"If you lose your ego,you lose the thread of that narrative you call your Self. Humans, however. cannot live very long without some sense of a continuing story."
On Monday 20 March 1995 the Japanese Aum cult released a deadly cloud of Sarin nerve gas into the Tokyo underground. 12 people were killed and an estimated 3,800 suffered serious after-effects. Haruki Murakami, one of Japan's leading novelists (considered by many to be one of the most important writers now writing), was both shocked and fascinated by the awful event. Murakami's response was to interview as many of those affected as he could (only 60 victims were willing to be questioned), interested as he was in the stories created by this one awful event on so many lives. He also interviewed a number of members of the Aum cult: "I'm sure each member of the Science and Technology elite had his own personal reasons for renouncing the world and joining Aum. What they all had in common, though, was a desire to put the technical skill and knowledge they'd acquired in the service of a more meaningful goal ... that might very well be me. It might be you".
The result is Underground his first work of non-fiction. Murakami writes complex, sometimes overbearing and dense novels but he here makes very little intervention into his text, simply presenting a background sketch of each before allowing the victims and cult-members to speak freely for themselves through the transcripts. They present an intricate, rounded and cinematic view of day that none of us should ever forget.
Dangers on a train - Observer review by Jason Burke
Brilliant page with reviews and links from The Complete Review
Guardian Review by Steven Poole
TimeAsia article on cults- inc comments from HM
London Review of Books review by Ian Hacking
Japanese writer Murakami probes soul's 'dark kingdom' CNN.com November 2002
Behind the death trip of a subway sect by Justin Wintle (17 June 2000) The Independent
Flak Magazine review by Clay Risen
Colliding Worlds by Tom LeClair - May 2001 The Book Magazine
The Book Barn Review