By Chet Yarbrough
By Haruki Murakami, Translated by Jay Rubin & Philip Gabriel
Narrated by Allison Hiroto, Marc Vietor, Mark Boyett
One loves or hates “1Q84”. It is long (over 46 hours of narration); it reminds one of Stephen King’s “11-23-63” because of its length and science-fiction qualities.
“1Q84” is about living on earth but experiencing a wider universe; i.e. a universe that is both knowable and obscure, wrapped in facts of life but obscured by myths of religion and belief.
Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer of fiction, in his sixth decade of life. “1Q84” is not Murakami’s first foray into a fictional mix of normality and surrealism. He is a winner of the “Franz Kafka Prize” for literature. He was educated in Japan but spent time in the United States as a writing fellow at Princeton and Tufts Universities.
One doubts that “1Q84” will become a classic but it is a story that draws one into its mysteries because of the suspension of disbelief that Murakami creates to make a listener want to know how the story ends. Murakami is writing a love story that begins in childhood but ferments for 20 years, awaiting consummation. Murakami lures the reader into a 1000 page journey to find what happens to Tengo, and Aomame (pronounced aah-mommy), the unrequited lovers.
Tengo and Aomame, though separated from the age of ten, live parallel lives that are thrown together by a mythical confluence of time and consequence. The time is “1Q84” which is a different reality than 1984, the year of Murakami’s beginning story.
One knows it is a different reality because “1Q84” has two moons, an observation that both Aomame and Tengo make as the story progresses. Aomame and Tengo arrive at “1Q84” by different routes but are compelled to become a couple by their history and a surrealistic experience.
Most of the book is broken into alternating Tengo and Aomame chapters that drive the reader to an understanding of who they are. If the reader accepts the premise of Tengo and Aomame’s unrequited love, he/she becomes interested in how the story ends; if not, the book goes into the “started but never finished”’ file. Where one may stop reading the story is when Fuka-Eri is introduced as the daughter of a cult leader. The mysterious cult leader’s relationship with his daughter and other unsavory references are like disturbing images from Nabokov’s “Lolita”.
Fuka-Eri tells a story about what she calls the “little people”. Fuka-Eri is dyslexic and has difficulty writing but has a savant-like memory for anything she is told. The “little people” in Fuka-Eri’s story influence the course of human events by creating environmental conditions that compel human behavior. The story is written down by a friend of Fuka-Eri. The friend is the daughter of a former associate of the Cult leader. The friend, without Fuka-Eri’s knowledge, sends the story to a publishing house. Tengo receives the manuscript, reviews the story, and asks his editor to read it.
Fuka-Eri is drawn into a conspiracy by Tengo’s unscrupulous editor, Komatsu, to have her story edited by Tengo and submitted for a literary prize as a “first author’s story”. Tengo becomes Fuka-Eri’s ghost writer and embellishes the story in ways that are not disclosed by Fuka-Eri in her original story. The modification makes original authorship ambiguous and questionably original, but the modifications uncover ugly truths of Fuka-Eri’s origin and the truth of the cult from which she came.
Fuka-Eri’s mysterious dyslexic ability magnifies the science fiction element of the book which has the two-edged effect of binding the story together and tearing it apart. In some ways Fuka-Eri compels the reader to keep reading; in others, it makes a reader-listener want to quit.
One chooses different parts of Murakami’s story that either enhance or reduce its motive force; i.e. its reason for being written. The beautiful 29-year old Aomame periodically trolls pick-up bars to have sex with older married men that are slightly balding to ameliorate her sex drive. This is a middle-aged male’s fantasy which diminishes Murakami’s story; i.e. the idea of an attractive young women seeking sexual satisfaction from a middle-aged, balding man seems more of a male wish-fulfillment than a motive force.
On the other hand, Murakami writes about the destructive nature of cultish religions and obsessive behavior of a “true believer”; i.e. how children of “true believer”‘ parents have life-long scars that never heal. Equally, Murakami acutely describes the consequence of human isolation in life; i.e. a human life that is ostracized in society steers away from commitment and turns on itself.
If the ostracized have the aptitude for excelling, they excel in a particular discipline; if not, they become abused and oppressed by other individuals or the society of which they are a part. Aomame, Tengo, and an investigator named Ushikawa, exemplify the belief that the ostracized become obsessively good at something. The other side of societal isolation is Murakami’s story of Aomame’s female friend. Her friend is murdered because of childhood isolation brought on by sexual abuse that makes her vulnerable to sexual experimentation and oppression by others.
Orwellian references to “1984” seem misplaced and only relevant to the extent that words matter. It may be Murakami’s intent to draw a parallel between cultish behavior and “1984” but a cult is only a part of a society; not a complete dystopian world. One may argue that Murakami is writing about an alternative universe that is a dystopian world but the kernel of its origin is a cult; not a consequence of an existing society’s evolution.
“1Q84” is not a book like “War and Peace” or “Brothers Karamazov” that will command much re-reading but it is interesting and absorbing with some valuable insight to cultish behavior and its consequence, both religious and secular. Particularly when it leads to isolation of children with fanatic parents.
Murakami’s writing is direct, detailed, and compelling to some, or blunt, imprecise, and boring to others. This reviewer falls in the former rather than the latter category. One may read or listen to “1Q84” to find out what happens to Tengo and Aomame or throw it in the “started but never finished” file.