Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami

I had long been meaning to read Haruki Murakami's Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche and was glad to finally have the opportunity to do so. Like all of Murakami's work, it was an interesting premise, though it grew more tiresome than his work usually does. This has much to do with the type of exploration it was - transcribed interviews with survivors of the Tokyo gas attack, and later interviews with members of Aum, the cult with members convicted of the crimes.

On March 20, 1995, Aum members deposited packages of sarin on a handful of metros. The gas was released, killing 12 and injuring thousands more. For a city always comfortable in its safety, the shock of this event resounded throughout the country for a time. Eventually, though, it was forgotten... or remembered only in its media portrayal. And little was done to address the gaps it identified - slow emergency services and poor communication between health facilities. Murakami, having lived away from Japan, became preoccupied with this event, and sought to understand it better through a qualitative undertaking - interviews with 60 people impacted by the attack and, later, interviews with followers, though not the gas attack perpetrators, of Aum.

This book is a compilation of these interviews, and it becomes tiresome in that the structure of Murakami's interviews must have been the same each time, so you get sometimes repetitive tellings of people's morning commutes. But that could be intentional, because disaster is notable for its interruption of daily life. On March 20, 1995, a lot of normal lives were changed, sometimes drastically. Alternatively, there are the Aum followers, who joined this group specifically to escape the tedium of daily life. They entered into a new routine, though often with far less agency.

What made this a particularly interesting read is the year in which I was reading it - 2017 - a year of interruption, of disaster, of terrorism. There could be an entire genre for books like these now. And, however repetitive, each is a story that should be told. To read Underground with this in mind, it becomes an entirely different experience, one where every word carries the weight of a life.