In the next several weeks, we'll be bombarded with words and images in every conceivable media format, seeking to commemorate the events of 9/11 and maybe even make a buck in the process. The books have already started to arrive: What We Saw, for instance, a compendium of CBS coverage introduced by Dan Rather and published by Simon & Schuster, featuring "The Events of September 11, 2001—in Words, Pictures, and Video" (included with the book is a DVD of CBS's news coverage).

But maybe some of the best books to mark the occasion, if you are so inclined, will be books that weren't written explicitly for that purpose. One such is Haruki Murakami's slim book of stories, After the Quake (Knopf).

Japan suffered two extraordinary shocks in 1995 in the space of only a couple of months. In January of that year, the port city of Kobe was struck by a devastating earthquake that killed more than 4,000 people and displaced several hundred thousand. The city, much of which had been rebuilt after massive destruction in World War II, lay in ruins. In March, while the nation was still reeling from that disaster, the apocalyptic sect Aum Shinrikyo sought to hasten the end of the world by releasing the nerve gas, sarin, in the Tokyo subway. While only eleven people died, more than 5,000 suffered from exposure to the gas, and the psychological impact on the Japanese people was incalculable.

Murakami, a best-selling Japanese novelist who had been living for some time in the United States, decided to return to Japan. In response to the Aum Shinrikyo attack, he interviewed many victims; he also interviewed current or former members of Aum. The two short books he produced as a result were published in one volume in English translation as Underground: ...

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