Universes Within Universes: The TFT Review of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84
Haruki Murakami’s epic new novel, 1Q84 is meant for two kinds of people: those who have been haunted by and obsessed with Murakami’s fiction for years, and those who have never read any of his books. The first fortunate group will be gratified beyond their wildest dreams (and I mean that literally). The second group will be ensnared for the rest of their reading lives.
Murakami cannot be praised without simultaneous mention of his longtime translator, Jay Rubin who – this time with the collaboration of Philip Gabriel – has delivered the smoothest flow of nearly one thousand pages you will ever encounter. The tone is uniformly quiet and undisturbed, despite the relentless succession of exquisitely disturbing circumstances.
1Q84 takes place in a perverse variant of the year 1984, by which I mean that it is both historically situated in that actual year, and tinted with resonance of Orwell’s dystopian vision. Aomame is an intelligent, attractive, kinky-ish 30-year-old exercise therapist with a weakness for designer outfits. She’s attracted to older men with thinning hair, and makes her living through a stealthy method of – shall we say? – taking people out of this world and depositing them into the next. Tengo is a strapping, singular fellow, a would-be novelist who lives alone, cooks elaborate meals, likes jazz, teaches math at a “cram school,” and writes fiction on the side; he has a lot in common with Haruki Murakami.
The novel is follows the lives of Aomami and Tengo, as they pursue separate meandering paths through Tokyo’s dense geographical and sexual labyrinths. Seemingly unattached to each other, their parallel lives imperceptibly, and then noticeabl,y begin to converge.
The fragile human magnet that eventually pulls them together is Fuka-Eri, a diminutive, wide-eyed teen-ager who has written a draft of a novel entitled Air Chrysalis. Tengo is enlisted by Fuka-Eri’s editor-publisher to help polish the manuscript so that the book can be entered in competition for The Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s most–coveted literary award.
We find out precious little about Air Chrysalis. Tengo’s top-secret labors are described with detailed superficiality. It soon becomes clear that we are reading a book called 1Q84 which, in and of itself, has constructed an alternative universe, within which one of the main characters is knitting together the undisclosed plot of another fiction which, likewise, portrays a made-up world invaded from time to time by a mysterious group of earthly alien troublemakers, The Little People – about whom, in this review, the less said the better.
Meanwhile, Aomame’s career is increasingly dominated by a reclusive heiress who subsidizes her murderous skills, setting Aomame upon the path of systematically assassinating men who have been abusive to women — with the ultimate prize in reach: the dreaded “Leader,” who masterminds a religious cult. It is to be Aomame’s final assignment, after which she will be forced to change her identity and disappear from public view forever.
TFT readers…are you still with me?
Right about now, those of you in category (1) above are probably nodding your heads, thinking, “Well, this is par for the course with Murakami. All of his fictions, from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to Kafka on the Shore to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, are characterized by alienated, post-modern existentialists, chock-full of sporadic and tantalizing sex, story-lines twisting vertiginously along on three levels simultaneously. You “newbies” in category (2) above, with no previous reference, are probably thinking, “This sounds like a very weird reason to spend $30…but what the heck!”
Suffice it to say that the disparate threads weave into a starkly-coherent and, I must tell you, very moving and romantic denouement. Aomame and Tengo realize they are drawn to each other – that, in fact, they cannot live without each other – and that, at all costs, they must find each other before it is too late; the monosyllabic and haunting Fuka-Eri is their knowing catalyst.
This is a book with characters who succeed in inspiring empathy no matter how close to the edge of feasibility they stray. It is therefore a book for everyone who loves language. Indeed, the best way to read 1Q84, as with all of Murakami, is to allow him to seduce you with his formidable yet gentle narrative skills.
Few other writers on the present scene have the superhuman ability to bend the literary medium to such hypnotic effect. Here we have a modern master at the top of his game.
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