Friday, August 28, 2015

1Q84 Review

There are very few intriguing books solely because of their title and for me ‘1Q84’ by Haruki Murakami definitely lies under such category.  I've been meaning to read something of Murakami's for quite a while and maybe this wait was necessary, for me at least, to understand the writing and plot better.

Before I begin, here’s the book cover summary.

The year is 1984. Aomame sits in a taxi on the expressway in Tokyo.
Her work is not the kind which can be discussed in public but she is in a hurry to carry out an assignment and, with the traffic at a standstill, the driver proposes a solution. She agrees, but as a result of her actions starts to feel increasingly detached from the real world. She has been on a top-secret mission, and her next job will lead her to encounter the apparently superhuman founder of a religious cult.

Meanwhile, Tengo is leading a nondescript life but wishes to become a writer. He inadvertently becomes involved in a strange affair surrounding a literary prize to which a mysterious seventeen-year-old girl has submitted her remarkable first novel. It seems to be based on her own experiences and moves readers in unusual ways. Can her story really be true?

Both Aomame and Tengo notice that the world has grown strange; both realise that they are indispensable to each other. While their stories influence one another, at times by accident and at times intentionally, the two come closer and closer to intertwining.

1Q84 is a world that differs from 1984 in a few "minor ways". Police uniforms change, mysterious US-USSR joint bases on the moon, and religious sects appear out of agricultural communes. Also featuring are miniature angels or demons (it is hard to tell) referred to as ‘Little People’, pod-like cocoons created by them for hatching human replicas, not to mention insemination-by-proxy. And then there is the extra moon in the sky.

This being my first Murakami, I had to pay slight more attention towards the characters and social references to understand the writing style, and realised the presence of cults in the series early on. The two active ones here were the Society of Witnesses, with members refusing lifesaving surgery and Sakigake, more Amish and mysterious with a leader surrounded by disturbing rumours of super human powers and criminal acts.

Throughout the story, the narratives of two characters, both seemingly involved with this parallel world in separate yet intertwining ways is shown. Tengo Kawana, a maths teacher & writer; and Aomame, a martial-arts instructor and physical therapist, who also happens to inflict clandestine punishment on brutish men, for an elderly woman known only as the Dowager, who runs a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Kawana gets drawn by his editor into a literary conspiracy to ghost-rewrite a novella ‘Air Chrysalis’ written by seventeen-year old Fuka-Eri, which then wins a prize and becomes a bestseller.  Also serving as the novel’s diabolical antagonist was the character of Ushikawa, a hideous and repulsive investigator working for Sagikake, tracking down Kawana and Aomame. Each person in the book has their own story yet they are all connected in a simple and yet seemingly complex manner.

In outline, the plot seems elementary with romance at the core of the novel; boy and girl meet, part, and look for each other, with a melancholy yearning. However, to Murakami’s credit, the entire story was written with impressive tact. 

At some points, I found myself somewhat confused, questioning the who, where and what but everything turned out well in the end with no questions being left unanswered. Moreover the ending itself had me longing for more, not just of Murakami’s work but more of the characters and their story. It seemed, perhaps, as the single most shocking and yet no-so shocking event in the book, leaving a lot to the imagination and hoping for more.

The first two books are translated by Jay Rubin and third by Philip Gabriel but the fact that Murakami's work has been translated shouldn’t put one off. Being a translation of the Japanese written novel, 1Q84 clearly differs from the Western literary styles which I'm more familiar with but the elements of the narrative combined with this makes 1Q84 for a stellar read. No mistaking it for a light read, but this book has certainly left me keen enough to read more of Murakami's work.

I’ll end by quoting something that Kawana’s father used to say, “If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation,” and though I am not sure that I agree with it completely but I believe this quote to be hinting at some things that just have to accepted, like this book review.

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