by Haruki Murakami
Paperback (22 Jan 2013), 1184 pages.
The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.
A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver's enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 - "Q is for 'question mark.' A world that bears a question." Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
As Aomame's and Tengo's narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.
A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell's - 1Q84 is Haruki Murakami's most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
DON'T LET APPEARANCES FOOL YOU
The taxi's radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janaìcek's Sinfonietta - probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn't seem to be listening very closely, either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music.
How many people could recognize Janaìcek's Sinfonietta after hearing just the first few bars? Probably somewhere between "very few" and "almost none." But for some reason, Aomame was one of the few who could.
Janaìcek composed his little symphony in 1926. He originally wrote the opening as a fanfare for a gymnastics festival. Aomame imagined 1926 Czechoslovakia: The First World War had ended, and the country was freed from the long rule of the Hapsburg Dynasty. As they enjoyed the peaceful respite visiting central Europe, people drank Pilsner beer in cafeìs and manufactured handsome light machine guns. Two years earlier, in utter obscurity, Franz Kafka had left the world behind. Soon Hitler would come out of nowhere and gobble up this beautiful little country in the blink of an eye, but at the time no one knew what hardships lay in store for them. This may be the most important proposition revealed by history: "At the time, no one knew what was coming." Listening to Janaìcek's music, Aomame imagined the carefree winds sweeping across the plains of Bohemia and thought about the vicissitudes of history.
In 1926 Japan's Taisho Emperor died, and the era name was changed to Showa. It was the beginning of a terrible, dark time in this country, too. The short interlude of modernism and democracy was ending, giving way to fascism.
Aomame loved history as much as she loved sports. She rarely read fiction, but history books could keep her occupied for hours. What she liked about history was the way all its facts were linked with particular dates and places. She did not find it especially difficult to remember historical dates. Even if she did not learn them by rote memorization, once she grasped the relationship of an event to its time and to the events preceding and following it, the date would come to her automatically. In both middle school and high school, she had always gotten the top grade on history exams. It puzzled her to hear someone say he had trouble learning dates. How could something so simple be a problem for anyone?
"Aomame" was her real name. Her grandfather on her father's side came from some little mountain town or village in Fukushima Prefecture, where there were supposedly a number of people who bore the name, written with exactly the same characters as the word for "green peas" and pronounced with the same four syllables, "Ah-oh-mah-meh." She had never been to the place, however. Her father had cut his ties with his family before her birth, just as her mother had done with her own family, so she had never met any of her grandparents. She didn't travel much, but on those rare occasions when she stayed in an unfamiliar city or town, she would always open the hotel's phone book to see if there were any Aomames in the area. She had never found a single one, and whenever she tried and failed, she felt like a lonely castaway on the open sea.
Telling people her name was always a bother. As soon as the name left her lips, the other person looked puzzled or confused.
"Yes. Just like 'green peas.'"
Employers required her to have business cards printed, which only made things worse. People would stare at the card as if she had thrust a letter at them bearing bad news. When she announced her name on the telephone, she would often hear suppressed laughter. In waiting rooms at the doctor's or at public offices, people would look up at the sound of her name, curious to see what someone called "Green Peas" could look like.
Excerpted from 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Copyright © 2011 by Haruki Murakami. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- 1Q84 is a vast and intricate novel. What are the pleasures of reading such a long work, of staying with the same characters over such a long period of time?
- Murakami has said he is a fan of the mystery writer Elmore Leonard. What elements of the mystery genre does 1Q84 employ? How does Murakami keep readers guessing about what will happen next? What are some of the book's most surprising moments?
- Why would Murakami choose to set his story in 1984, the year that would serve as the title for George Orwell's famous novel about the dangers of Big Brother?
- The taxi driver in Chapter 1 warns Aomame that things are not what they seem, but he also tells her: "Don't let appearances fool you. There's always only one reality" (p. 9). Does this statement hold true throughout the novel? Is there only one reality, despite what appears to be a second reality that Aomame and Tengo enter?
- Aomame tells Ayumi: "We think we're choosing things for ourselves, but in fact we may not be choosing anything. It could be that everything's decided in advance and we pretend we're making choices. Free will may be an illusion" (p. 192). Do the events in the novel seem fated or do the characters have free will?
- When Tamaru bids goodbye to Aomame, he says: "If you do go somewhere far away and I never see you again, I know I'll feel a little sad. You're a rare sort of character, a type I've seldom come across before" (p. 885). What type of person is Aomame? What qualities make her extraordinary?
