book review: ‘1Q84’ by haruki murakami

This was always going to be a biased review. Murakami is one of my literary idols. In the past few years, I’ve read more books by him than by any other author and his work has had a strong influence on my own fiction writing. So I was one of the fans eagerly counting down the days to the November 2011 release of the English translation of 1Q84 in Australia, a book anticipated to be Murakami’s magnum opus.

Happily, critical reception of 1Q84 has largely been positive, with some reviewers pronouncing it a masterpiece. The novel is now on the long list for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, with the short list to be announced on 10 January. (Update: 1Q84 didn’t make the short list, though The Lake, by Murakami’s compatriot Banana Yoshimoto, did.)

Despite the generally positive reception, there have been some common criticisms of 1Q84, including that the novel — at 925 pages long — is repetitive and could have done with more editing. Nathan Heller at Slate points out that obvious things are overexplained and declares that ‘1Q84 reads, paragraph-to-paragraph, as some of Murakami’s weakest writing in years’. Janet Maslin in The New York Times describes some of the eroticism in 1Q84 as being ‘more than a little peculiar’ and derides Murakami for rejecting ‘such petty obligations’ as those which customarily require a writer ‘to explain unanswered questions and tie up loose ends’.

Maslin even goes so far as to say that the novel ‘has even his most ardent fans doing back flips as they try to justify this book’s glaring troubles.’ Similarly, Allen Barra in The Atlantic says that ‘[o]ne gets the feeling that critics who until recently were Murakami’s cheerleaders are now, with 1Q84, becoming apologists.’

I don’t think anyone is having to engage in apologetic acrobatics to justify the worth of 1Q84.

I say this because the novel isn’t that weak. In fact, it’s a very good book (well, a very good three books) despite the fact that some criticisms of it may well be true.

It’s probably true, for instance, that the novel is too long. It’s certainly true that Murakami writes in a peculiar manner about sex and that he doesn’t mind leaving a few loose ends here and there. It’s also certainly the case that the plot moves slowly. As my friend Alexander Doenau observed on finishing 1Q84, there’s a lot of navel-gazing going on in various apartments. In addition to the navel-gazing, Murakami often repeats information, which tends to slow down the pace. The repetition is partly a product of the alternating parallel narrative structure, which creates situations where information discovered early on by one character then dawns on another character in another narrative later down the track.

Despite all of this, 1Q84 is still an addictive read in the usual Murakami fashion. Like all of his short stories and novels, it’s a page-turner, though not in the fast-paced sense that some would expect of a story that features violence, murder, a malevolent cult and a mysterious alternate reality. The focus of 1Q84 — as always in Murakami’s work — is on the interior lives of his characters and how those characters gradually come to understand, and negotiate their way around, the external (and often supernatural) forces acting on them.

Whether or not 1Q84 lives up its to hype as Murakami’s greatest novel is debatable and I certainly don’t see myself as being in a position to make a declaration either way, given that I haven’t read all of Murakami’s work, I am no literary scholar and I lack a deep level of insight into the society about which Murakami writes.

What I can say is that, while I very much enjoyed 1Q84, my favourite Murakami novel remains The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It remains my favourite mostly for sentimental reasons, having served as my introduction to Murakami’s writing and to his unique brand of magical realism — filled with talking cats, alternate realities and loner male protagonists. It was Wind-Up Bird that first unlocked for me a different way of seeing and writing about the world I live in. So for those who haven’t read any Murakami before and want to get a sense of his body of work before tackling 1Q84, the best introduction, in my opinion (though keep in mind that I haven’t yet read everything Murakami has written), would be through The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

In my view, every new work from Murakami is a gift. 1Q84 is a novel that explores the sort of world that only Murakami can write and, if he takes 925 pages to write about it, then so be it.

If you were looking for a quick, painless verdict on 1Q84, that was mine. I do, however, have much more to say about the novel that may be of interest to Murakami buffs.

In the following commentary, I write about 1Q84‘s American translators, provide a cursory overview of the plot of 1Q84 and make a few observations about the novel and its stylistic quirks in the context of Murakami’s life and body of work. In the course of doing so, I discuss the parallels between 1Q84 and Underground, Murakami’s non-fiction examination of the 1995 sarin gas attacks in Tokyo, which were perpetrated by the Aum Shinrikyō cult. I also provide some final remarks concerning the extent to which 1Q84 can be considered a political novel in the same vein as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

* Spoiler alert: The following commentary reveals some of the novel’s major plot points and, while it doesn’t describe the exact ending of 1Q84, it comes close to it.*

Chip Kidd

Let’s begin in my favourite way by going on a tangent. I’m a design buff and can’t pass up the opportunity to show you Chip Kidd talking about his cover design for the US edition of 1Q84, which is ingenious though maybe not as mysterious as the Australian/U.K. cover.

Three books, two translators

1Q84 consists of three books. Book 1 spans April to June of the year 1984/1Q84, Book 2 spans July to September and Book 3 covers October to December.
Rubin, who is Takashima Research Professor of Japanese Humanities at Harvard, translated the first two books of 1Q84. Besides being a major translator of Murakami’s work, Rubin has also written a literary biography of Murakami entitled Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words,[1] on which I rely extensively in this commentary.The English language edition of 1Q84 was translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, who are two of the three translators of Murakami’s major works into English (the other being Alfred Birnbaum).

Gabriel, a professor of modern Japanese literature and head of East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona, was responsible for translating the third book of 1Q84. His interview with The Atlantic about the translation of the novel into English is available here.

The kind assassin: a plot

1Q84 centres on two characters, Aomame and Tengo. For most of the novel, the chapters alternate between their stories, which —unusually for Murakami— are narrated in the third person.

The novel opens in 1984, with 30-year-old Aomame sitting in a cab in a traffic jam on Metropolitan Expressway Number 3 in Tokyo. Janáček’s Sinfonietta is playing on the radio. Aomame is on her way to an important meeting in Shibuya, which she’ll probably miss if she continues to sit in traffic. The cab driver suggests that she could take the subway instead but, to get to the station, she would first have to climb down an emergency stairway leading from the turnout to street level. Aomame follows his advice.

As it turns out, her important meeting involves the assassination of a man in a Shibuya hotel. Although Aomame’s main job is as a fitness instructor, she moonlights as an assassin, hired by a wealthy old lady (“the dowager”) to kill men who have a history of violence against women.

Unbeknownst to Aomame, her decision to climb down the emergency stairwell has brought her into an alternate reality. She begins to notice inexplicable changes in the world around her, such as sudden alterations in the uniforms and standard-issue firearms of the police force. Another strange development is that the US and Soviet Union are cooperating on a project to construct a permanent observation post on the moon. Of even more concern to Aomame is that new historical events appear in the newspaper archives, including a shootout in 1981 between police and a radical group called Akebono.

