By Vaila Bhaumick
I remember the exact moment my love affair with Murakami novels began. A friend had sent me a copy of Kafka on the Shore, and at first, I was thinking ‘this is a bit weird…talking cats? Seriously?’ But I continued to read, and on reading the last lines of the book, I smiled to myself in that deliciously satisfying way you do at the end of a brilliant book. I was sold.
Fast forward a year or two and 1Q84 fell into my lap (with a thud). This book is a beast! In the pre-e-book era (for me anyway), I dragged this book around with me everywhere until I had finished.
It was a real love affair—that book and I have serious history. Let me tell you why it’s worth getting involved in its love story.
Yes, the title does echo 1984 By George Orwell, and yes, there has been a lot of talk of 1984 recently in light of the pandemic. However, 1Q84, although a dystopian novel and set in 1984, will take you far away from our current circumstances.
Big Brother may be watching, but what he’ll see in Murakami’s parallel universes of 1Q84 is a sky with two moons and a world where malevolent ‘Little People’ crawl out of people’s mouths. The fantastical elements make it a perfect book to get addicted to if you’re needing a distraction from our crazy 2020-version of the world!
Murakami always has some magical way of taking you on a wild journey, but somehow leading you back to yourself, and questioning how you feel about certain aspects of the real world.
1Q84 deals with issues such as religious cults, domestic abuse (using a rather extreme way of dealing with it), but also love, longing, and that never-ending search for ‘what’s missing’.
…It Is Also Magical Realism, Laced With Lessons For Us
Why do I think 1Q84 is the perfect book to read right now? Well, I read an article the other day entitled The Conspiracy Myth by Charles Eisenstein, in which he tackles the value of the conspiracy theories floating around at the moment. He suggests that these theories are myths and stories that illuminate something true about our psyche as a society. Although they may not be verifiable, they can tell us something about ourselves.
This, my friends, is exactly how I feel about 1Q84, and in fact almost all Murakami’s books. The plots are often dark, weird, labyrinthine, but above all surreal. One thing that totally amazes me EVERY SINGLE TIME I read one, is that it resonates with some part of me, makes me think about my place in the world, and all the philosophical, psychological and moral musings that go along with that.
A quote from 1Q84 sums it up beautifully—“Most people are not looking for provable truths. As you said, truth is often accompanied by intense pain, and almost no one is looking for painful truths. What people need is beautiful, comforting stories that make them feel as if their lives have some meaning. Which is where religion comes from.”
Of course, the word religion here can be extended to mean myth or allegory. Because, what is religion based on if not mythology? And although Murakami’s stories are generally not comforting, in a way I glean comfort from them because they help me understand myself better.
What’s the Story?
1Q84 is a behemoth, there’s no getting away from it. In a nutshell, the book deals with two main characters—Aomame and Tengo. Aomame starts out in the year 1984 but quickly finds herself in a parallel universe she names 1Q84, the Q standing for question mark. Tengo is approached to ghostwrite a novel written by a dyslexic teenage girl, whose story is very mysterious.
These two characters’ have a connection. We are enticed by the slow convergence of their narratives via encounters with religious cults, paid killings of domestic abusers, as well as Murakami’s signature oh-so-ordinary, yet meticulous accounts of preparing dinner at home. Do they find each other in the end? You will have to read to find out!
Murakami is famed for leading us down dark, melancholic corridors in search of ‘that thing’ we search. We often get distracted in his novels by men in sheep costumes or other such oddities.
I’m sure many of you would find his writing weird, but I think if you embrace his stories as myth, without always searching for a verifiable truth, you can get so much from them.
In his own words “My characters are often looking for something that has been lost. But when the character finds it, there will be some kind of disappointment. I don’t know why, but that is a kind of motif in my fiction—looking for something and finding it, but it’s not a happy ending.”
There’s a lesson in there for life in 2020. The truths we’re searching for are in many ways, elusive. Perhaps if we pay attention to the myths and stories, they will tell us all we need to know about ourselves. So pick up 1Q84, and forget that Big Brother is watching!