November 11, 2011

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami


"...he had come to the recognition that most of what is generally considered the truth is entirely relative. Subject and object are not as distinct as most people think. If the boundary separating the two isn't clear-cut to begin with, it is not such a difficult task to intentionally shift back and forth from one to the other." (nook p. 811)
Truth and time. Love and loneliness. Not easy subjects to write about. When Murakami does, he takes us down a multi-layered path. One in which I need to poke and prod, looking between the stratum, until I can reveal at least part of what he's telling me.

On the surface, things seem relatively clear. When the novel opens Aomame is sitting in a terrible traffic jam on Metropolitan Expressway No. 3 listening to Janáček's Sinfonietta and talking with the taxi driver who tells her there is an emergency staircase through which she can escape. When she leaves the car, and descends the stairs, she also leaves 1984 and enters 1Q84. The two worlds are parallel, different from one another, but 1Q84 is not unrecognizable.

We segue between her life and Tengo's, who has been hired by the editor of a literary magazine to rewrite Air Chrysalis, a promising work written by seventeen year old Erika Fukada. The book becomes an instant success despite Tengo's concern that he is doing something illegal by presenting the book as Erika's. Worse than that duplicity is how we eventually discover that Air Chrysalis is the method through which the Little People speak to the Leader of the Sakigake cult. Its publication precipitates a string of events which are slowly revealed to us as we journey through the world of  1Q84.

Aomame takes exquisite care of her body by eating only what is healthy, exercising muscles which are difficult to find. Because of her knowledge of the human body, she is able to find by touch a certain spot on the back of a man's neck, a spot which when pierced with the sharpened end of an ice pick will cause instant death. It is a subtle method of killing, one which seems to bother Aomame not at all.
Nor does it bother the dowager of Willow House, a safe house for battered women, whom Aomame has befriended. Eventually, Aomame works for this seventy year old woman, hired to "move to another world" men who are found to be abusing women. In this way, Aomame takes into her own hands a sort of revenge; I can't help but wonder if she wasn't abused in some way herself before she left the Society of Witnesses, a cult from which she was brought up. Certainly she was wounded by the way her parents forced her to proselytize door to door for their religion. As an adult, she is wounded by the deaths of two of her friends who have been murdered by the hands of their "lovers".

Twenty years ago, at the age of ten, she reached out to her classmate, Tengo, grasping his hand in a moment he never forgets. For Tengo is lonely himself, having the vision of his mother involved with a man who is not his father etched permanently in his mind. He is isolated from his mother emotionally and physically; we never see her as anything more than a painful place in his memory. His father, however, continues to cause suffering as he takes Tengo with him on his routes as a NHK collector. If customers see him with a child, he reasons, they will be more willing to pay their fees. He is not willing to recognize Tengo's shame and embarrassment, nor the way that his life differs so drastically from that of his classmates who are able to enjoy their Sundays with their parents.

Tengo and Aomame have separate lives, he is a cram school teacher for mathematics and an aspiring writer, she is an excercise instructor; they are both lonely. They both long for the feeling of being loved. They are searching for each other throughout the novel despite the distance of time and place which have kept them apart.

It seems they will never find one another. Near the end of the book I read with an increasing horror, afraid that the harm which had come to so many characters would also work against the two lovers. What right do they have to be united other than their love for one another? Other than the isolation they feel individually which can only be assuaged by their togetherness? Yet Murakami must believe in the redemptive power of a couple's love, just as they must believe in one another.* Otherwise, this novel could bring us no hope for the world in which we now live.

Aomame pressed an ear against his chest. "I've been lonely for so long. And I've been hurt so deeply. If only I could have met you again a long time ago, then I wouldn't have had to take all these detours to get here."
Tengo shook his head. "I don't think so. This way is just fine. This is exactly the right time. For both of us." (nook, p. 1029)
Find more reviews from And The Plot Thickens, Magnificent Octopus, Sam Still Reading and Book Dilettante. If you've reviewed 1Q84, and would like to be linked to this post, just let me know in the comments.

*"It is only a paper moon
   hanging over a cardboard sea,
   But it wouldn't be make believe
   If you believed in me."