Aomame, deciding that she must have passed into an alternate reality, calls this new reality 1Q84. ‘Q is for “question mark”’, she says. ‘A world that bears a question.’[2] (As an aside, the title of the novel also incorporates a pun because, in Japanese, the number 9 is pronounced like the letter Q.)

In this alternate reality, a second moon, small and green, appears in the sky. And, in this new world, Aomame discovers that her next mission is to assassinate the leader of the Sakigake cult, which spawned the radical Akebono group. The head of Sakigake, known as ‘Leader’, has come to the dowager’s attention for the rape of a child.

Meanwhile, Tengo, a budding novelist who supports himself financially by teaching maths at a cram school, is having issues of his own. He is struggling to contain a dizzy spell, brought on by a memory from early childhood that suggests his ailing father is not his biological father. He is also  in the middle of an uncomfortable meeting with Komatsu, an editor Tengo first met when short-listed for the new writers’ prize competition of Komatsu’s magazine.

Komatsu has an unethical proposition for Tengo to consider. One of the entrants for the 1984 new writers’ prize is Fuka-Eri, the author of a novella called Air Chrysalis, which is set in a world where there are two moons in the sky. The protagonist, a young girl, lives in a commune where she encounters a mysterious set of “Little People”. Although the novella is badly written, Komatsu recognises its great power and believes that, if Tengo secretly rewrites it, Fuka-Eri has a good chance at winning the prestigious Akutagawa Prize.

Despite his reservations, Tengo agrees to do the rewrite. He meets Fuka-Eri in person, discovering that she is a beautiful, strange and dyslexic teenage girl. He also discovers that Fuka-Eri is the daughter of Sakigake’s ‘Leader’ and that her life experience in the Sakigake commune has some interesting similarities with the material in her novella.

As the parallel narratives draw closer together, it becomes apparent that Tengo and Aomame have become deeply entangled with a cult that is connected with much more dangerous and supernatural influences than both characters first expected.

Green pea soup

Murakami uses the colour green as a recurring visual element throughout the novel, adding to the otherworldly feel of the narrative and perhaps suggesting that the green second moon of 1Q84 is casting its light far and wide throughout the alternate reality.

Photo: donD73 (Flickr).

Aomame’s name, for instance, means “green peas”. In the scene by the expressway where she descends into the new world, she’s wearing ‘a beige spring coat over her green light wool Junko Shimada suit’ and sunglasses with ‘dark green lenses’.[3] Before assassinating the man in the Shibuya hotel, Aomame pretends there’s a spot of bright green paint at the back of the target’s neck, a spot into which she proceeds to drive her miniature, murderous ice pick. At a meeting in a French restaurant between Aomame and the dowager, the dowager wears ‘a beautifully cut dress of unfigured pale green cloth (perhaps a 1960s Givenchy) and a jade necklace’.[4] The soup of the day is ‘green pea soup, as if in honor of Aomame’. Later, a green moss spreads over one character’s tongue. But enough about green…

Let’s talk about sex, baby

As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this review, some critics have accused Murakami of writing about sex very badly. For his efforts in 1Q84, he received a nomination for the 2011 Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award, which David Guterson ultimately won with passages from his fifth novel, Ed King.

I was certainly intrigued by the sheer number of references in 1Q84 to the size and shape of breasts and was also amused whenever Tengo’s girlfriend, Kyoko Yasuda, caressed his testicles or massaged his scrotum during conversation. I didn’t, however, think the writing was bad: Murakami has always had an idiosyncratic style when it comes to sex and genitals, although it’s a style that does seem more pronounced in 1Q84. Yet one clinical appraisal did stand out for me on account of its awkward wording:

Aomame recalled the night before. Her anus still retained a slight feeling of having been penetrated.[5]

But I suppose this would only qualify for a Bad Post-Sex in Fiction award.

I did find one major sex scene in 1Q84 problematic, though for a reason that has nothing to do with the quality of the prose. The scene involves intercourse between Tengo and a prepubescent girl. She has no pubic hair and her vagina is described as “freshly made”.[6] Granted, she’s 17 and, in the end, we discover that it isn’t even “proper” intercourse because she is only acting as a symbolic conduit to the sexual union of others. (If you read the novel, you’ll know what I mean by this.) Also, Tengo is paralysed at the time, powerless to prevent the young girl from mounting him. Despite these mitigating factors, it still does feel a bit like a twisted male fantasy at play: a scenario involving a girl, who hasn’t yet hit puberty but is old enough to be legal, initiating sex with a mature male partner who is blamelessly (except for one crucial organ) paralysed at the time of intercourse.

That aside, I did enjoy some of the writing about sex, including this meditation on erections (although I note that the “perfect erection” Tengo is thinking about relates to his sexual adventure with the prepubescent girl):

What kind of erections have I had since? Tengo wondered. He couldn’t recall. Maybe he hadn’t even had one. Or if he had, it was obviously not very memorable, a subpar hard-on. If his erection had been a movie, it would have been low budget, straight to video. Not an erection even worth discussing. Most likely.

Maybe I’m fated to drift through life with nothing but second-rate erections, he asked himself, or not even second-rate ones? That would be a sad sort of life, like a prolonged twilight. But depending on how you look at it, it might be unavoidable. At least once in his life he had had the perfect erection, and the perfect orgasm. It was like the author of Gone With the Wind. Once you have achieved something so magnificent, you have to be content with it.[7]

It’s safe to say that Murakami has taken literature into new territories with this comparison between the perfect erection and Margaret Mitchell’s career achievements.

The literary marathon

Given that it’s 925 pages long, some readers would consider getting to the end of 1Q84 a feat of their own endurance.

Reading this novel, however, made me think of how remarkable a feat of endurance the book was for its writer. Prior to 1Q84, Murakami had reportedly been talking for decades about working himself up to write what he called a “comprehensive novel” on the scale of The Brothers Karamazov.

Murakami is not just an author but also a marathon runner and his experience in testing the limits of his physical endurance probably informed his approach to 1Q84, a three-year task that would test the limits of his literary abilities.