- The dowager insists, and Aomame agrees, that the killing they do is completely justified, that the men whom they kill deserve to die, that the legal system can't touch them, and that more women will be victims if these men aren't stopped. Is it true that Aomame and the dowager have done nothing wrong? Or are they simply rationalizing their anger and the desire for vengeance that arises from their own personal histories?
- Tengo realizes that rewriting Air Chrysalis is highly unethical and that Komatsu is asking him to participate in a scam that will very likely cause them both a great deal of trouble. Why does he agree to do it?
- How does rewriting Air Chrysalis change Tengo as a writer? How does it affect the course of his life?
- How do the events that occur on the night of the huge thunderstorm alter the fates of Aomame, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and the dowager? Why do Aomame and the dowager let go of their anger after the storm?
- At first, Ushikawa is a creepy, totally unlikable character. How does Murakami make him more sympathetic as the novel progresses? How do you respond to his death?
- Near the end of the novel, Aomame declares: "From now on, things will be different. Nobody else's will is going to control me anymore. From now on, I'm going to do things based on one principle alone: my own will" (p. 885). How does Aomame arrive at such a firm resolve? In what ways is the novel about overcoming the feeling of powerlessness that at various times paralyzes Aomame, Ayumi, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and all the women who are abused by their husbands? What enables Aomame to come into her own power?
- What does the novel as a whole seem to say about fringe religious groups? How does growing up in the Society of Witnesses affect Aomame? How does growing up in Sakigake cult affect Fuka-Eri? Does Leader appear to be a true spiritual master?
- What is the appeal of the fantastic elements in the novel - the little people, maza and dohta, the air chrysalis, two moons in the sky, alternate worlds, etc.? What do they add to the story? In what ways does the novel question the nature of reality and the boundaries between what is possible and not possible?
- What makes the love story of Tengo and Aomame so compelling? What obstacles must they overcome to be together? Why was the moment when Aomame grasped Tengo's hand in grade school so significant?
- In what ways does 1Q84 question and complicate conventional ideas of authorship? How does it blur the line between fictional reality and ordinary reality?
- References to the song "Paper Moon" appear several times in the novel. How do those lyrics relate to 1Q84?
- What role does belief play in the novel? Why does Murakami end the book with the image of Tengo and Aomame gazing at the moon until it becomes "nothing more than a gray paper moon, hanging in the sky" (p. 925)?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
1Q84 opens with the heroine stuck in a taxi on an expressway, halted by a traffic jam. To get to an important appointment, she follows the driver's suggestion and leaves the cab to reach a nearby subway station on foot. As she exits, he tells her, "...[Y]ou're about to do something out of the ordinary... and after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little... But don't let appearances fool you. There's always only one reality." That ominous sentence is Murakami's way of saying to his readers, "Buckle up! It's going to be a wild ride!" And the book lives up to this promise as readers are led deeper and deeper into the world of 1Q84, where "the boundary between the real world and the imaginary one has grown obscure."
I've been asked by many, "What's 1Q84 about?" Unfortunately it's nearly impossible to answer that question, and any attempt to do so would only introduce plot spoilers. The book's title might lead one to believe it has some basis in Orwell's novel 1984, but there's almost no parallel and Murakami makes no attempt to establish one. I've heard 1Q84 referred to as "dystopian," but I would disagree with that assessment. There's really not much difference on the surface between the world of 1Q84 and 1984 Japan, and 1Q84 is no more or less pleasant of a place in which to live. 1Q84 is pure Murakami, and as such, defies easy categorization. The story is completely fresh and original and nothing short of a remarkable feat of imagination. The author doesn't just introduce plot twists; his scenarios come out of the blue, constantly surprising his readers and making the story utterly unpredictable. That's not to say that these narrative elements are nonsensical or cause confusion, they're just, well, shocking.
In many ways 1Q84 is classic Murakami; the recurring theme of loneliness, his use of Western music and literature as plot devices, the very detailed descriptions and his complex storylines are all incorporated in the novel. His earlier books have been criticized for flat characterization, but I think that he overcomes that limitation here, creating sympathetic characters of some depth in Aomame, Tengo, and others who appear in the narrative.
As with other Murakami novels, 1Q84 will most likely have a limited audience; if you've tried this author before and haven't liked his work, you probably won't like this one either. First, it certainly falls squarely in the magical realism genre, and that in itself is a turn-off for many. This is one book that will frustrate those who want everything to make sense and to be neatly wrapped up by its conclusion; it must be approached with abandon, and readers will need to resign themselves to not overthink it. Consequently, linear thinkers should give this one a pass. But of more concern is the book's pacing. It's very repetitive, and while some of this may be due to its originally being published in three separate volumes, certainly much of it is simply Murakami's style. The minute detail with which he embellishes every scene and action slows the plot considerably, and there are huge sections that just creep along with very little happening, making one feel that it would have been a better 600-page book than one that's over 900 pages. The dialog is also rather stilted and unnatural, although I'm not sure if that's a stylistic choice or a translation issue.
