Short bursts of magic from Haruki Murakami

A floor above one of my favourite Sydney sushi restaurants is the Kinokuniya bookstore which takes out virtually the whole of the top level of the building.  Like others in the 80-strong international chain, it is bright, airy and absolutely vast. As well as acres of novels and sumptuous coffee table books, it has an impressive collection of graphic novels, Manga and Hello Kitty merchandise. Not surprisingly, it’s a regular hangout for the thousands of Japanese students studying in Sydney.

On Saturday, there was a prominent display of the Vintage Book collection of Haruki Murakami novels in elegant minimalist livery. Irresistible. And that is how I ended up lying under a fan trying to escape Sydney’s broiling heat reading After the Quake a slim  book that somehow has passed me by despite being published in translation in 2002.

After The Quake, is actually a collection of six short stories inspired by the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake in which almost 6,500 Japanese people perished. However, the reference to the actual event is, in each, deliberately oblique. In fact, only in UFO in Kushiro, does it get anything more than a passing mention. Instead, the earthquake is the catalyst for reassessment and re-awakening, for regaining lost moments and discarding old prejudices.

In Thailand, pathologist Satsuki has spent 30 years hating the man from whom she parted resulting in an acrimonious legal feud. She has been enjoying a quiet week’s holiday after attending a conference in Bangkok when her arranges a surprise visit to a mysterious old woman who holds the key to her psychological freedom.  And In Honey Pie, Junpei has to first bring together two lonely bears before he realises he deserves more from his relationship with his oldest two friends than he has been allowing himself.

The surreal element so successful in books like A Wild Sheep Chase is particularly evident in Super-frog Saves Tokyo where unassuming banker Katagiri is recruited by a giant frog to help thwart attempts by a huge underground worm threatening to wipe out Tokyo with an earthquake.

The storieson their own, represent masterful story-telling. Together they are an extraordinary collection from a writer who never fails to mesmerise and intrigue.

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