What if your world changed ever so slightly but affected every aspect of your life? In Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84, Tokyo shifts a couple of degrees but several characters lived are upheaved as they deal with the consequences while everyone else has no idea that the world has changed.
The story is told by two main characters, and towards the end a third. Each chapter alternates from Tengo, a math tutor and an aspiring writer, and Aomame, a personal trainer. The novel is split into three parts and in the final part, the third character that shares his perspective is Ushikawa, a private detective tasked with finding Aomame. The year is 1984 and as the year progress, their two stories become more entwined. Unknowingly, they both take on the mysterious cult Sakigake by their own means and abilities, banding together in the end to try to return to the world of 1984 that they knew before the turn of events.
Having only read one other book by Murakami, The wind-up bird chronicle, it is hard to say if this is like other works of his. 1Q84 was an easier read, many times mystery or adventure carried the story along at a quick pace. Murakami’s charm in describing situations and people in concise and powerful images pervades this novel too, however, it felt like it was written with a more mainstream audience in mind than Wind-up. In addition, sex and sexual relationships play major roles in this novel, which is very different from his other novel. While it is a lengthy, almost 1000-page book, it feels much shorter as the pages turn enjoyably with great ease and delight. Perhaps wonder and curiosity are better descriptors, as the parallel world that Tengo and Aomame find themselves in is full of the unexplained and sometimes unbelievable despite the reality of the situation.
Even though this is a translated work, it’s not something that I thought about (other than wanting to hone my Japanese to read Murakami’s work in his native language at some point). A story is a story, even if it’s translated. However, due to the press and attention that this novel received, paired with the fact that Murakami is becoming ever-more well-know as an author, there’s an interesting article about the translation process. Peter Gabriel and Jay Rubin both translated the novel, with Rubin doing the first two books and Gabriel the third. To me, it read as a coherent translation by one person so they did a great job maintaining style throughout.
Not only did Murakami craft yet another intricately plotted novel with compelling characters, the design of the English translation is stunning. The dust jacket has cut-outs of 1, Q, 8 and 4 so that you can see the photos beneath of a woman on the front and a man on the back cover. The spine has 1 and 8 printed on the jacket while Q and 4 are on the book spine, giving depth and illusion to it. There are also black and white moon and cloud photos printed in the inner front and back cover as well as headers for the three book sections. Most odd/charming of all is the fun his has with page numbers. On one side, they will be printed backwards (reverse) and on the facing page they are normally. Then occasionally the sides swap and then change back, alternating as well throughout the novel. Again, the physical book carries added experiences that an ebook cannot fully capture. Since I went on vacation while reading this book, I checked out the ebook from the public library but as soon as I got home, I switched back to my physical copy to finish it.
Recommended?: Yes, for anyone interested in Murakami but doesn’t know what to read of his first. Granted, this is certainly an adult novel, with many sexual scenes. The story and the mystery in the parallel world are hallmarks found in Wind-up as well so if you like this one, you will enjoy that one too if you are up for the challenge. And for those who try 1Q84 and find it’s not for them, then you can at least say that you read a Murakami novel.