Translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
Published by Vintage
Prepare to walk into Haruki Murakami’s strange world. You can slip through the thin barrier between this world and an alternate one simply by taking an emergency exit off a highway or ghost-writing a particular book.
Things are just a bit off in this alternate world. For example, old newspapers carry reports of events that never took place in the real world. Not to mention the fact that there are two moons in the sky, the one we know and a smaller green one beside it.
1Q84 is a story about power, abuse, loneliness, and much more. But at its heart, it is a love story.
Tengo is a maths teacher in a cram school and a budding writer. He is contacted by Komatsu, an editor at a publishing house. Komatsu is excited about Air Chrysalis, a novel written by a 17-year-old woman, Fuka-Eri, that has been submitted for a young writer’s prize. The plot of the book is unlike anything Komatsu has seen, but the writing needs to be improved. He talks Tengo into rewriting the book with the agreement of Fuka-Eri. Komatsu then plans to replace the original manuscript with the rewritten one. Tengo thinks the venture is risky and the ethics dubious. But once he reads the book and meets Fuka-Eri, he is intrigued and agrees to do it.
Aomame is a physical instructor. On her way to an important appointment, her taxi is stuck in a traffic jam on the highway. The driver suggests that if she is to make her appointment she should get out of the taxi and take the emergency exit, which is a stairway leading down into the town. But, he tells her, she is about to do something out of the ordinary. “And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before.”
Ghost-writing the book and taking the emergency exit open portals to an alternate world, where the fantastical things that are described in Air Chrysalis are real. Something that had been in the shadows is brought out in the open by the publication and sky-rocketing sales of Air Chrysalis, and there are people who are not happy about this.
I won’t go into details, but the plot involves a rich dowager who punishes abusive men; Sakigake, which started out as a group of organic farmers that then morphed into a powerful religious sect with a mysterious Leader at its head; and strange little beings that come out of people’s mouths when they’re asleep or dead and wield a lot of power.
Then there is the love story between Aomame and Tengo, who had fallen in love as children but spent their lives away from each other. Is there a possibility they will meet up in the alternate world?
Part of the book’s attraction is that many of the main characters—Aomame, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, Shizue Ogata (the dowager), her bodyguard Tamaru, and Ushikawa, a very smart and spectacularly ugly detective hired by Sakigake—are misfits, which makes them interesting and gives them unique perspectives on the world.
I loved this book. At over 1300 pages, it is as immersive as you could possibly want. 1Q84 is actually three books, with some editions publishing them together as one.
I couldn’t put the book down and had to tear myself away from it every night. The characters are beautifully drawn with enough nuance and shades of grey to make them interesting. The third-person narrative moves between Aomame and Tengo until the third book, when you also get the story from Ushikawa’s point of view.
So take a deep breath, walk through the portal and lose yourself in this strange and fascinating world. It’s well worth it.