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The New Yorker brings back Haruki Murakami story for Japan issue

March 21, 2011 |  7:19 am

Japanrubble

The March 28 issue of the New Yorker, dedicated in large part to Japan, includes a short story by Haruki Murakami that first ran in the magazine in 2001.

The focus of the issue is due to the massive earthquake of March 11, the devastating tsunami and various calamities that have followed, including displacement and partial meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plants. In the magazine, Elizabeth Kolbert explores lessons from the disaster in a piece on nuclear risk; James Surowieki writes that the long-term economic effects of the disaster will be surprisingly small; Evan Osnos provides a picture of the country after the disaster.

The Murakami story differs from these in that it's not addressing the current earthquake at all. Published originally in the magazine in 2001, it was inspired by the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

This points to one of the ways that fiction stubbornly resists the immediacy provided by the Internet. Whatever the best aspects of fiction are -- its ability to weave ideas and perceptions, to imagine full-fledged characters, to synthesize plot and place and personality into something lasting -- they don't happen in the moment but in its contemplation. Searching for a fictional response to this month's earthquake, the editors had to look backward.

Yet one novelist provides the magazine with his take on the earthquake. In a short essay, Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe writes about disaster, both natural and man-made.

Like earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural calamities, the experience of Hiroshima should be etched into human memory: it was even more dramatic a catastrophe than those natural disasters precisely because it was man-made. To repeat the error by exhibiting, through the construction of nuclear reactors, the same disrespect for human life is the worst possible betrayal of the memory of Hiroshima’s victims.

Oe's latest novel, "The Changeling," was released in paperback in February. Murakami's story, "U.F.O. in Kushiro," is available online to New Yorker subscribers.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Post-earthquake and tsunami debris outside Yamada Hospital in Yamada, Japan. Credit: Brian Van Der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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