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These days, the main criticism of Haruki Murakami is that he’s spent most of his career writing the same story over and over. To a certain extent it’s a fair point: cats, jazz, spaghetti and questionable female characters will all make an appearance at some point; but rather than making jokes, it’s interesting to ask why. Some put it down to age, some to the author resting on his laurels, others to a desperation for that elusive Nobel Prize. Yet clues can be found in his own writing, specifically “Underground.”

March 2020 is the 25th anniversary of the Tokyo gas attack. On the morning of March 20, 1995, followers of the Aum Shinrikyo cult unleashed sarin gas in the packed Tokyo subway. Twelve people died, thousands became physical and emotional casualties. A tangential — and far less important — result of the attack is that Murakami’s writing changed forever. This is the story he is endlessly telling, like a modern-day manifestation of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

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