47 comments:

  1. I'd love to read this but so far what's stopping me is its sheer size. I think this would take me over a month to read and there's so many other books on my To Be Read pile that are shorter.

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  2. Mrs. B, it is long, and does take a time committment, that's for sure. I determined not to read anything else but this, and I think that was almost essential for me so that I wouldn't lose track of all that was going on. I can't imagine how people read Book 1, Book 2 and waited so long for Book 3! Still, if one loves Murakami as I do, one will read any number of pages he writes.

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  3. I wasn't familiar with this author until the buzz started building for this book. Everyone seems so excited about it.

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  4. Bermudaonion, for Murakami fans the wait was a long one! At least for 1Q84 to come in English. I have been waiting since 2009 and was so impatient to see what he had in store for us this time. While this particular novel is not my favorite, it is still full of Murakami traits: bizarre occurances with bizarre people which actually follow real life more closely than one initially thinks.

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  5. Thank you for the link! Hope you enjoyed it - the tension was exquisite building up to Tengo and Aomame 'will they/won't they' find each other.

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  6. Not to mention all the other stuff going on in the background! Lots of tension all around, and at this point? I'm both exhausted and relieved that Tengo and Aomame are in the taxi together wherever they may be headed.

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  7. Great review! You summarized the novel so well. I struggled to do so... because there was just 'so much' to it.

    Thanks for the link :)

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  8. Bellezza: You told the story of Tengo and Aomame very, very well, and the book is all about that - their love story which surpasses and overcomes the "badness" of everything else. A wonderful review. I will also link your review to mine!

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  9. May one heap curses upon your head (although politely) this review is tempting me to start my copies which I've so far successfully avoided doing because of the necessary commitment needed & work etc. I'm going off now to a darkened cupboard & repeat my mantra " altho Murakami is great, he's not the only writer & if just a bit longer I wait, the experience will be that much brighter" & keep repeating till I believe. So goodbye for now my cupboard awaits me.
    PS. Great review :@ )

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  10. Rachel, I wrote and rewrote this review; I'm not happy with it at all because it doesn't seem to come to close what Murakami was trying to say. There's so much I still don't have a handle on: the air chrysalis (rebirth?) and the Little People, even the world with two moons is unclear to me as to its meaning. Still, I love Murakamai's writing even if I can't write a review which does him justice.

    Reading everyone else's thoughts is quite helpful though. Your review, and the reviews of others to which I linked, all broaden our understanding and appreciation.

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  11. Thank you, Harvee, but what you did which so impresses me is touch on so many of the other very important facets of the book: religion, abuse, and even the way he throws in quotes about what it's like to be a writer. (From writing these simple posts, and becoming quite stuck on some of them, I know that's not an easy job!) I loved your post because it gives such a clear picture of the book to your readers. Including me!

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  12. Curses on my head, for shame! ;) I'll join you in your cupboard, as so many books call our names, and there must be just the right time for Haruki's. So wish we could have a chat about this in person, you and I and all of those who have read it. Such fun that would be! Looking forward to your thoughts when you emerge, Parrish.

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  13. What a great review! The best way to read this book is as a love story. I read a review that said the connection, the love, between Tengo and Aomame - that childhood moment - simply wasn't credible as the foundation for the strong pull between them, but whoever that critic was they must not have an ounce of romance in them. So glad they found each other!

    However, I closed the book worrying that they still weren't in the world they thought they were.

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  14. Isabella, reading it as a love story was not only the most important part for me, it was the part which made the most sense! True, it was a bit hard for me to see how something formed at ten years of age can have such a lasting significance. But, just because it didn't happen to me doesn't mean I doubt it could happen to someone else. I have a lot of romance within me, I guess. ;)

    I, too, wondered about Aomame and Tengo at the end. Not so much about what world they were in, but what will to them? To the baby? Maybe Murakami will write a Book 4...he certainly has enough going on to continue his story.

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  15. Hmmm. I wonder, after reading this review, how much I would like this book. It does not sound appealing at all. And it sounds long.

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  16. Wow! You practically devoured this book. This is the first review that I've read of this book. I put this on hold at my local library so hopefully I'll have it in a few weeks.

