by Haruki Murakami
944 pages. Knopf (October 25, 2011).
Murakami’s 1Q84 has a 19th century feel to it. Not just because it is long. Rather, the Japanese writer seems to be saying to the reader, “I have a story to tell, and I am going to take my time telling it. If you stick with me, you will be rewarded. So relax. Enjoy the journey.”
Even though 1Q84 takes place in an alternate world, it is not about rings, wizarding schools, or families going for a throne. It is about Aomame (pronounced Ah-oh-mah-meh) and Tengo in 1984 Japan, trying to escape a religious cult and connect with one another.
Murakami opens his novel with a thirty-year-old Aomame. She sits in the back of a taxi, listening to Janacek’s Sinfonietta. Her cab is stalled in traffic. The driver lets her know that the cab isn’t going anywhere for a while. But there is a way for her to get to her destination and make her appointment. Get out of the cab, go to an emergency exit, climb down the stairs, catch a train. As she gets out of the taxi, he warns her, “Please remember, things are not what they seem.” Then she steps into the alternate world of 1Q84.
The next chapter introduces Tengo. In his early thirties, he is a single man. He teaches math to high schoolers prepping for their university entrance exams. He is also an unpublished writer and a reader for an editor. He has read a manuscript by a seventeen-year-old girl, Fuka-Eri, called Air Chrysallis. The writing isn’t good but the ideas conveyed are unique. The editor asks Tengo to rewrite the manuscript. Then the editor will submit the novella to a major literary contest. This is Tengo’s entry into 1Q84.
This alternate world centers around a religious cult called Sakigake. Fuka-Eri was the daughter of the leader of the cult. And her novella reveals certain secrets about that cult. One of these secrets is the Little People. Throughout 1Q84, the cult threatens Tengo and Fuka-Eri. Through her actions, the cult goes after Aomame as well.
Murakami slowly spins a spider’s web, dropping information drip, drip, drip. You’re being pulled into the web. The closer to the center you’re pulled the more dangerous things get for the two main characters. Slowly the connections between Aomame and Tengo are revealed. That they have a connection through Janacek’s Sinfonietta. That they both can see the two moons. That they went to grade school together. Despite everything you may have heard about the novel, it is a love story. Sakigake will do everything it can to keep them apart.
1Q84 isn’t for everybody. After all, it is a novel written for an adult audience of experienced readers. But Murakami has created two characters I came to know intimately and liked very much. They not only have breadth but the depth of personality that makes for a marvelous story. Few contemporary writers have given the reader as complete characters as Murakami in his 1Q84. And I will miss them.