I am utterly addicted to the writings of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami which is why I took up the challenge of reading his latest release 1Q84 despite the formidable length and weight of the book. (It’s 925 pages long to be exact and in hard cover is quite a handful). The weight is not very helpful if you are one of those who, like me, are in the habit of reading in bed. I had to alternate my reading position several times during my reading spans cos my hands hurt by holding the book up.
In Japan the books came in three volumes as Book One and Two, both released in 2009. Book Three came a year later. The English translation came, all three in one, to my local book shop last December, and after eyeing it on several separate visits, I finally decided to buy it about two months ago. My initial reluctance to buy it was because I was not sure I would ever finish reading such a big book and as it was only available in hard cover, the price too was steep.
The apprehension caused by the intimidating outer appearance of the book was soon laid to rest once I was just a few paragraphs into the first Chapter. I then knew that getting through the next 30 Chapters would be no problem at all for me. Let me tell you here I am so glad that I got all three books in one because the suspense created after reading the first two would have driven me crazy.
It was only a few years ago that I discovered Murakami’s magic when my sister, upon her return from a visit to Tokyo, came armed with several English translations of books by Japanese authors. Among them was a collection of short stories by Murakami titled “after the quake” and I am not exaggerating when I say, Murakami’s magic began to work on me the moment I started browsing though the book. From then on I was out looking for other books authored by him that may be available locally. And then I discovered “Norwegian Wood” and I was completely hooked. When I bought “Norwegian Wood”, I had no idea that there is almost no one in Japan who has not read the book and that it had become such an overnight sensation upon publication in the Land of the Rising Sun that it made the author flee Japan to Europe to find a safe haven to escape all the adulation. Till then I had also not heard the song “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles, which I subsequently listened to and loved.
“What is it about Murakami’s writings that gets me and so many millions of readers across the world?” is a question that I ask myself from time to time. After all he is a Japanese national and I am pretty sure that most foreigners will agree that despite having so many brands of “Made in Japan” products in our homes, roads and offices, the people and culture seem impenetrable. But again, so many human emotions and, situations are common to all and Murakami’s writings cuts across whatever barriers there are to transport us into his world and make us part of it. His writings are heart rendering, out of the ordinary ( for e.g. talking frogs and cats, a parallel universe with two moons), modern, sprinkled with a lot of popular western culture and very sexy. (Who the hell knew that the Japanese can really heat things up behind closed doors despite their frigid exterior?)
What I can tell you about the latest Murakami novel 1Q84 is that it is set in the year 1984 and revolves around two main characters – a girl named Aomame and a guy named Tengo. (Apparently in Japanese, the number 9 is pronounced as Q). They don’t meet as adults till the last few chapters of the book (they studied briefly in primary school together and left without saying much to each other but they are in love) and finally meet in a parallel universe with two moons. In between she kills several men using a very fine ice pick that leaves no tell tale signs a murder has been committed, (the men are all bad), he ghost writes a book by a teenage girl suffering from dyslexia which become a sensation overnight and causes him many problems, she picks up men from singles bars when she wants to have some physical intimacy while he has a regular older married woman as his lover whose Friday morning visits make up for not having a regular girlfriend.
The book opens with Aomame stuck in Tokyo expressway with Czech composer (Leoš) Janáček’s Sinfonietta playing on the taxi radio which is tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Like a majority of readers (I believe, unless you are a classical music buff), I had no idea who Sinfonietta was until I read 1Q84 and then goggled to listen his composition. (Mind you everyone who’s searched for Sinfonietta on Google lately had done so after reading 1Q84 which is another thing about Murakami that fascinates me) He introduces the reader to so many unknown facts that it awakens my curiosity and makes me want to find out more. And thanks to the internet I am now able to do it very quickly).
1Q84 has been introduced as an ode to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four but I didn’t find any similarity in the two books except the fact that the readers get drawn into different worlds from the one we live in while reading both books. (BTW George Orwell is among my favorite writers ).
Just like all of Murakami’s books I’ ve read so far, 1Q84 turned out to be an unputdownable read for me. The brief chapters, the simple language and the suspense just kept me going. Here I need to say that if not for the guys who translated from the Japanese into English, i.e. Jay Rubin (who has translated many of Murakami’s books including Norwegian Wood) and Philip Gabriel ( who translated his book Kafka on the beach and maybe others ) , I would n’t have been able to be part of this great adventure.
All this praise does not mean that I am not left a little disappointed by the time I turn the last page of Murakami’s Magnum Opus. He’s left some important questions unanswered and since closing the book, I am left thinking up my own conclusions to what happened to Tengo’s lover who vanished without an explanation, (even he’s trying to figure that one out), or as to who killed his mother (she died when he was young and there a lot of mystery attached to it as well). But then again no writer can answer all the readers’ questions and leaving the suspense hanging in the air after one has turned the last page is a great place to start a discussion on a book as book lovers will agree.