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  17. Deb, if you don't like qualities of magical realism, or fantasy, or just needing to suspend your disbelief, you for sure wouldn't like Murakami. You can't read his work and expect to find yourself in any other world than "Murkami Lnad." He's adored by many, but not by all. Maybe I "spared" you 900+ pages, but I'd hate to turn you away from one of my favorite authors. :)

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  18. Great review! There's been so much hype about this book that I'm 'scared' to read it, aside from the fact that it's a chunkster!!

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  19. Vasilly, I did devour it. I knew that if I didn't have a go at it, all at once, it would become too disjointed for me. I have to 'keep the flow' with such a long work, and with Murakami especially, or else I become even more confused than reading straight through. I hope your local library is quicker than ours; I've been waiting for The Night Circus for about six weeks now. I finally broke down and bought it, defeating all purpose of the library.

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  20. No, Melody! Don't be scared! This is probably an easier book of Murakami's to understand than others; at least the tricky parts don't get in the way of the whole. (I'm still at a loss to explain the Little People!) It's a chunkster, but it's fast, and it's so worth it to read what Murakami writes. What a mind...

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  21. Bellezza, I love this post - it makes me want to read 1Q84 faster. I've been taking it rather slowly and enjoying getting to know Aomame and Tengo. Am loving this book! Your post made me even more excited about it :) Thanks!

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  22. Nadia, I'm surprised you read it before finishing the book! I stayed away from all reviews until I turned the last page; I was so afraid of someone spoiling it for me. Now that I'm done, I can say that reading everyone's thoughts only adds to the experience. I love reading so many perspectives on such a talented author. I'm glad that this post of mine, which rather irks me in its ineptitude, excited you.

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  23. Hi Meredith :) I will read your review later, I still have 200 pages or so to go.
    I don't think I can truly write a review right after reading this book, it isn't an easy book to review, I admire you so...

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  24. WHOA. Talk about twisty! It's definitely one to read, but I'm waiting for the right mood.

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  25. As usual, I cannot wait to read this now that I've read your review. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  26. I'm afraid to read too much of this review, since I tend to remember too much and I do plan to read this one. But, I have to say . . . wow, I'm impressed that you've finished it, already. I have a feeling this one will take me forever to read, when I get around to it. But, I've got a bunch of his other books to read, first, so it'll be a while. Good idea focusing on just the one book! That's what I have to do with chunksters or I'll end up setting them aside.

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  27. Madeleine, don't admire me, my friend...it is an incredibly hard review to write because the book is so complex and Murakami's ideas can be so obtuse. I feel like I just gave a summary here, and I'm still struggling over some of the more 'magical realism' qualities in my mind. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what he means with an alternate reality, air chrysalises, and Little People. I'll probably never know for sure, but will just have to be content with my own interpretations.

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  28. Andi, twisty and multi-layered and engrossing all in one. At least the relationship between Tengo and Aomame is relatively clear and easy to follow.

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  29. Col, I hope I haven't spoiled any of the surprises for you, but rather have helped lay some of the foundation. I'm so glad you're excited about reading it!

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  30. Bookfool, I have to focus on Chunksters, too, or I lose all hope of a.) following them and b.) finishing them. For a 900+ page book, though, this one went surprisingly quick! I'd love to hear your thoughts when you do get around to reading it.

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  31. Thank you for keeping us informed of the story, and wrapping it up by this excellent review. Yes, the 900+ pages just seems too formidable a task for me. But I congratulate you on your achievement. And... am I correct to assume that the lovers are united, despite the two different worlds they inhabit? I keep thinking of the sad ending of a beloved movie: "Somewhere In Time" with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. I hope the ending of 1Q84 is a more pleasant one.

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  32. You write with such passion about this book. I hope i can appreciate it half as much as you did.

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  33. Arti, I haven't seen the film with Reeves and Seymour, but I do have a lot of anxiety when a couple is left separated at the end of a film or novel. It appears that Aomame and Tengo are united and will stay that day; what is left perhaps questionable is in which world they now exist? I felt they made it back to 1984, but others have felt they're still stuck in 1Q84. Only Haruki knows for sure...


    I'm glad you enjoyed this review. While 900+ pages are rather daunting, they were all necessary to me.

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  34. Well, Diane, I guess I'm mostly passionate about the author and his skills. I'm glad some of my fervor came through, but I still think Kafka on the Shore is my favorite.

