Review of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 by  Haruki Murakami

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  •  Mohini Khot :   On Sunday 6th June the members of the Book Club were treated to an exposition of Haruki Murakami’s intriguing novel 1Q84. Sheena Shahani made a presentation which was rich in detail as well as attractive in design! She began by giving us a few basic facts about the novel. It was published in Japanese in 3 parts as a sequential trilogy in 2009 – 2010 and became available in English translation in 2011. It obviously uses Orwell’s famous 1984 as a referential backdrop to the action in this novel, with its accent on suspicion and surveillance. The “Q” indicates a question mark. “Kyu” is also 9 in Japanese. Knowing the amazing imagination of Murakami, it is hardly surprising that he presents his lead character as walking into another time zone, or so it would seem. That’s where the “Q” or question mark comes into play since nothing is certain here.It is a novel in 3 volumes -  as published as a sequential trilogy. Since each was published after a time gap (and also to accommodate new readers), Murakami does repeat quite a bit in the 2nd and 3rd volumes.

    Using colourful slides, Sheena began by narrating the plot. We begin in the year 1984 with a character called Aomame who is stuck in traffic and has an important client meeting to attend. We are to discover gradually that she is a hired assassin. No ordinary assassin, she is a trained acupuncturist who carries the tools of her trade (as well as a small ice pick) to use as weapons. The taxi driver suggests that, since she is in a hurry, she could consider leaving the cab and going down a certain stairway which would take her to a Tokyo subway station which would make possible a faster journey to her destination. When Aomame does that, she seems to enter a different time zone.

    The storyline is concerned with a book “written” by a 17 year old dyslexic girl (Fuka Eri) entitled Air Chrysalis. It has been typed by her friend and never, thereafter, checked by the author. In fact, Fuka Eri shows no interest in the book after she has written it. It is found to be brilliant (though shoddily and clumsily written) in the opinion of the editor of the magazine to which it has been submitted. The editor, Komatsu, asks Tengo to rewrite it with better style and language and is confident it can be made a bestseller. Tengo feels rather fraudulent doing this but does it anyway. The revamped book does indeed win the award for new young writers of fiction. It is a fantastical story involving Little People and Two Moons. Suddenly the media is interested in Fuka Eri, her life, her past, her parents. But she is nowhere to be found. However, now the Little People are angry because they have been revealed to the world. Komatsu is kidnapped by goons sent by the Sa-Ki-Ga-Ke cult and tortured. When he returns, he wants nothing further to do with the book. Tengo also feels he is being watched. The sense of an Orwellian paranoia hangs in the air.

    So far so good! Thereafter the storyline has you raising your eyebrows and stretching your imagination in order to suspend your disbelief. The characters of the Dowager and the Leader of the Sa-Ki-Ga-Ke cult are intriguing, to say the least. The Leader is large, charismatic and skilled in amazing things like levitation and mind reading. The Dowager, a tough woman in her 70s, sends Aomame to kill men who have been viciously abusive to women. She is sent to the Leader, who has been raping young girls in his commune, when he asks for a deep tissue massage. He is aware that she has come to kill him and welcomes it. We learn the identity of his daughter – it would definitely be a spoiler to tell you! He wants to propagate and leave some progeny behind, hopefully a Leader to follow him, but none of the girls has become pregnant yet.  He tells her he has had “congress” not with the girls but with their “shadow selves”.

    This is where I become more vague! If the above has surprised you, wait till I tell you that Tengo has “congress” with Fuka Eri and there is an Immaculate Conception! It is Aomame who becomes pregnant and “knows” her child is Tengo’s.

    Aomame does climb back up the stairway that took her into this strange world. She notes that there is only one moon now. Is this 1984, the reality we know? Or is it yet another time zone in another world?

    And there is more, much more. This novel is worth delving into. The presentation spawned a lively discussion. Satish Khot said he had tried to read Murakami but had been unable to like his writing. I feel the same way. Knowing his imagination to be nothing short of amazing and his stature in the literary world today to be that of a giant, I also wanted to like his writing. I suggested to Sheena that perhaps it was a certain coldness in his writing that makes it hard to relate to his characters. Another participant – was it Mukul – offered the word “alienation” that I found rather appropriate. There is a sense of desolation, remoteness, isolation in his works.  Is this an expression of the urban Japanese experience? As to some of the other disturbing elements in the book, apparently statistics tell us that 1 out 4 women in Japan are abused. The dynamics of the cult in the novel may be a reflection of the gas tragedy in Tokyo.

    You can like his writing or dislike it but you have to admit that Murakami is one of a type. Hopefully the Booker and Nobel, which have so far eluded him, will soon beckon!

    • Mohini Khot