Title: 1Q84: Book One
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translators: Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: (Book One): 387
Source: Personal Copy
I think reviewing a Murakami novel is sometimes far more difficult than reading one. I have just finished the first part of 1Q84 – a three-book volume by Murakami and I have to admit that the guy will never fade or let go of his writing prowess. I have been an ardent fan of all his books and devoured all of them. So somewhere down the line, I was expecting the writing technique and the plot and sub-plots to consist of the regular elements: Parallel universes, Jazz, Classical Music, Strange creatures and situations, estranged lives, loss of love and a deep identity crisis.
My love-affair (so to say) with Murakami started with Sputnik Sweetheart in 2001 and it has been eleven years now and it is still going strong. 1Q84 (as the title goes) is a play on 1984 by George Orwell. 9 sounds like Q in Japanese, hence the replacement. Murakami always keeps the reader behind a veil – never giving away too much, keeping the reader wanting more and hanging in the balance. May be that is why 1Q84 was first published as three volumes, each installment at a time, making readers wait.
I intended to read it in that manner. Hence this review of the first volume only. The plot is about two people living in Tokyo, 1984. Aomame is a powerful, liberated woman who delivers justice in her own vigilante style. Tengo is a reticent genius who is involved in a controversial behind the closed doors deal to ghost-write a novel. The plots seem totally unrelated, but over the course of the year 1984, Tengo’s and Aomame’s paths cross, and may be not just for the first time. Their paths cross due to a secret cult and Aomame’s need to find out it’s leader who supposedly has a penchant for young girls (brutal description) and something to do with Little People (who are also featured in the book Tengo is ghost-writing).
This is coupled with the fact that Aomame suddenly finds herself in a world much like the one she was a part of in 1984, only that certain things are different (cops’ uniforms and guns they carried and the presence of two moons in the sky) and she wants to know what has happened. Hence till then she names this world: 1Q84. (Q also stands for Question mark in her case)
In the first book, we are introduced to the main characters (or so it seems) – Fuka-Eri, the original writer of the book Tengo is working on, Professor Ebisuno, who is more or less Fuka-Eri’s guardian, the dowager who commissions Aomame to carry out “justice” on selected people, Tamaru, the gay bodyguard of the dowager, Tengo’s absent father, Aomame’s over-zealous and religious parents who are waiting for the world to end, and then there is a cult which plays a major secondary character in all of this.
Like I had mentioned earlier, reviewing a Murakami is probably far more difficult than reading it and that’s true. The plots are inter-connected and the reader at one point finds it difficult to keep pace with what is going on (though it is not that difficult). Murakami’s writing is simple and yet very effective. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel as his translators for years now are masters of their craft. They know exactly what words to use to capture the emotion and the scene as I am sure must have played out in the original.
Murakami’s characters are as complex as he pleases them to be. Aomame and Tengo as the protagonists are forever struggling to get their questions answered while the others play their parts and blend in fantastically to the story.
1Q84: Book one ends on an open-ended scene, but of course to pave the way for the second installment. The novel is dense and this I am talking of just volume 1. There is beauty. There are all kinds of social commentary. The book is a complete feat I am sure. Murakami does it only the way he knows how to: Stupendously.