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1Q84 Is Science Fiction Done Right

All I can say is thank you to the readers who suggested that I pick up 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I loved it. But it wasn’t because of the language, especially since it was a translation. And it wasn’t because of the dialogue, because there wasn’t very much, or the point of view, since it alternated between several characters. I loved it because it was about a writer. I am a big fan of a story within a story. This is the Faberge egg of story with a storytelling, with a tale at the heart of the novel that is alluded to for almost the entire book before the author gives us a synopsis of it.

In my mind, 1Q84 is an otherworldly love story, although, at 900 plus pages (it was originally published as three books) it has a little bit of everything in it—mystery, drama, comedy, science fiction, magic realism, tragedy, adventure, sorcery, mysticism, and eroticism. In the cold of winter, I am always looking to indulge the urge to curl up with a hefty good book and read for days. Mr. Murakami did a fantastic job of filling the bill with a story that was at once expansive yet intimate.

It is a novel set in 1984 about an unpublished writer participating in a grand deception that goes against the conventional wisdom of the editorial world here stateside. Most of the dialogue is internal, and in later chapters has a tendency to run on. But the story itself is told so well, with parts that are at once intricate yet smoothly interlocking, that after awhile, you have a hard time seeing how this particular tale could have been told any other way.

The story itself is told in alternating chapters, and so we are introduced to the two main characters – Tengo, a young mathematics instructor who works part-time hours in a Japanese cram school so he can have as much time as possible to write his novel, and Aomame, a young massage therapist who does the occasional assassination for hire. They are both loners who crossed paths in during their early years. They had a brief encounter for a few seconds during grade school where they touched hands, a moment that  both Tengo and Aomame have obsessed over ever since. The sense of isolation in the story is heightened greatly by the details of their adult lives, and helps to add an air of inevitability to their meeting each other one day.

All of the dramatic tension in the book emanates from a question both characters are forced to grapple with—is the world I am in the real one or some alternate form of reality? This seed is planted in the very first chapter, when what appears to be an ordinary taxi driver makes a statement to Aomame:

“After you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before. But don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”

from 1Q84

When reading a translation it usually doesn’t make sense to get fixated on the writer’s use of language, yet 1Q84 seems to have been written in a way that anticipated the effects of the Japanese to English conversion process. The American cultural references sprinkled throughout were eerie, and even pages after encountering one of them, I was often left with a sense that these depictions of life in America had taken on an undeserved level of gravitas when rebroadcast in foreign countries. 

Despite the allusion to the George Orwell novel 1984, Murakami for the most part was able to resist the impulse towards overt moralizing. His frequent references to Chekov’s rules for writing during the middle of the book seemed out of place. And a couple of the sex scenes may off putting to an American reading audience which recognizes sexual intercourse between adults and minors as both morally and criminally wrong.

I had to listen to Janacek’s Sinfoniettaon Youtube a couple of days after reading this book, it played such a prominent recurring role in the narrative. The symphony itself wasn’t what I had imagined it to be. In the opening scene of the book, the description of the atmosphere in the well appointed Toyota Crown had me thinking of a bow slowly descending down the strings of a cello to its lowest register. Maybe I’ve watched one too many Lexus commercials.

But if you are like me, none of this will matter once you get into the story.


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