In his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,[8] Murakami draws comparisons between writing and running. He says that, in every interview, he is asked what is the most important quality a novelist must have. In his view, the three essential qualities in order of importance are talent, focus and endurance.[9] Murakami says that, of the three, focus and endurance ‘can be acquired and sharpened through training’, like ‘jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner’s physique’.[10]

He also compares novel writing to mountaineering. To him, the task of writing a novel is like climbing a steep mountain and struggling up the face of the cliff to the summit.[11] He declares novel writing to be ‘a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor. … You might not move your body around, but there’s grueling, dynamic labor going on inside you.’[12]

The endurance required to complete 1Q84 is particularly impressive in Murakami’s case, in light of his acknowledgement that he is not one of those writers blessed with the inborn talent to write novels freely—writers for whom, ‘[l]ike water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work.’ He goes on to say that:

Occasionally you’ll find someone like that, but, unfortunately, that category wouldn’t include me. I haven’t spotted any springs nearby. I have to pound the rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of creativity. To write a novel I have to drive myself hard physically and use a lot of time and effort. Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another new, deep hole. But as I’ve sustained this kind of life over many years, I’ve become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening a hole in the hard rock and locating a new water vein. So as soon as I notice one water source drying up, I can move on right away to another. If people who rely on a natural spring of talent suddenly find they’ve exhausted their only source, they’re in trouble.[13]

Going down the well, passing through the wall

An enduring theme in Murakami’s work is the exploration of alternate realities or the “other world”. He is preoccupied with subterranean worlds in particular, recognising that ‘wells, underpasses, caves, underground springs and rivers, dark alleys, subways … have always fascinated me and are an important motif in my novels’.[14]

In 1Q84, for example, Aomame enters a different reality by climbing down an emergency stairway. In Rebecca Suter’s book, The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami Haruki between Japan and the United States,[15] Suter identifies a number of entrances to the “other world” in Murakami’s previous work. In A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance, the entrance is provided by a hidden room in the Dolphin Hotel in Sapporo. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the protagonist goes down a dried-up well to pass into another reality. In Kafka on the Shore, the entrance to a different reality is a forest on the island of Shikoku.[16] In Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, the connection between the two worlds is provided by a space inside the brain, through the creation of an alternative circuit of synapses.[17]

Interestingly, Murakami describes fiction writing in ways that are similar to the experience of passing through into another world. He says that:

Stamina and concentration are two sides of the same coin … I sit at my desk and write every day, no matter what, whether I get into it or not, whether it’s painful or enjoyable. I wake up at 4 a.m. and usually keep writing until after noon. I do this day after day, and eventually — it’s the same as running — I get to that spot where I know it’s what I’ve been looking for all along. You need physical strength for something like that … It’s like passing through a wall. You just slip through.[18]

He has also remarked that:

The deepest part of writing fiction involves going to (and coming back from) the other world, which is a place that inevitably overlaps with the image of death. I always experience that feeling when I write a novel. That has not changed for me in the least.[19]

Murakami’s idea of the “other world” seems to represent the subconscious. As he remarked in an interview with Salon in 1997, ‘the subconscious is very important to me as a writer. I don’t read much Jung, but what he writes has some similarity with my writing. To me the subconscious is terra incognita. I don’t want to analyze it, but Jung and those people, psychiatrists, are always analyzing dreams and the significance of everything. I don’t want to do that. I just take it as a whole.’

To me, the unique allure of Murakami’s work stems from this appeal to the subconscious. Aomame’s opinion of Air Chrysalis sums it up well:

Still, Aomame felt she could understand why this novella had gained such a wide readership. Although it was a story about the fantastical experiences of a girl placed in unusual circumstances, it also had something that called forth people’s natural sympathies. It probably aroused some subconscious something, which was why readers were pulled in and kept turning pages.[20]

The crack of bat meeting ball

At Jingu Stadium. Photo: kenleewrites (Flickr).

The story of how Murakami decided to become a novelist is the stuff of modern legend. At the time, he was running a live jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat, which he had established at the end of his college days. He says that he can pinpoint the exact moment when he first thought he could write a novel to around one-thirty in the afternoon of 1 April, 1978. He was at Jingu Stadium watching the Yakult Swallows play in the season opener against the Hiroshima Carp. According to Murakami, ‘the leadoff batter for the Swallows was Dave Hilton, a young American player new to the team. Hilton got a hit down the left field line. The crack of bat meeting ball right on the sweet spot echoed through the stadium. Hilton easily rounded first and pulled up to second. And it was at that exact moment that a thought struck me: You know what? I could try writing a novel.[21]

In the spring of 1978, Murakami entered his first work in a literary magazine’s new writers’ prize competition.[22] By the next spring, he received a phone call from an editor at Gunzo telling him his novel had made the short list. It won the prize and was published in the summer under the title, Hear the Wind Sing. Murakami was 30 years old.[23]

In 1Q84, Tengo’s decision to become a writer has had nothing to do with baseball. The beginnings of his literary career, however, are similar in some respects to Murakami’s early days as a writer. For instance, in 1979, Tengo is shortlisted for (although doesn’t win) the new writers’ prize competition of Komatsu’s magazine. In 1984, when Tengo is 30, his secret rewrite of Air Chrysalis manages to win the prize that Tengo failed to win five years earlier.

The solitary writer

Murakami has featured writers as protagonists before.[24] Tengo’s character also falls into line with Murakami’s tendency to position his male protagonists as anti-heroes, being regular guys in the sense that they are generally of average intelligence and aren’t best known for their looks. Their only irregularity is that, for one reason or another, they are outsiders in Japanese society.

Writing about solitary, “average” male protagonists seems to be a easy fit for Murakami. He doesn’t consider himself to be the brightest person,[25] recalls having average grades at school,[26] likes being alone[27] and believes that his only strength ‘has always been the fact that I work hard and can take a lot physically.’ He declares himself to be ‘more a workhorse than a racehorse.’[28]

In his 1997 Salon interview, Murakami was asked what he likes about his fictional heroes, who don’t conform to the hard-working post-war Japanese ethos. His answer was that:

I myself have been on my own and utterly independent since I graduated. I haven’t belonged to any company or any system. It isn’t easy to live like this in Japan. You are estimated by which company or which system you belong to. That is very important to us. In that sense, I’ve been an outsider all the time. It’s been kind of hard, but I like that way of living. These days, young people are looking for this kind of living style. They don’t trust any company. Ten years ago, Mitsubishi or other big companies were very solid, unshakable. But not anymore. Especially right now. Young people these days don’t trust anything at all. They want to be free. This system, our society, they won’t accept such people. So these people have to be outsiders, if they graduate from school and don’t go to any company. These people are becoming a big group in our society these days. I can understand their feelings very well.

