In his native Japan, Haruki Murakami is a bit of a literary juggernaut. In addition to publishing twelve novels, he has written numerous short stories, composed a memoir and even translated English classics into his native language. His books have also been well-received all over the world, earning a variety of awards and being translated into many languages, including English. His most recent significant work, fastidiously translated into English by Murakami’s frequent collaborator Philip Gabriel, as well as Harvard professor Jay Rubin, is the critically acclaimed “1Q84.”
Though the title is an obvious homage to George Orwell’s “1984,” the plot is entirely unique, though it does occur during that year. It mostly comes from the alternating point of view of two characters: Tengo Kawana, a mathematics teacher, and Masami Aomame, a personal trainer. However, both are much more than they initially appear: Tengo is a talented—though unpublished–writer, while Aomame is an assassin.
But the book proves to involve far more than merely the daily career activities of one man and one woman. In fact, it begins with a taxi driver providing Aomame with a vague warning about being skeptical of her surroundings. After this, she begins to observe slight idiosyncrasies around her, which hints at the existence of alternate realities. She also juggles with the memories of a strange childhood, the suicide of an extremely close friend, and how she came to have her illicit side job.
Meanwhile, Tengo becomes involved in a major scheme in the literary field. One of his best friends is an editor for a top publishing agency, and he recognizes Tengo’s technical writing skills. He recently received an enthralling submission, as far as its plot goes, but its author, Fuka-Eri, is a charismatic high school student with dyslexia who had simply dictated it to a friend. The editor encourages Tengo to serve as a ghost writer, but also let the rewritten novel serve as an entry for a national writing contest, with the hopes of shocking the nation with the image of a unique young writer. During the process, Tengo acquaints himself with Fuka-Eri, and learns of her background as the child of a man who had attempted to start a utopian society: a society which still exists in a corrupt form.
As the novel progresses, as one would expect, these illegal activities do not go unnoticed, and everyone’s lives become intertwined in a topsy-turvy world.
Murakami’s novels, though they are distinctive enough in plot, are marked by a few similar traits: frequent references to classical music, a touch of the surreal, and a constant sense of estrangement from society. In the past, this predictable mixture has worked well for Murakami, as his works were fast-paced enough. However, the United States version of “IQ84” consists of over nine hundred pages, and it can be a bit plodding at times. In Japan, it was published in three parts over a two-year period, and it may be best to read the book in such a manner. Or, if this is one’s first exposure to Murakami, it may be best to start with another of his popular books, such as “Kafka on the Shore” or “Sputnik Sweetheart.”
“1Q84” is available at bookstores everywhere, as well as through PASCAL and the Florence County Library System.