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The new world with a second moon.
am 18. Mai 2014
Haruki Murakami (born 1949) grew up in a Japan that was culturally and politically defined by defeat and emptiness while students viewed the liberalized democratic government as a capitalist puppet of the United States. At the same time right-wing emperor-worship and nationalism were still alive. His works have probably been more influenced by western culture than those of his Japanese fellow writers. He read Beat authors like Jack Kerouac and became a jazz enthusiast, he also translated works of Raymond Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Truman Capote into Japanese. He certainly is an experimentalist, yet he always cultivated an agenda surprisingly close to the mainstream. That situation has influenced most of his bizarre creations and 1Q84 developed into a postmodernist and multifaceted combination of fantasy worlds, dystopias, alternate realities and even genre clichés.
The narrative famously begins with an attractive female protagonist, Aomame, on the way to a rendez-vous with a man, but her taxi is hopelessly trapped in a traffic jam. Nervous about being late she leaves the cab, walks down the freeway, takes off her high-heels, hitches up her miniskirt, steps over a guardrail and uses an emergency roadside stairway to reach a subway station where she becomes aware that she has left the Tokyo of 1984 and any experienced reader of Murakami's novels knows that from here on, she has cooked her goose. Soon enough she recognizes that she is about to enter a different world. She calls the new world 1Q84, "a world that bears a question." (Apparently "Q" is a homophone of the Japanese word for "nine.") Aomame is in a hurry because she is hired to kill the man she is about to meet, her preferred weapon being a kind of homemade stiletto. After watching her committing a series of murders - turns out she works for a clandestine organization that hunts down particularly abusive men - the reader doesn't feel unsettled at all, au contraire, for no specific reason he is becoming rather too comfortabel with her.
Then there is Tengo, a university entrance-exam math instructor and writer who has difficulties relating to children because he is usually lost in the magic land of literature. The fact that both are ways of escape is not lost on Tengo, but he finds that returning to reality from the world of a novel is not as demoralizing as returning from the world of math. He is a typical Murakami protagonist, with his relatively passive attitude he is often ignored and reminds the reader of a Kafkaesque environment. Tengo who agrees to a shady ghostwriting deal to rewrite the work of Fuka-Eri, a teenage girl who is quite affectless and has a way of speaking that suggests that she may be autistic. She has produced an interesting but unpolished account of life within a closed commune of political idealists and the Little People who repesent a secret religious cult.
Tengo straightens Fuka-Eri's cryptical writing, and it wins prizes and becomes a sensation. Murakami is noticeably patient in revealing the secret connections between Tengo's and Aomame's live and it becomes ever so slowly apparent that Fuka-Eri's story is based in 1Q84, however the author remains stubbornly foggy, as many of the novel's most irritating questions are left unanswered. Again Murakami shows elaborately that in his novels events might be unnatural, but the characters are as human as possible.
Murakami used the vehicle of alternate worlds in previous books such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Sputnik Sweetheart. Except that in 1Q84 there is no guarantee of plotting a course because the universe of this novel consists of ever stranger worlds, like the town of cats that is extraordinarily creepy. Of course, as the title implies, there is the George Orwell angle. But Murakami turns it on its head, even creates a double paradox: the single Big Brother vs. the plural Little People, the dominating and opressing presence of Big Brother vs. the Little People who are visible only to very few, although their murky aspirations also seem to be a form of mind control. There are other cultural references running from Shakespeare to Dostoevsky and Lewis Carroll, there are even citations from Sonny and Cher and Harold Arlen. Although the most important works implied are musical as one has to remember that Murakami ran a jazz bar before becoming a writer.
Murakami can be over-explanatory and enigmatic at the same time and in large parts he is psychologically unconvincing and morally unreliable. One would also expect that the author of a book of this magnitude would somehow tie up loose ends, but Murakami is clearly more interested in this battle between "realism" and "unrealism". If the reader can cover the rather tremendous distance from the beginning to page 1300 (this brick of a book was originally published in 3 volumes), he will discover that 1Q84 is a thrilling read that offers wisdom, humor, sex, weirdness and an entire universe.