Murakami fans will be absolutely delighted with 1Q84, and I suspect that those readers new to the author who appreciate non-traditional stories and who have the patience to plow through the slow sections will put it at the top of their all-time favorites list. The plot is so unusual, so unlike most of what is currently hitting the shelves that many will ultimately find the novel a joy - and one that will linger in the mind long after the final page is turned.
Reviewed by Kim Kovacs
'Things are not what they seem.' If Murakami's ambitious, sprawling and thoroughly stunning new novel had a tagline, that would be it... Orwellian dystopia, sci-fi, the modern world (terrorism, drugs, apathy, pop novels) - all blend in this dreamlike, strange and wholly unforgettable epic.
Starred Review. 1Q84 goes further than any Murakami novel so far, and perhaps further than any novel before it, toward exposing the delicacy of the membranes that separate love from chance encounters, the kind from the wicked, and reality from what people living in the pent-up modern world dream about when they go to sleep under an alien moon.
The Washington Post
There's no question about the sheer enjoyability of this gigantic novel, both as an eerie thriller and as a moving love story… I read the book in three days and have been thinking about it ever since.
The Japanese Times
Murakami's fiction has grown increasingly relevant to our understanding of the world today, and this time his craft is more refined than ever... This novel - mired in death and fetish, leavened with humor - may become a mandatory read for anyone trying to get to grips with contemporary Japanese culture.
Rated of 5
by SG Griffith
This is a fascinating book, with surprising and original elements that appear more surrealistically than magically. Two main characters walk their paths through these images, while trying to find a place in shifting realities. Like the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by the same author, this is a love story.
One character perceives a cat town, the other 1Q84, a play on Orwell's novel.
Fascism and cultism strive for influence in Murakami's fictional Japan. Yukio Mishima must be in the author's mind, and his novels or the excellent film about his life would be worth investigation (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters).
Violence against women is a theme here as well, with women taking charge, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
This book is very long, and there is a great deal of repetition, which increases toward the end. I have read that in Japan, where it was originally published, the novel came out in two parts originally. Then a third and final section was added. It may be that the rhythm was broken at that point, but you should read it for yourself and decide.
Most of Haruki Murakami's novels reference Western music, and 1Q84 is no exception. Czech composer Leo Janáček's symphonic poem Sinfonietta features prominently throughout.
Leo Janáček (1854-1928) was born in Hukvaldy, Moravia, in what was once known as the Austrian Empire. He is considered one of the early Czech nationalist composers, following in the footsteps of Bedřich Smetana and Antonin Dvořák (with whom he was close friends).
Most of his work has its roots in Slavic folk music, although his style is celebrated as highly original. His first compositions were choral, and he is known primarily for his vocal works, including nine operas. Jenůfa (1904), his most celebrated opus, is often referred to as the "Moravian national opera."
Although he produced significant works in his 20s, Janáček's music wasn't accepted by the critics (or the public) until he was in his 50s, when performances of Jenůfa spotlighted his talent. Sinfonietta - perhaps the best known and most popular of Janáček's works - was completed in 1926, when he was 72. Originally composed as a series of brass and percussion fanfares for a gymnastics festival in early 1926, it was later expanded into a fully-orchestrated work in five movements. The piece is dedicated to the Czechoslovak Armed Forces, and Janáček often referred to it as a "military Sinfonietta," symbolizing "contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his courage, strength and determination to fight for victory."
The work is brass-heavy, requiring fourteen trumpets (most professional orchestras only have four trumpet players on full salary at any one time), four trombones, and three tubas - plus a lot of percussion - and it's considered a very complex and difficult piece to perform. Its five movements (Fanfares, The Castle, The Queen's Monastery, The Street, and Town Hall) refer to the recently liberated city of Brno, Janáčeks adopted home town, and the mood of the piece is predominantly celebratory.
Sinfonietta was very popular from the onset and it rapidly gained widespread acclaim. It was performed in New York, Berlin, and Brno in 1927 before premiering in London, Vienna, and Dresden in 1928, the year of Janáček's death.
Click on the video below to hear the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra perform the 1st and 2nd movements of Janáček's Sinfonietta, or visit www.leosjanacek.co.uk to learn more about this fascinating composer's life.
By Kim Kovacs