1Q84. Haruki Murakami.

Murakami, Haruki. 1Q84. Knopf New York 2011. F; 2/12.

Another book in translation, and what a fascinating follow-up to my reading of his short stories (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.).

The protagonists are a couple, starting as nerdy ten-year-olds in school. He defends her in a social crisis, bless his heart. Later, she comes to him after school, grabs his hand, and holds it. This would more than hook me thanks, but Murakami has another agenda. There’s a different world: “1Q84″ that the girl walks into (possibly grace a Janacek’s “Sinfonietta” playing on the radio in a taxi) from the real world of 1984, and almost the whole plot takes place in 1Q84. What is that world? is the central question here.

Well, it’s a religious vision world, and it’s also a literary imaginative world. A high-performance 60s academic gets involved in a religious cult, has a daughter (the story’s sexiest female although pretty ethereal) who, at age 17, writes the central book-within-a-book. Our hero, the one who defended the (other) girl in grade 5, rewrites the book to make it a bestseller, but the female lead (“other” girl, also not-bad looking) is employed by a rich avenger-of-rapes to murder the teenage girl’s father, leader of the cult, who (it appears) has horribly diddled 10-year-old girls, probably including his own daughter. The overarching plot element is the main couple trying to reconnect with one another having gone their separate ways in late childhood.

But what is the other world? It might be an imaginary world that a writer creates, but based on my reading of his short stories, I take Murakami to be working off his epigraph:

It’s a Barnum & Bailey world,

Just as phony as it can be,

but it wouldn’t be make-believe,

If you believed in me

…lyrics of the 1929 popular song. We know Murakami is a jazz fan. The song also includes “It’s only a paper moon”. By this reading the alternate world relies on belief in somebody. The two moons that exist in 1Q84 are so much paper, and the protagonists can only get out of 1Q84 reality where they are trying to find one another, if they don’t believe in it. The real world they would like to get back to only has currency if you believe, in it and (we’d expect) in each other.

Belief usually entails emotion, and there has to be a payoff of that kind, and a motivator for choosing the “real” world. This ends up being her baby (the main female protagonist’s) which he fathered during a thunderstorm via a spectacular session in bed with the sexy 17-year-old (how many times are we told how beautiful her breasts are?), which was however oddly and carefully devoid of much sexual voltage. So it turns out we have to believe, and so do they, in 1Q84 for the baby’s sake. She got pregnant from him magically at a distance while they were both in the alternate, phony, make-believe world with two moons. Bottom line: you can only avoid living only in a paper-moon make-believe world if you believe in both 1Q84 and 1984. At the risk of making a lesson out of something beautiful, you only get to live if you live in both worlds, but contrary to usual aesthetic ideology, it’s the aesthetic world that is the empty one without love, and the real world that matters. That baby, the little one, is going to be quite some individual. But only if Mum and Dad find, believe in, one another.

A word on translation again. So hard to know how much more compelling this would be if I could somehow track the Japanese symbols. No idea.

I got impatient several times. The book is too long. But Murakami’s metaphysic really appeals to me: the “dreams are made on” reality that involves belief in itself. The placebo effect. And more and different from this, one of his commentators said he has the capacity to bring us into the world of his story. Absolutely. I didn’t find he did it as nicely in this magnum opus as he did in one or two of his short stories. Awkward elephant of a book, but what a wonderful writer. 8.8

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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