Underworld by Haruki MurakamiTo some, it would probably be a bit odd that the first book I’ve read by Haruki Murakami is his only non-fiction work, but that’s exactly the route I’ve now taken. While my wife has managed to read a good portion of his fiction work, I’ve continued on my non-fiction binge that started last year and shows no sign of letting up. Oddly enough, Underground was at least partially inspired by the work of Studs Terkel, and finds Murakami interviewing survivors of the Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks that took place in 1995.

At the time that the attacks took place, I was in my spring semester of college. I remember reading about them quite a bit at the time (on the fledging internet and in newspapers), but didn’t have any real personal stake in them other than wondering how large the Aum cult was within the Japanese society and whether there would be more attacks like it.

Because the context of the book was so specific and horrific, it seemed like an interesting (and probably quite sad) book to read, but I was nonetheless drawn to it. Although the different accounts get a bit repetitive at times, Underground is an absolutely fascinating book in terms of a look at a society. There are people who have survivor guilt, others who seem to have forgiven all the perpetrators, and others who obviously (and for good reason) still harbor a lot of hard feelings about the attack. In an odd way, I also felt like I got a slightly better idea for at least a small slice of Japanese society.

Although he adds his own thoughts in places, Murakami largely stays in the background, allowing the victims (and even a few members of the Aum cult, who had no direct ties to the subway plot) tell their stories. As mentioned above, it’s not exactly an uplifting read, but at the same time is one of those books that gives you a bit of hope for humankind.