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  35. 1Q84-story of a boy and a girl who got separated while their families were picnicking on a beach, wandered inside a very dense forest, suffered all the vicissitudes of life- hunger, fear, hypothermia, mirages,unending insect bites, chased by animals, but learned to read the lessons from the trees, birds, and watching the sky. Their every day lives were sustained by reason and some faith and hope no matter how faint.They were grown up when they found each other and their way out of the forest. It ended when the sail of their boat started catching the wind.

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  36. Beautiful review, Bellezza! I haven't read a Murakami novel yet, and when you wrote a brief post earlier about '1Q84', I wasn't sure whether I would pick it up, because it sounded very similar to Bolano's '2666'. But from your review, '1Q84' looks like a fascinating book. It looks like Murakami has excelled himself again. You know, after you glowed about Murakami, I told one of my book club friends about him and she went and read one of his books - 'Kafka on the shore' - and said that it is one of her alltime favourite books. Thanks to you :) I want to crown you as the blogosphere's Murakami expert :)

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  37. I only skimmed this review since I have so far to go!! I'm enjoying the book, but it's slowing down a bit for me. I need to spend a big chunk of time reading this weekend.

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  38. Edgar, I'm interested in your quote. Is it your own interpretation? An interpretation of something you read? I'm trying to place it, and sadly, come up unable to know exactly what you mean although I like the 'story'.

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  39. Vishy, it thrills me so much that you recommended Murakami to one of your friends, and s/he liked Kafka on The Shore! That is my favorite Murakami as well, but not everyone likes that book. (I think it takes a special reader to appreciate how he writes. ;)

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  40. Les, it slowed down a bit for me, too...I think he just takes a lot of time to lay down the foundation, as well as weave an intricate plot. I hope you don't feel like abandoning it. While this isn't my favorite work of his, I do think he has a lot to say about love, religious cults, and violence toward women. I don't blame you for not reading the review carefully; no one wants the book spoiled!

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  41. It's my own paraphrase of the novel in a completely different way.
    I like 1Q84 because of Murakami's fluid expression of language-clear, concise in details whether it is making a sandwich or sex scenes, pauses of the characters when they reflect on their actions,philosphical thoughts before committing a crime,etc... There are layers of stories within the novel of ordinary life of ordinary people, of complex characters,how people address their own personal problems, loneliness, anguish,fantasies that one has to suspend disbelief.

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  42. Ah, thank you for explaining to me what you meant, Edgar. You are so spot on when you write of Murakami's precise details, as well as the layers. It's interesting to me how someone so clear in the little parts (the details) can make a whole open to interpretation. Obviously, the relationship between Tengo and Aomame is clear, as well as the horrors of abuse to women and the horrors of the religious cult. But, I'm left wondering as to the meaning of the Little People and even the Air Chrysalis itself. (How did it speak to the Leader, for example?)

    I like the last part of your comment which said this, "There are layers of stories within the novel of ordinary life of ordinary people, of complex characters,how people address their own personal problems, loneliness, anguish, fantasies that one has to suspend disbelief." I find myself needing to suspend my disbelief, as well as often rereading the book itself. When I reread Kafka on The Shore, the whole thing became clearer than the first time around.

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  43. thanks for reviewing this, and so eloquently. i appreciate having a better idea of what the book's about now.

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  44. Marie, I can only hope to contribute to an idea of what the book is about. It's so vast, so broad in its scope, that I can only speak of the love relationship here. I've completely left out other characters and Air Chrsyalis' and such things. That, you'll have to find out for yourself. :)

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  45. I can't wait to read this one! I love Murakami's style of writing and I read the first chapter of this book last week at B&N, it was just intriguing!

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  46. I want to read this book but must confess that it intimidates me. I've never read any Murakami and am afraid I will get lost and not know what is going on! Your review makes me believe that I can do it!

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  47. I'm glad you enjoyed it as not everyone has so far. I'm in the good, but not amazing category - the only trouble is that this needs a reread to make things clear, and I'm not sure I can fit in a 900+page reread ;)

    I've finished with my three tongue-in-cheek posts, but I'll probably revisit the book in a more serious manner next year...

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