planted on the ground. But suddenly one day we see that it isn’t true. The earth, the boulders, that are supposed to be solid, all of a sudden turn as mushy as liquid – From the short story “Thailand”
In the last two stories, “Superfrog Saves Tokyo,” and “Honey Pie,” Murakami begins to offer more hope and direction to his characters. Superfrog, a 6′ tall frog who needs a plodding banker to help him fight the Worm and save Tokyo from an earthquake, due to strike soon, teaches that “the ultimate value of our lives is decided not by how we win but by how we lose”
“I just gave them a little scare. A touch of psychological terror. As Joseph Conrad once wrote, true terror is the kind that men feel towards their imagination
And in “Honey Pie,” which brings all these themes together, a young man has an opportunity to find happiness with the only woman he’s ever loved and her young daughter, and determines that he will “never let anyone…try to put them into that crazy box, not even if the sky should fall or the earth crack open with a roar.”
To understand something and to put that something into a form that you can see with your own eyes are two completely different things. If you could manage to do both equally well, living would be a lot simpler
Despite the fact that Murakami states his themes overtly, the stories themselves are enigmatic and the action within them unpredictable, and the reader will ponder his meanings and his images long after the stories are finished. Wonderful descriptions, small details which reflect the characters’ class and educational level, sympathetic and well drawn characters, and a sense that the world is absurd and illogical make this short collection unforgettable.