UNDERGROUND by Haruki Murakami

On Monday 20 March, 1995, thOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe guru of Aum, a

Buddhist doomsday cult decided to drop Sarin, a venomous gas, in the underground in Tokio.

This was an act of terrorism with unknown reasons which targeted ordinary citizens.

The consequence: the death of twelve people and thousands injured, many of them suffering serious after-effects.

Haruki Murakami, the writer, decided to interview the victims and some of the ex-members of the cult responsible for the attack trying to understand what happened that day and which were the reasons for the attack.

This attack was devastating for Japan,  a country with a low percentage of violence and a strong economy.

An experience like that shows us how people behave in moments of panic.  We can discover the best and the worst of humankind, and that is more true when the people really don’t know what is happening around them.  They only know that something dangerous is happening, and that their lives and those of others are at risk.

This experience changed the lives of most of them, not only during the attack or after it, during the recovery, but forever.  The way in which they deal with the present and future gave in many of the cases a 180º turn.

Life is precious and as a rule we are not conscious of this until something shake us up strongly.

Some of the victims blamed the actual way of living in Japan. They believed that is the reason for this attack.

“The idea that it’s wrong to harm others has gradually disappeared.”

People that always used the same carriage, at the same time of the day and took the same door, that day and that day only changed their habits. This was the difference between being affected by the gas or not.

When some of the victims started fainting one idea came to one of the assistants:

“Ah, a double love-suicide.”

I wonder: Is it so common to commit suicide in Japan? I have read a lot of books in which some suicide happens, and it is always presented like a normal situation.

Anger and incomprehension have been the two most common feelings after the attack.

“What on earth were those people sacrificed for?”

People changed their way of living.

“The most important thing for Japan at this point is to pursue a new spiritual wholeness. I can’t see any future for Japan if we blindly persist with today’s materialistic pursuits.”

Others started thinking about what really matters.

“Everyone worries about the smallest things in life and then something like this happens…”

People wake up to a reality that was not theirs.

“I mean, what can happen? Japan’s a super safe-country, isn’t it? No guns, no terrorists, hardly anything like that. It never occurred to me I might be in danger or that I had to get myself out of there.”

What we can learn about the ex-members of the cult is a different story. These are more related to understanding why someone chose to be part of a cult.

People who were so lonely that they were looking for an exit desperately.

“I was very happy. Even if it’s the police. I just felt happy being able to communicate with someone.”

People were looking for avoiding any responsibilities.

“I thought the way they did things made life easier – they’d give the order and you just did what they said. No need to think for yourself, or worry about every little detail, just do what you’re told.”

Of course, not everyone inside the cult had the same background and some of them were looking for enlightenment and liberation, or just a peaceful life.

Haruki Murakami7325118-1 was worn in Kyoto in 1949. He met his wife, Yoko, at university and they opened a jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat.  The massive success of his novel Norwegian Wood (1987) made him a national celebrity.  He fled Japan and did no return until 1995.  His other books include After the quake, Dance Dance Dance, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the world, A Wild Sheep Chase, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Sputnik Sweetheart, South of the Border, West of the sun, Kafka on the Shore, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and After Dark.  He has translated into Japanese the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, John Irving and Raymond Carver.



One more year, Isi sumReto-in-English-2015-20mons us to a new edition of the Challenge Keep calm and read in English, 2015.
Since I first met Isi’s blog I have always participated in this challenge.
But, this year the challenge is a little different for me.
I love reading, as happen to all of us who participated in this kind of challenge and reading in English has become a daily activity for me.
Nevertheless, this year the Challenge is not only to read the books, but to be able to write the reviews in this new blog that I have launched recently.
Once more, my personal challenge is reading and reviewing 20 books in English, and of course, participate in the others activities that I am sure Isi has started to build in her mind.


Yasuko lives with her OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdaughter leading a quiet live between work and home. The times living in a difficult marriage were over, or so she thought until out of the blue her ex-husband appears.

A moment of fear and confusion end with her ex-husband’s death. Yasuko thinks to turn herself in when Ishigami her neighbour comes with a solution.

“Sometimes, all you had to do was exist in order to be someone’s saviour”.

You know who the murderer is from the beginning of the story, you know when it happened, and why as well. Then, what is all this story about?
It is an intelligent thriller that brings you through an impossible situation till the amazing end.

The whole plot directs your thoughts across a story that become a continuous challenge to your logic and your imagination, in spite of your previous knowledge of other books of this genre.

“Trust me. Logical thinking will get us through this”

Well, not always and not so easily.  At least with this story.

The main characters are introduced in a way that you quickly get their importance and role in the narration, and are as follows:

Yasuko Hanaoka, a middle aged woman, ex-hostess in a nightclub, and now working in a take-away shop.

Misato, student and Yasuko’s daughter.

Ishigami,  a mathematician high-school teacher and neighbour of Yasuko and Misato.

Detective Kusanagi, in charge of the murder investigation.

Manabu Yukawa, Assistant professor at the University and old friend of Ishigami when they were students.

The two most interesting characters are clearly Ishigami and Yukawa and their way of thinking and facing the problems no matter what kind.

Some of their analysis left me more than surprised, delighted by his crushing logic, considering always the smallest details in every situation.

With these two characters, the writer gives us a lot of clues along the entire book. But I doubt that someone could find it easy to understand these clues until the very end of the book.

“Murder is murder. Everything else is just details.”

This sentence is almost at the beginning of the book and allows us to know the base of the plot.

The statement is, of course, true, but the details can change completely depending on what kind of murder has been committed.

It is a book that will catch the fans of the genre for its originality, and perhaps get new followers thanks to its originality.

Keigo Higashinodownload

Born in Osaka in 1958. He graduated from Osaka Prefectural University, where he majored in electrical engineering. He wrote novels while working as an engineer, and made his debut as a novelist in 1985 with After School, which won him the Edogawa Rampo Award. As a full-time writer, he won the Japan Mystery Writers Association Award for Himitsu in 1999. The novel earned a good reputation, was made into a movie starring Ryoko Hirosue, and is currently being developed for a remake by Luc Besson. Higashino won the prestigious Naoki Award for Devotion of Suspect X in 2005. Among other works by him, g@me, Lakeside (Shinji Aoyama’s Lakeside Murder Case) and Henshin received movie adaptations. Most recently, Byakuyako (with Takayuki Yamada) was televised.