Like a typical Murakami anti-hero, Tengo is an outsider. He may be taller, stronger, perhaps better-looking and more academically successful than a usual Murakami protagonist, however, he is haunted by a difficult childhood and never enjoyed school. Although well-regarded at school for being on the judo team, he didn’t see himself as being on the same wavelength as his teammates. Furthermore, when the novel opens, Tengo doesn’t have a particularly stellar employment record, teaching maths at a cram school and working as an obviously talented but not well-established writer.

Who the hell needs that?

As I mentioned earlier, Komatsu wants Tengo to rewrite Air Chrysalis because he thinks Fuka-Eri’s novella can win the new writers’ prize at his magazine and then have a chance at winning Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize. The novella does win the new writers’ prize and becomes a bestseller, however, because the book is so widely discussed, the selection committee for the Akutagawa Prize doesn’t want to go near it. In the end, failing to win the Akutagawa isn’t too much of a problem in Komatsu’s eyes. The book sells so many copies that Komatsu says of the Akutagawa: ‘”Who the hell needs that?“‘.[29]

Murakami, himself a commercially successful writer, has never won the prize (although he has been nominated for it a number of times). Jay Rubin notes that Murakami did win the 1995 Yomiuri Prize with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, however, prior to that, he ‘tended to be dismissed as a “pop” novelist.’ According to Rubin:

He [Murakami] has never been awarded the Akutagawa Prize …, receipt of which represents a seal of approval from the literary establishment and is the traditional entrée to a successful career. Murakami forged ahead nonetheless, and not winning the Akutagawa Prize has became [sic] something of a point of pride for him.[30]

In light of the above, the mention of the Akutagawa Prize in 1Q84 is possibly a wry joke about how popularity and commercial appeal will automatically reduce one’s chances of receiving recognition from the Japanese literary establishment and how, in the end, one might just have to agree with Komatsu’s attitude that, with phenomenal sales figures, a writer has no need for prizes.

I got you babe

It is partly Murakami’s dislike of elitism that has made his path to acceptance by the Japanese literary establishment a difficult one. This dislike manifests itself in Murakami’s work as an embrace of not just highbrow but also lowbrow references to Western literature, music and pop culture. These references are a marked feature of 1Q84 and of Murakami’s previous work, so much so that, according to Suter, there exists ‘a subgenre of secondary literature on Murakami consisting of lists of references to Western pop culture in Murakami’s texts’.[31]

In 1Q84, pop music gets a good look in, with references to the Rolling Stones and even Sonny and Cher:

“We should be together,” Fuka-Eri said. “Join forces.”

“Sonny and Cher,” Tengo said. “The strongest male/female duo.”

“The strongest what?”

“Never mind. My own little joke.”[32]

The duo even get a mention in the same sentence as Noah’s ark:

The word “pair” made Tengo think of Sonny and Cher, but Sonny and Cher might not be the most appropriate pair to put aboard Noah’s ark to represent humanity. Though they might not be entirely inappropriate, either. There must be some other couple who would be a more appropriate human sample.[33]

Personally, I wouldn’t mind if they got on the ark to represent humanity.

Other indications of Western influence in 1Q84 are wideranging, including references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the actors Faye Dunaway and Steven McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair, Carl Jung, Copernican theory, Stalin’s secret police, Winston Churchill, Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Heineken beer.

All that jazz

Murakami is a big jazz fan. Besides once owning his own jazz club, he has been a dedicated collector of jazz records since the age of 15,[34] having been inspired to begin the collection after hearing Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at a live concert in 1964.[35] As reported by The New York Times in October 2011, Murakami estimates that his collection (which I assume is largely made up of jazz records) numbers around 10,000 but he’s ‘too scared to count’.

Here’s Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers playing When Love is New in 1964:

Although Murakami’s characters are often avid fans of jazz,[36] none of characters in 1Q84 are particular jazz nuts except for Tengo’s girlfriend, whose favourite record is a collection of W.C. Handy blues songs performed by Louis Armstrong, Barney Bigard and Trummy Young.[37] The records she brings over to Tengo’s place feature Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and 1940s Duke Ellington.[38]

Other than that, the only significant reference to jazz in 1Q84 comprises lines from the jazz standard by Billy Rose and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, It’s Only A Paper Moon, which serve as the novel’s opening quote.

It’s a Barnum and Bailey world,

just as phony as it can be,

But it wouldn’t make-believe

if you believed in me

A jazz duo plays the song in the bar that Aomame visits after carrying out the assassination in the Shibuya hotel.[39] Leader uses it to illustrate the point that, if you don’t believe in the world, and there’s no love in it, then everything is phony.[40]

Here’s Nat King Cole singing It’s Only A Paper Moon:

And here’s a live performance of the version I grew up listening to, by Natalie Cole:


1Q84 also contains references to classical music, including to Bach, Rameau, Telemann, Schumann and David Oistrakh’s performance of Sibelius’ violin concerto.

The piece that plays a pivotal role in 1Q84 is Janáček’s Sinfonietta, which punctuates Aomame’s descent into the alternate reality. Tengo later plays a recording of the Sinfonietta on his turntable, specifically a recording of Seiji Ozawa conducting the Chicago Symphony.[41] This is the first movement of the Sinfonietta (not the Ozawa version) staged by the Nederlands Dans Theater:

Jay Gatsby’s library

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Murakami novel without allusions to Western literature and its literary stars. In 1Q84, we read about Macbeth, Dinesen’s Out of Africa, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Tolstoy, Chekhov’s gun and Alice in Wonderland. There’s a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, as well as a couple of good jokes about reading Proust’s notoriously long and difficult In Search of Lost Time.

Murakami giving a lecture at MIT in 2005. Photo: wakarimasita (Flickr).

I always wondered why there are so many Western references, and particularly to Western literature, in the work of Murakami, given that he is a Japanese writer writing in Japanese.

One reason is that Murakami is so familiar with Western culture. He has spent time in the US, having been a visiting lecturer at Princeton and a writer-in-residence at Tufts.

Murakami also grew up reading Western literature. In his early teens he preferred Stendhal, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky over the Japanese classics.[42] While at Kobe High, he began reading hard-boiled detective novelists like Raymond Chandler, then moved on to writers like Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Kurt Vonnegut.[43]

Murakami has since been an important translator of English literature into Japanese. Among the writers whose work he has translated are Fitzgerald, Capote, John Irving and Paul Theroux.[44] Murakami has also translated into Japanese the complete works of Raymond Carver.[45]

Consequently, it is Western writing that has had the biggest impact on Murakami’s style. As he said in a lecture at Berkeley in 1992:

I suspect that there are many of you in the audience who think it strange that I have talked all this time without once mentioning another Japanese writer as an influence on me. It’s true: all the names I’ve mentioned have been either American or British. Many Japanese critics have taken me to task for this aspect of my writing. So have many students and professors of Japanese literature in this country.

