Janacek’s Sinfonietta, Two Moons and Little People

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 He is also an unpublished writer and a reader for an editor.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.

The Beast that Ate America

Seems that these days should be called the Time of the Selfie. Now we can all be Donald Trump. I recently heard that Selfies have killed more people than shark bites. So I thought it was time for Uncle Bardie to pass along some directives from the CDC, concerning these beasties.

1.A baby Selfie may appear to be cute and cuddly. But remember the lesson of the Gremlins. Do not water a Selfie. They will turn on you before you know it. Pretty soon they are eating you out of house and home.

2.A Selfie is a wild animal. They are not meant to be held in captivity. They do not civilize well.

3.Selfies do not make great pets. Just when you think you’ve gotten them trained to use the litter box, they disappoint you.

4.Selfies don’t mix well with other animals. Like bears. Please keep them away from your dogs. And cats are especially vicious in the presence of a Selfie. They just don’t like the things.

5.If you run across a Selfie in the wild, stand very still. Selfies can only see moving objects.

6.If you are bitten by a Selfie, get to a Selfie Trauma Center pronto. You have less than an hour before the Selfie poison takes hold. The CDC is opening up special trauma centers in every major city in the United States. Personnel are being trained to deal with this deadly outbreak of Selfie bites.

7.If you have a friend or relative who has been bitten by a Selfie and has not received special care from a trained professional, avoid them. That foaming of the mouth is extremely contagious. Call the emergency number 555-555-5555 to get them compassionate care. They will be put to sleep and it will be painless.

8.There have been efforts to eradicate Selfies. Thus far the efforts have not worked. It has even led to people coming with a dance called the Selfie Split.

9.There are rumors that Selfies were created by the Government for population control. There is no truth to this conspiracy theory. Otherwise Texas would be taken over by Selfies. And that just ain’t so. Ted Cruz is not President of Texas. Yet.

10.If you are one of those thinking of joining one of the local Selfie cults springing up around the United States, please don’t. It is a scam. You won’t be able to get a genuine purebred Selfe, and you will find your bank accounts emptied.

11.Do not get close to a Selfie on the night of a full moon. You think werewolves go crazy that night. You ain’t seen nothing until you see a Selfie on a full moon night.

So remember, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.