Murakami for Beginners: After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

after the quake

If you’re one of the many people out there hesitating before you try a Haruki Murakami novel, After the Quake may be just the book for you.

Every so often, I read a comment from someone wondering where to start with Haruki Murakami.  Wind-up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore?  Both are fairly hefty novels which can intimidate people nervous about magical realism.

The six stories weighing in at 146 total pages that make up After the Quake make for a perfect introduction to Haruki Murakami’s work.  Each is set in Japan at the time of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, though the earthquake often plays only a minor part in the story.  They run the gamut from the very realistic to the very magical, there is a six foot tall talking frog in one of them, so the reader will get a peek at the full range of Murakami’s writing.

Things start off realistic then become ‘realistic for Murakami,’ then Frog enters the scene in the fifth story “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo.”

Katagiri found a giant frog waiting for him in his apartment.  It was powerfully built, standing over six feet tall on its hind legs.  A skinny little man no more than five-foot-three, Katagiri was overwhelmed by the frog’s imposing bulk.

“Call me ‘Frog,'” said the frog in a clear, strong voice.

Classic Murakami.  A hero faced with events impossible to explain, whether they be realistic or magical, accepts what comes with the urbane detachment of a man long used to seeing the strange things modern city life brings.

The other five stories in After the Quake stay more-or-less grounded in reality.  While they may feature strange people, they do not feature strange worlds.  Rather they serve to point out how strange the real world can be, which may just be what Haruki Murakami has been up to all along.

Be honest.  Haven’t you had days so strange that finding a six foot frog sitting in your living room when you got home from work would have seemed like par for the course?



8 thoughts on “Murakami for Beginners: After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

  1. What a great idea – Murakami for beginners. I think his short stories in general are a better place to start, as the surreal elements seem to work better in short spurts if you are not used to his style. The Elephant Vanishes (collection of short stories) is my favourite. Mind you, Norwegian Wood is probably also a good introduction (that’s how I started).

    1. I like Norwegian Wood, but it’s not really a “Murakami” novel if you know what I mean. After the Quake will give a reader the author’s full range: realistic to magical.

  2. I had not heard about this book of his short stories. Will look for it. My first Murakami experience was Norwegian Wood which was very good but our book club recently did Windup Bird Chronicle and I loved it. I don’t have a lot of experience reading magical realism and I liked it more than I expected. A wonderful book.

  3. My first Murakami story was “Super Frog Saves Tokyo” during college, when I was taking my advanced creative writing course. I’d always dabbled in fantasy and it wasn’t until I read that story that I realized magical realism was what I really wanted to write. I’ve devoured as many of his books as I can. My favorite to date is still Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I felt like I was tripping all the way through.

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