The simple fact remains, however, that before I tried writing myself, I used to love to read people like Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut. And among Latin Americans I enjoyed Manuel Puig and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When John Irving and Raymond Carver and Tim O’Brien started publishing their works, I found them enjoyable too. Each of their styles fascinated me, and their stories had something magic about them. To be quite honest, I could not feel that kind of fascination from the contemporary Japanese fiction I also read at that time. I found this puzzling. Why was it not possible to create that magic and that fascination in the Japanese language?

So then I went on to create my own style.[46]

According to Rubin, Japanese literature before Murakami generally referred to Western culture as a symbol of the exotic or of Western decadence.[47] He notes that ‘Murakami has been called the first writer completely at home with the elements of American popular culture that permeate present-day Japan.’[48] Rubin goes on to say that ‘[i]f Murakami’s copious pop references represent anything, it is his entire generation’s rejection of their parents’ culture.’[49]

Perhaps another reason, therefore, for Murakami’s copious Western references is a refusal to conform. Suter asserts that Murakami makes Western references with a casual and ironic attitude,[50] using the references to allow his Japanese characters and readers distance from their own culture, as well as the ability to achieve individuality.[51] She also argues that the references aid Murakami in constructing a multilayered vision of reality,[52] a theme important in his fiction and particularly in 1Q84.

Neither chrysanthemums nor swords

The fact that Murakami’s fiction is infused with allusions to Western history and culture is one reason why his work is so accessible to, and popular with, Western readers.

Another reason for this accessibility, according to Suter, is that Murakami’s American translators tend to “domesticate” foreign elements in his fiction, substituting generic or American equivalents for culturally specific elements, so that they can avoid Murakami sounding “too Japanese” in translation.[53]

Sign at a Melbourne University bookshop in mid-November 2011.

Murakami’s work has in fact become so accessible to Western readers that Suter, whose book The Japanization of Modernity concentrates on the role of Murakami as a cultural mediator between Japan and the United States, asserts that ‘[m]ost American readers of Murakami today are neither specialists in Japanese studies nor particularly interested in Japanese literature: many regard him not as a “Japanese writer” but simply as “a writer”’.[54]

Although Suter is referring to Murakami’s US readership, many Australian readers probably see Murakami in the same way.

Suter also makes the point that Murakami’s work presents a new sort of ‘not-too-Japanese and therefore non-threatening’ Japan to the US,[55] which may also be part of Murakami’s appeal, at least to some American readers. By offering ‘neither chrysanthemums nor swords’,[56] Murakami’s work avoids the two major historical American stereotypes of Japan as a culture of the warrior/samurai and as a culture of exoticism and femininity, epitomised by geisha and cherry blossoms.[57]

Suter notes, however, that Murakami’s work is often the object of a new stereotype, pursuant to which his fiction is seen as completely Westernised — a ‘representative example of the successful modernization of a non-Western country’.[58] On this point, Australian readers might differ in their perception of Murakami’s work. Anecdotally speaking, he has become a cult favourite amongst Generation Y in Australia, who probably tend to identify with the non-conformist elements of his work and possibly see his fiction through the framework of a different contemporary vision of Japan as “exotic” in a strange and mysterious, urban, otherworldly and sometimes futuristic sense.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

The title 1Q84 is the novel’s most prominent literary reference, being a play on the title of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Surprisingly, though, the relationship of 1Q84 with Orwell’s novel appears to be tangential. The Little People are very different from the totalitarian Big Brother, except that there is a sense that the Little People are somehow always watching. The spy Ushikawa also suggests at one point that the collaboration between Tengo and Fuka-Eri in writing Air Chrysalis is close to a “thought crime” in Orwell’s book.[59]

Although Murakami’s title originally suggested to me that 1Q84 would be a homage to Nineteen Eighty-Four, it seems that Murakami’s attitude to Orwell’s novel isn’t one of adulation. According to The New York Times, Murakami did reread Nineteen Eighty-Four while writing 1Q84 but pronounced it boring on the basis that ‘most near-future fictions are boring … It’s always dark and always raining, and people are so unhappy.’ He points out that Nineteen Eighty-Four is near-future fiction while 1Q84 is near-past fiction. According to him, ‘If it’s near past, it’s not boring.’

While I could be misunderstanding what Murakami means by “boring”, I don’t agree that near-past fiction is intrinsically any more interesting than near-future fiction. Nineteen Eighty-Four for me is anything but boring, even if it’s pessimistic and people are unhappy.

Perhaps, though, as a friend of mine suggested to me, the historical year 1984 is more interesting for Murakami as a focal point in the near past precisely because it allows for a look back at what was a golden decade for the country economically and politically—a decade that perhaps many in Japan now see as a symbol of the economic and political heights to which Japan may never again soar.

What Murakami might have found particularly interesting about 1984 as a starting point is that, while the outlook for the future of the country at the time was extremely positive, it was also the year that Shoko Asahara founded the cult Aum Shinrikyō, which was responsible for the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attacks. Setting his novel in the near past (and employing a cult as a key antagonist) may therefore have allowed Murakami to explore a period of time where the disenchantment of a section of individuals with mainstream Japanese society began to express itself in the increasing prominence of cults in Japan and eventually in the radicalised Aum of the 1990s.

If Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was a commentary on Western society and a projection of things to come in the near future, it’s possible to see 1Q84 as a response from the other side of the mirror, reflecting on the troubling rise in the near past of the violent cult as a phenomenon in modern Japan.


Murakami has written about cults before.

In All God’s Children Can Dance, from Murakami’s short story collection after the quake,[60] the protagonist’s mother is a member of a religious sect.[61]

Murakami has also written two non-fiction books concerning the 1995 sarin gas attacks. The first of the two books, Underground, consists of interviews with gas attack survivors and relatives of those who were seriously injured or died in the attacks. The second, The Place That Was Promised: Underground 2, consists of interviews with members and former members of Aum. The books were published together in English in one volume, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche.[62]

The attacks in question occurred on 20 March 1995. Aum cult members, under orders from Asahara, boarded carriages on five subway lines during the morning rush hour. They had wrapped plastic bags of liquid sarin in newspaper, which they dropped on the floor in their respective carriages. The perpetrators were carrying umbrellas with sharpened points, which they used to puncture the bags before leaving the train. According to Rubin, around 5,000 people inhaled the gas: eleven died and many others were severely injured.[63]

