|Translator||Alfred Birnbaum, Philip Gabriel|
|Cover artist||Cathryn S. Aison|
|Publisher||Kodansha, Bungeishunjusha (Japan)
The Harvill Press (UK)
Vintage International (US)
|June 1, 2000|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Pages||366 pp (US edition)
309 pp (UK edition)
|ISBN||ISBN 0-375-72580-6 (US edition)
ISBN 1-86046-757-1 (UK edition)
|Dewey Decimal||364.15/23/0952 21|
|LC Classification||BP605.O88 M8613 2001|
Underground (アンダーグラウンド Andāguraundo , 1997–1998) is a book by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami about the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. Described as a work of "journalistic literature," it collects a series of separate interviews Murakami conducted with 60 victims of the attacks and 8 members of Aum, descriptions of how the attacks were carried out, and his essay "Blind Nightmare: Where are we Japanese going?"
Underground was originally published in Japan without the interviews of Aum members – they were published in the magazine Bungei Shunju before being collected in a separate volume, The Place That Was Promised. The English translation combines both books into a single volume, but has been abridged. Underground was translated by Alfred Birnbaum; The Place That Was Promised, by Philip Gabriel.
In his introduction to the book, Murakami describes his motivations for writing it:
The Japanese media had bombarded us with so many in-depth profiles of the Aum cult perpetrators—the ‘attackers’—forming such a slick, seductive narrative that the average citizen—the ‘victim’—was an afterthought … which is why I wanted, if at all possible, to get away from any formula; to recognise that each person on the subway that morning had a face, a life, a family, hopes and fears, contradictions and dilemmas—and that all these factors had a place in the drama … Furthermore, I had a hunch that we needed to see a true picture of all the survivors, whether they were severely traumatized or not, in order to better grasp the whole incident.
Jay Rubin holds that Murakami also had highly personal reasons for wanting to write Underground, notably that he wished to learn more about Japan after living almost entirely abroad for nine years and that he wanted to fulfill a responsibility he felt towards Japan's society.
The interviews in Underground were conducted throughout 1996. They were taped, transcribed, and then edited. Draft interviews were then sent to the interviewees before publication for fact-checking and to allow them to cut any parts they did not want published.
At the start of each interview, Murakami asked general questions about the subject's life, allowing him to build a background picture of them that is included before each interview. He did this to "give them a face," thus avoiding creating "a collection of disembodied voices." His interviews with victims have been seen as similar in style to those of Studs Terkel's Working, an influence that Murakami admits along with that of Bob Greene. His interviews with Aum members are intentionally more combative.
Murakami concludes the victim-interviews with the essay "Blind Nightmare." In it he strongly criticises the Japanese response to the gas attacks, calling their crisis management system, "erratic and sorely inadequate." He further worries that the government's lack of openness about its failings may lead to their repetition. He also talks about one factor that led to the attacks – the handing over of personal responsibility by cult members to Aum leader Shoko Asahara – a trait that irritated him during interviews with Aum members.
The original Underground (sans Aum interviews) was seen by some critics as being "one-sided," a view that Murakami himself shared, leading to his publishing The Place That Was Promised. Despite this possible bias, the original Underground sold 270,000 copies within two months of its Japanese release.
Reviews of the English translation were largely positive and enthusiastic, despite a severe cut in the number of commuter interviews included in the work—from 62 in the original to 34 in the translation.
The stories of those interviewed in the book share many common themes: