I think Haruki Murakami and I got off on the wrong foot when I read him for the first time. I thought that there was nothing spectacular about the debut Murakami novel I read. Some of my friends like his writing and even encouraged me to try his other novels. Well I guess writing is a hit-and-miss process. Your debut novel may reach number one in the New York Times’ bestsellers list but that doesn’t guarantee that your next book will be received the same way. Consistency is probably difficult to achieve for any writer.
I decided to give Murakami another try by reading his nearly 1,000-page novel “1Q84”. It consists of three parts; each was a separate book released in Japan. When it was translated to English in 2011, the three novels were put together in one hefty book. When I started reading it I wasn’t sure if Murakami’s intent was to create a sci-fi novel or simply integrate Magic Realism in the story. As the story progressed I realized that he was trying to create a very ambitious and complex love story, transcending all norms and realities.
The novel was told in the point of view of the main characters—Tengo and Aomame. In the last part of the book, a third point of view was introduced in the person of Ushikawa. Tengo taught math in a prep school. He also screened novels for an award-giving body while trying to write his own masterpiece. Aomame, on the other hand, was a fitness instructor and physical therapist, working with high-profile clients. They both looked like seemingly ordinary professionals but each of them had covert jobs on the side.
Each chapter was told alternately in Tengo and Aomame’s voice. The first chapter began with Aomame being stuck in a cab in the middle of heavy traffic. The driver told her to take the staircase behind one of the billboards in the expressway so she could get pass the road congestion. Soon after, she reached the hotel where she was scheduled to kill a man. Aomame was a hired assassin, killing men who brutally abused women. She worked for a Dowager who kept a safe house for abused women. After the first incident, Aomame started to notice things that were different from what she used to see. She noticed that the policemen had different uniforms and guns whereas she distinctly remembered that it was never changed. She researched certain events and read some that she never heard of but were apparently big news. At this point, she started to speculate that she might be in a parallel universe. She was certain that it was not the 1984 she knew she was in. To temporarily reconcile these events, she called that year 1Q84—Q for question mark—because she was not sure what year she was in. There was also one major difference in her world and this world—1Q84 had two moons.
Meanwhile, Tengo was commissioned to rewrite a novel that was submitted to their screening committee. When Tengo first read the “Air Chrysalis” he was immediately captivated by its story despite its horrific grammar and style. The novel was about the sinister “little people” making air chrysalis with another version of you.
There was something powerful about the story that he actually lobbied for it to receive the literary prize. That of course was not possible because of the pathetic prose of the 17-year-old author Fuka-Eri. Thus, Tengo was offered by his editor Komatsu to “ghost” rewrite it. Much to his surprise, Fuka-Eri gave him all the leeway he needed to improve the story. Then, they submitted it to a publishing company who immediately agreed to distribute the novel from this new literary sensation Fuka-Eri. However, a scam like this would never go unnoticed. Things began to become complicated as the success of the book reached its peak. In the midst of all these, Tengo also started to notice something strikingly different in his world—it had two moons.
Where Two Roads Meet
As you read along “1Q84”, you will be taken to the parallel lives of these two characters, wondering what’s their connection to each other and when will they ever meet. At some point in the novel, Tengo and Aomame’s worlds gravitate toward each other. Tengo discovered that Fuka-Eri escaped from a cult community called Sakigake. She was also dyslexic and she didn’t actually write the novel. She dictated it to her guardian’s daughter. Fuka-Eri’s father was close to her guardian Professor Ebisuno and ever since her father established that commune Ebisuno didn’t hear from her father anymore until the day Fuka-Eri appeared at his doorstep. The professor used the publication of the book to stir the hornet’s nest and allow the media to investigate on the literary prodigy’s family, which would inevitably lead him to the whereabouts of Fuka-Eri’s parents. The Sakigake found out about “Air Chrysalis” and was bothered by the truth in that novel. Fuka-Eri also admitted to Tengo that the “little people” were real.
On the other hand, Aomame was commissioned to kill the leader of the Sakigake group who was responsible for the rape and abuse of the newest addition to the Dowager’s safe house—a 10-year-old girl named Tsubasa. When Aomame met the leader who was supposed to be scheduled for a physical therapy session, she found out that he knew that she was there to kill him. He had the power of telekinesis and most of all he was the mouthpiece of the “little people”. They had placed him in so much pain and he wanted to die. Aomame thought that leaving him alive to suffer would be much better than killing him but the leader negotiated that in exchange for her going on as planned, he would protect the man she loved the most, Tengo. Aomame was surprised that he knew about him. Aomame had loved Tengo since the time she tightly held his hand in a classroom. They were classmates 20 years ago. That encounter left an indelible mark in her heart and Tengo’s. Neither forgot that incident—that lasting innocent expression of love in holding each other’s hands. Fearing for Tengo’s life, Aomame proceeded to kill the leader despite the implied retaliation of the “little people”.
The plot thickened as the Sakigake hired a cunning investigator named Ushikawa. His misshapen head and repulsive looks were part of his entire ensemble. He was a master of deductive reasoning which made him more valuable than other investigators. Ushikawa stalked Tengo to find out more about “Air Chrysalis”. He was also tasked to find where the leader’s assassin was. When he found out that Tengo and Aomame were classmates, he used Tengo as his primary lead to find Aomame. Both of them knew that they were in danger. They were both looking for each other, wanting to save each other. The novel ended with Tengo and Aomame finding each other in the world with two moons and finding their way to their own world where 1Q84 exists no more.
Love it or Hate it
Appreciation for “1Q84” can go both ways—you either love it or hate it. The thing I like most about this novel is the character development of Tengo and Aomame. They grew on me like good friends whom I wanted to help. Their lives were rich with back stories and inner conflicts that demand resolution. The thing I didn’t like about it is the fact that there were so many loose ends in the story. I want to know more about the little people, air chrysalis, Sakigake, and even the annoying NHK cable collector who appears repeatedly in the novel. I wished Murakami didn’t end it the way he did, it was too easy after making the search too difficult. There were unnecessary portions that were irrelevant to the story in my opinion. I think it would’ve been better if it was also released here by parts because each part is independently unique and compelling. Reading the entire three books in one go can be really tiring and dragging. However, I must say that this might be the Murakami that my friends love and rave about. His distinct style and raw voice merged with this pseudo-fantasy and quasi-cult story resulted in a literary epic that only Haruki Murakami can deliver.