When the attacks occurred, Murakami was visiting home in Japan from Massachusetts during Tufts’ spring break.[64] He had been away from Japan for some time and hadn’t kept up with current affairs. At the time he was told of the attacks, he was straightening up his bookshelves and went back to sorting his books as if nothing had happened. ‘Yet,’ he said, ‘somehow the perplexity I felt that morning — a sense of estrangement or displacement — stayed with me. I remained “out-of-phase”’.[65] He had been living abroad in Europe and America for seven or eight years and decided to research the gas attacks, wanting to understand Japan on a deeper level.[66]

Mirror, mirror

In Underground, Murakami voiced his strong disagreement with a common Japanese reaction to the sarin attacks, which involved being ‘ready to pack up the whole incident in a trunk labelled THINGS OVER AND DONE WITH.’[67]

He took issue with the media’s overly straightforward narrative about the Aum cult: a polemic of “us” versus “them”, “good” versus “evil” and “sanity” versus “madness”.[68] Murakami felt there was a need for a “new narrative”,[69] whereby an analysis of the workings of “them” would necessarily involve a parallel analysis of “us”.[70] He felt that the gas attacks held up a mirror to Japanese society and that people should not shy away from looking into that mirror.

Now of course a mirror image is always darker and distorted. Convex and concave swap places, falsehood wins out over reality, light and shadow play tricks. But take away these dark flaws and the two images are uncannily similar; some details almost seem to conspire together. Which is why we avoid looking directly at the image, why, consciously or not, we keep eliminating these dark elements from the face we want to see. These subconscious shadows are an “underground” that we carry around within us, and the bitter aftertaste that continues to plague us long after the Tokyo gas attack comes seeping out from below.[71]

This idea of the attacks as a mirror image of Japanese society may have inspired the world of 1Q84, which can be interpreted as a distorted, darker mirror of the year 1984.[72] As Leader says to Aomame:

Where there is light, there must be shadow, and where there is shadow there must be light. There is no shadow without light and no light without shadow.[73]

The idea of 1Q84 as a distorted mirror of 1984 might have informed the design of the English language edition, where alternate page numbers are printed as they would look in the reflection of a mirror.[74]

Cult writer

Murakami’s interviews with Aum members for Underground made him realise that, in their search for meaning and in the narratives they created about the world,[75] there were similarities between their religious quest and the process of novel writing.[76] (Maybe this is why Tengo, who provides an important counterbalance in the novel to the Sakigake cult, is a writer.)

Murakami believed that the problem with Aum was that its leader, Asahara, had put together a flawed narrative. In Murakami’s opinion:

Shoko Asahara was talented enough to impose his rehashed narrative on people (who for the most part came looking for just that). It was a risible, slap-dash story. To unbelievers it could only be regurgitated tripe. Still, in all fairness, it must be said that a certain consistency runs through it all. It was a call to arms.

From this perspective, in a limited sense, Asahara was a master storyteller who proved capable of anticipating the mood of the times. …

But were we able to offer “them” a more viable narrative? Did we have a narrative potent enough to chase away Asahara’s “utter nonsense?”

That was the big task. I am a novelist, and as we all know a novelist is someone who works with “narratives”, who spins “stories” professionally. Which meant to me that the task at hand was like a gigantic sword dangling above my head. It’s something I’m going to have to deal with much more seriously from here on. I know I’m going to have to construct a “cosmic communication device” of my own. I’ll probably have to piece together every last scrap of junk, every weakness, every deficiency inside me to do it.[77]

Whether or not Murakami’s “cosmic communication device” is 1Q84, it is clear that he has felt a responsibility for offering a story to rival the one offered by Asahara. Suter quotes Murakami’s reasoning in his 1997 Salon interview to illustrate the point:

If I give you the right story, that story will give you a judging system, to tell what is wrong and what is right. To me, a story means to put your feet in someone else’s shoes. There are so many kinds of shoes, and when you put your feet in them, you look at the world through other people’s eyes. You learn something about the world through good stories, serious stories. But those people weren’t given good stories. When Asahara, the Aum guru, gave them his story, they were so tied up by the power of his story. Asahara, he’s got some kind of power that’s turned to evil, but it’s a powerful story he gave them. I feel sorry about that. What I’m saying is that we should have given them the good story.[78]

A wanted poster from 2001, which includes a photo of Makoto Hirata in the top left corner. Photo: mandiberg (Flickr).

If 1Q84 is Murakami’s attempt to offer that rival narrative, it is a timely one, given that the story of Aum is not yet over. Although almost 17 years have passed since the gas attacks, Aum splinter groups remain active and one of Japan’s three most-wanted fugitives, Makoto Hirata, wanted in connection with an Aum-related murder committed in 1995, gave himself up to police only recently, on 31 December 2011. The two other most-wanted fugitives, Katsuya Takahashi and Naoko Kikuchi, Aum members alleged to have been involved in the 1995 attacks, are still apparently on the run.

Leader to leader

1Q84′s fictional Sakigake cult exhibits some similarities to Aum.

The head of Sakigake is known as “Leader”, just like Asahara was known in Aum as “The Leader”. Leader also has the sort of charisma that Aum members have attributed to Asahara. One former Aum member, when describing Asahara in an interview for Underground, said that ‘[y]ou felt something amazing, something awesome in his presence. You could feel this sort of terrifying ability he had to see through everything at a glance.’[79]

While Asahara believed he had supernatural powers and an ability to see through the nature of things, he couldn’t see well in a physical sense,[80] with only partial sight in one eye. Similarly, Sakigake’s Leader, despite his actual supernatural powers, has problem with his retinas, indicating to Aomame that he may be on the verge of going blind.[81]

It was a common desire of Aum followers to tune in and “merge” themselves with Asahara’s greater self.[82] Sometimes this “merging” would be a sexual relationship with Asahara which, according to one Aum member, was seen as a “special initiation” and considered by most followers to be a privilege.[83] Like Asahara, Leader has sexual relationships with some of his female followers. He has three teenage girls on hand who take turns having intercourse with him while he is in a paralytic state.[84]

Let’s get radical

One of the other interesting aspects of the Sakigake cult in 1Q84 is that it has increasingly radicalised over time. Similar to Aum, Sakigake began with apparently good intentions, focussing on the use of communal labour to improve the mind and attracting as followers highly-educated people searching for meaning in their lives that they couldn’t find in ordinary society.[85] Yet, also like Aum, Sakigake ultimately resorts to violence and is perfectly happy to kill those who stand in its way.

