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Book Review: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

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1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is a fic­tional novel which takes place between two worlds. The book was orig­i­nally writ­ten in Japan­ese and became a best seller almost immediately.

Aomame, a young assas­sin on her way to prac­tice her pro­fes­sion, steps out of a taxi cap and started notic­ing small but sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in the world around her. Aomame real­izes that she has entered a par­al­lel uni­verse which she calls 1Q84.

At the same time Tengo, an aspir­ing author, takes on a ghost­writ­ing project and becomes so wrapped up with the work and its author when he starts notic­ing that his world has become unraveled.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is not a com­plex novel, but it is long. The book asks an impor­tant ques­tion “what is reality?”

I’ve worked with many mar­ket­ing peo­ple over the years, the one impor­tant les­son they have taught me is the “per­cep­tion is every­thing, real­ity is noth­ing.” At first, my struc­tured mind that sees the world in 0s and 1s couldn’t com­pre­hend what they were say­ing. How­ever, with a lit­tle bit of con­tem­pla­tion I came to real­ize that they were right.

After all, we live in a fake world. The news we watch are fake; the food we eat is fake (that’s why many immi­grants have their own food stores); the promises made to us by our lead­ers and cap­tains of indus­try are hol­low and bro­ken almost with­out delay.

Mr. Murakami starts off the novel with lines from song “It’s Only a Paper Moon” writ­ten by E. Y. Har­burg and Billy Rose (check out Ella Fitzgerald’s won­der­ful adap­ta­tion), an appro­pri­ate selec­tion which sets up the novel and is even more mean­ing­ful at the end:

“It’s a Bar­num and Bai­ley world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me.”

Murakami points out that one’s per­spec­tive often deter­mines what real­ity is for them, whether or not it is real­ity for oth­ers -– I think he’s right. The author points out that the year 1984 no longer exists; it is not a par­al­lel uni­verse or or another world:

“For you and for me, the only time that exists any­more is this year of 1Q84.”

The novel inter­twines two nar­ra­tives: Aomame, whois a full-time trainer/ part-time assas­sin, and Tengo, a math teacher and nov­el­ist. Aomame and Tengo, whose sto­ries even­tu­ally join, see the world in a par­al­lel uni­verse, each one with its own minor dif­fer­ences (police uni­forms, for exam­ple), but they con­tinue to live with those who are in their own world.

The small dis­tinc­tions make all the dif­fer­ence to Aomame and Tengo in pur­su­ing their mean­ing and their per­sonal quests.

How­ever, the real strength of the book is the epic struc­ture in which it is writ­ten in and the ref­er­ences to lit­er­a­ture, world­wide and Japan­ese, and his­tor­i­cal events which I found amus­ing. I only wish the trans­la­tors (Jay Rubin & Philip Gabriel, who did an excel­lent job by the way) would have been kind enough to put in some foot­notes about the cul­tural aspects of the book to put it in per­spec­tive to those who are not up to date on cul­tural details as Mr. Murakami is.

But that is my com­plaint on most trans­lated books.

The won­der­ful thing about 1Q84 is that it is clear that Murakami is hav­ing fun with his com­ments on clas­si­cal authors and narrative:

“Accord­ing to Chekhov … once a gun appears in a story, it has to be fired.”

And refutes him­self a few hun­dred pages down the storyline.

“That’s fine.… Noth­ing could be bet­ter than not fir­ing it.”

At its heart, 1Q84 is actually quite a traditional tale, a boy meets girl story in which love triumphs over all. The book is a tad too long; the plot is a bit too convenient at times and not as tight as it could be, but that’s not a sin and worst things could happen to you than reading a few extra pages written by Murakami. However, 1Q84 has managed to reframe the world –- and isn’t that what literature is all about?

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