Perhaps Aum’s arc of radicalisation was the inspiration for the alternate reality of 1Q84, in which the departure of the Sakigake cult from its original aims may well have been the trigger distorting the layers of reality and bringing the world out of balance. As Murakami concludes in Underground:

More or less all of us want answers to the reasons why we’re living on this earth, and why we die and disappear. We shouldn’t criticize a sincere attempt to find answers. Still, this is precisely the point where a kind of fatal mistake can be made. The layers of reality begin to be distorted. The place that was promised, you suddenly realize, has changed into something different from what you’re looking for. As Mark Strand puts it in his poem: “The mountains are not mountains any more; the sun is not the sun.”[86]

And the moon is not the only moon in the sky.

The cram school teacher and the mystic

Some aspects of Tengo and Fuka-Eri resemble individuals with whom Murakami conducted interviews for Underground.

Tengo has some similarities to Akio Namimura, a former Aum member. Like Namimura, Tengo is a loner, has a difficult relationship with his father[87] and works at a cram school while thinking of becoming a novelist.[88]

In her seriousness and otherworldliness, the 17-year-old Fuka-Eri echoes another of Murakami’s interviewees, Miyuki Kanda, a ‘very serious person’ who joined Aum at the age of 16.[89] In her interview for Underground, Kanda said that she had had mystical experiences since childhood of “another life”, or what Murakami summarised as ’emotionally charged experiences in a parallel world’.[90] Her dreams, she said, were no different from reality and gradually she couldn’t distinguish between the two. She claimed to have had ‘all sorts of experiences, and passed through different worlds’.[91]

Fuka-Eri’s Air Chrysalis seems to be the fictional equivalent of a book Kanda wanted to write about her dream life:

I spent most of my time alone, reading. I wrote things, too. Since my dreams were narratives, I felt as if I only had to write them down and they’d become a book. Don’t some writers do that — get an idea from their dreams and write their fiction based on it?[92]

The Little People

While there is some room for analysis regarding the significance of the cult in 1Q84, it’s difficult to pin down the meaning of the Little People. Of course, maybe we’re not supposed to pin them down. Murakami has remarked that he doesn’t know who they are, or what their presence means. In his October 2011 New York Times interview, he said: ‘I was a prisoner of the story. I had no choice. They came, and I described it. That is my work.’

Yet I couldn’t help but get the feeling that although Murakami doesn’t consciously have an answer about their origins, there may be a clue in his own research for Underground. In an interview with the former Aum member Hidetoshi Takahashi, Takahashi says that:

… with the shortage of food in the world, if only everyone, bit by bit, reduced their consumption the way the Aum diet does, then this food problem could be solved. Not by increasing the supply but by changing the body, because Aum people eat only a tiny amount of food. If mankind is going to live in harmony with the earth, we’ve reached the age when we have to start thinking this way.[93]

Murakami’s reply to Takahashi’s comment in the interview is:

That reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slapstick, in which the Chinese shrink themselves to half their usual size in order to solve the world’s food shortage.[94]

It may be a tenuous connection but the possibility does exist that the Little People originated in part from this Vonnegutian idea. I haven’t had a chance yet to read Slapstick but it seems that a character in that book, Dr Swain, has a verbal hiccup,“hi ho”, which sounds similar to the Little People’s intermittent “ho ho”s throughout 1Q84.

If the Little People do constitute a reference (even if inadvertent) to Vonnegut’s work, this would be unsurprising. The narrator in Murakami’s first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, cites a certain Derek Heartfield as his inspiration for his decision to write fiction. This is a reference to Vonnegut’s use of a fictional alter ego, Kilgore Trout, a writer and recurring character in Vonnegut’s work.[95]

On seeing the 100% fiction writer

The title 1Q84 is such an explicit reference to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that it created an expectation on my part that Murakami’s intention in writing 1Q84 was to make a political point about Japanese society in the same way that Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four as a commentary on Western society and its possible future. The expectation was not without basis, particularly because a key antagonist in 1Q84 is a dangerous cult. This brought to mind Murakami’s previous research on Aum Shinrikyō, as well as his comments on the need for an alternative narrative to the ones proposed by Asahara and the mainstream media at the time of the 1995 gas attacks. If Murakami were ever going to offer his rival narrative to the public, 1Q84 appears to have been the ideal opportunity for him to do so.

George Orwell

The frustration I experienced in the course of writing this review was that, while I could identify political themes in 1Q84, my quest to analyse their significance seemed to be futile. This is because Murakami in no way identifies as a political writer and would probably shy away from the idea that the novel has any political message at all. While he believes that he and Orwell both have a common feeling against “the system”, he sees Orwell as ‘half journalist, half fiction writer’. Murakami, in contrast, sees himself as ‘100 percent fiction writer’: a political person but one who doesn’t state his political messages to anybody.

I find it difficult to accept that Murakami, given his strong opinions about the legacy of the 1995 gas attacks, could produce apolitical fiction that happens to feature a cult. Even if the story for 1Q84 was created purely from his subconscious, it seems to me that the subconscious doesn’t work in a vacuum and will tend to produce material synthesised from a writer’s real-life experiences. On this basis, I stubbornly persisted with my examination of how political themes in 1Q84 might have originated from Murakami’s understanding of, and attitude towards, modern Japanese history and culture.[96]

I don’t think my examination of political themes in 1Q84 has been futile. What is clear in Underground is that Murakami strongly disagreed with the divisive reporting of the 1995 gas attacks and, if 1Q84 is intended to be his “rival narrative”, it is a narrative that deliberately avoids being a vehicle for polemic. Instead, what Murakami conveys in the novel are his observations about how cults function as a dark and distorted reflection of mainstream society. Maybe this “apolitical” stance can paradoxically be considered a political one, though, if it is, it is not political in the Orwellian sense that we might have expected. Had Murakami intended to communicate an overtly political message in the style of Nineteen Eighty-Four, he might have been more concerned than he has been about tying up loose ends in the plot concerning the significance and fate of the cult and of the Little People.

At the conclusion of 1Q84, Murakami leaves the fate of his antagonists hanging. This is probably because, unexpectedly for most of us (although the opening quote should have made it clear), 1Q84 is, at heart, an epic love story and, if there is an additional remotely political meaning in the novel, it is that true love will overcome any Barnum and Bailey world (even malevolent cults and inexplicably tiny, chrysalis-obsessed people, whose distorted reality falls away in the face of that love).

Nailing Jell-O to a wall

While struggling to come to terms with 1Q84 for this review, I agreed now and then with Allen Barra in his review in The Atlantic, where he says that ‘[t]rying to say anything definite about [1Q84] is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall’.

Yet perhaps Murakami’s work should just be understood on its own terms, in the same way that one should enjoy Jell-O for the purpose it was made, rather than be upset that it doesn’t work too well as a wall hanging.

Despite all the analysis in which I have indulged in this review, there is certainly something to be said for immersing oneself in Murakami’s work without trying to rationalise it, as Emily Parker suggests in her article on Murakami at The Daily Beast. Murakami himself is adamant that his books all originate from his subconscious, so those looking for anything that makes more sense than a fantastic dream may be disappointed.

The narcotic fix

In the end, I’m reminded of something Murakami mentioned in his 1992 Berkeley lecture, which was that ‘John Irving once said that a good story is like a narcotic fix. If you can inject a good one into readers’ veins, they’ll get the habit and come back to you for the next one, no matter what the critics have to say. His metaphor may be shocking, but I think he’s right.’[97]

Murakami knows exactly how to get his readers into the habit. Regardless of what the critics think of 1Q84, I remain a Murakami addict and am waiting desperately for my next fix.

A final note

Thanks to Random House Australia for my copy of 1Q84. This review is part of Random House’s Murakami Month. Apologies to the academics: the referencing style in this post is my own. I also note that not all references to the text of 1Q84 have corresponding footnotes.

Image: Fellowsisters (Flickr).

Key references

Murakami, Haruki, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, Vintage, London, 2003.

Murakami, Haruki, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, transl. Philip Gabriel, Vintage Books, London, 2009.

Murakami, Haruki, 1Q84, transl. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, Harvill Secker, London, 2011.

Rubin, Jay, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, Vintage, London, 2005.

Suter, Rebecca, The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami Haruki between Japan and the United States, Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008.


1. Rubin, Jay, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, Vintage, London, 2005.

2. Murakami, Haruki, 1Q84, transl. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, Harvill Secker, London, 2011, p. 110.

3. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 10.

4. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 132.

5. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 159.

6. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 478.

7. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 727.

8. Murakami, Haruki, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, transl. Philip Gabriel, Vintage Books, London, 2009.

9. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, pp. 76-78.

10. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, p. 78-79.

11. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, p. 99.

12. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, p. 79.

13. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, p. 43.

14. Murakami, Haruki, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, Vintage, London, 2003, p. 208.

15. Suter, Rebecca, The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami Haruki between Japan and the United States, Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008.

16. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 162.

17. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 163.

18. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 96, quoting Brutus magazine, 1 June 1999 at pp. 25, 27, 28.

19. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 270, quoting personal correspondence of 8 September 2001.

20. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 543.

21. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, p. 27.

22. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, p. 28.

23. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, p. 29.

24. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 97.

25. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, p. 22.

26. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, p. 35.

27. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, pp. 15.

28. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, pp. 26.

29. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 581.

30. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 234. (As an aside, apparently you win a pocket watch with the prize money so I can see why anyone would want to win.)

31. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p.135.

32. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 428.

33. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 474.

34. Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, p. 143.

35. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 16.

36. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 135.

37. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 327.

38. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 384.

39. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 55.

40. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 463.

41. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 327.

42. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 15.

43. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 16.

44. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 74.

45. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 74.

46. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 36 quoting Murakami’s lecture, ‘The Sheep Man and the End of the World’, delivered in English at Berkeley as part of the series Una’s Lectures in the Humanities, 17 November 1992.

47. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 17.

48. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 17.

49. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 17.

50. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 132.

51. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 133 and 139.

52. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 133 and 139.

53. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 36.

54. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 36.

55. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 36.

56. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 37.

57. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 37.

58. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, pp. 37-38.

59. Murakami, 1Q84, p.389.

60. Murakami, Haruki, after the quake, transl. Jay Rubin, Vintage, London, 2003.

61. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 169.

62. Murakami, Haruki, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, Vintage, London, 2003 (also cited in full at fn 14).

63. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 238. The death toll varies depending on the source.

64. Murakami, Underground, p. 195; Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 238.

65. Murakami, Underground, p. 195.

66. Murakami, Underground, p. 204.

67. Murakami, Underground, p. 196.

68. Murakami, Underground, p. 196.

69. Murakami, Underground, p. 197.

70. Murakami, Underground, p. 197.

71. Murakami, Underground, pp.198-199.

72. Charles Baxter also picks up on the mirror theme in his article, ‘Behind Murakami’s Mirror‘, The New York Review of Books, 8 December 2011.

73. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 464.

74. Also a point that Baxter makes in his article, ‘Behind Murakami’s Mirror‘.

75. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, pp. 112-113.

76. Murakami, Underground, p. 215.

77. Murakami, Underground, pp. 202-203.

78. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, p. 113, quoting Murakami in Laura Miller, ‘The Salon Interview—Haruki Murakami: An Interview with Laura Miller’, Salon, 16 December 1997, pp. 1-12 at p.10. This is the Salon article to which I have referred earlier in the review, which is available on the Salon website.

79. Murakami, Underground, p. 275 (Interview with Shinichi Hosoi).

80. Murakami, Underground, p. 290.

81. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 417.

82. Murakami, Underground, p. 201.

83. Murakami, Underground, p.290. (Interview with Harumi Iwakura.)

84. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 421.

85. On the attraction of Aum, see Murakami, Underground, pp. 306-309.

86. Murakami, Underground, p. 309.

87. Murakami, Underground, p. 232.

88. Murakami, Underground, p. 230.

89. Murakami, Underground, pp. 261.

90. Murakami, Underground, p. 262.

91. Murakami, Underground, p. 262.

92. Murakami, Underground, p. 262.

93. Murakami, Underground, p. 298.

94. Murakami, Underground, p. 298.

95. Suter, The Japanization of Modernity, pp. 183-184.

96. That said, I’m aware that the question of whether or not a writer’s life is even relevant when examining his or her fiction is another debate altogether. See, for example, Jeanette Winterson in her essay, ‘Writer, Reader, Words’ in Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Vintage, London, 1996, pp. 25-44 at pp. 27-28.

97. Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, p. 82, again quoting Murakami’s lecture, ‘The Sheep Man and the End of the World’, Una’s Lectures in the Humanities, 17 November 1992.

2 thoughts on “book review: ‘1Q84’ by haruki murakami

  1. Pingback: 1Q84 « The Fictional Julie Koh

  2. If you remove everything else, at its heart, 1Q84 is a love story. But there’s rather a lot to the “everything else.” Haruki Murakami’s epic novel is the story of Aomame and Tengo, and the first two-thirds of the story are told in chapters alternating between the viewpoints of the two. In the last third, a new character and POV is added to the mix. Like all those works, analyzing the novel felt like slowly sinking into a well of dreams, and being surrounded in a mood of curiosity and off hand beauty/absurdity.

    So generally, if you enjoy his works like me, this is a must read and a good time : If you have never read him, you might want to start with something shorter like Hard Boiled Wonderland.

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