1Q84 is a love story set in Tokyo in 1984. The “Q” in the title is a pun on the Japanese letter for “9”, which sounds like the English “Q”. “1984”, of course, is a reference to the George Orwell classic, 1984.
As 1Q84 opens, an attractive, well-dressed martial arts instructor sits impatiently in the back seat of a taxi stalled in an immovable traffic jam on an elevated expressway that crosses Tokyo. Her name is Aomame (Ah-oh-ma-me) spelled with the Japanese characters for “Green Peas”. A very unusual name:
“When she announced her name on the telephone, she would often hear suppressed laughter. In waiting rooms at the doctor’s or at public offices, people would look up at the sound of her name, curious to see what someone called ‘Green Peas’ could look like.
–1Q84, page 4.
She is wearing a green, lightweight, wool Junko Shimada suit under a beige spring coat. Chestnut-colored Charles Jordan heels and stockings complete the ensemble: she is “dressed to kill”, but worried that she may be late for her appointment.
When she speaks to the taxi driver, she gets the bad news: she will be late if she stays in the taxi, but maybe she would dare take an emergency stairway that drops from a freeway turnout a few yards in front of the stalled taxi. She could then continue by bus or walking to arrive at her appointment on time.
Aomame thinks for a moment and decides to take the emergency exit. She pays the driver and he thanks her and adds:
“… please remember: things are not what they seem.”
Things are not what they seem, Aomame repeated mentally.
“What do you mean by that?” she asked with knitted brows.
The driver choses his words carefully: “It’s just that you’re about to do something out of ordinary. Am I right? People do not ordinarily climb down the emergency stairs of the Metropolitan Expressway—especially women.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Right. 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. I’ve had that experience myself. But don’t let it fool you. There is always only one reality.”
“There is always, as I said, only one reality,” the driver repeated slowly, as if underlining an important passage in a book.
“Of Course,” Aomame said. He was right. A physical object could only be in one place at a time. Einstein proved that. Reality was utterly cool-headed and utterly lonely.
–1Q84, p. 9
As Aomame leaves the safety of the taxi and descends the rickety stairs of the expressway emergency exit she leaves 1984 and enters a new time that she will call 1Q84. In the course of the next few months her belief in reality would be challenged, and she would discover new depths of loneliness.
Aomame is in love with a math prodigy named Tengo. She met Tengo in grammar school, where he was the only student that treated her with respect. She has been in love with Tengo for 20 years and her love has never wavered. Their story began when the two children shared a moment in a school playground: Aomame tenderly took Tengo’s hand and looked over his shoulder toward the sky where a daytime moon is shining. What Aomame saw in the sky frightened her; she fled from the playground, and never returned to that school.
The math prodigy Tengo graduated from University and moved to Tokyo where he teaches part-time at a prep school where students cram for the University entrance exams. In his spare time he is a writer—he hopes to write a novel, but the work is advancing very slowly.
One day, Tengo’s unscrupulous editor offers him an assignment to rewrite a short story submitted for the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for promising new-writers. Tengo has reservations about the assignment, but he agrees to meet the teen-aged author who calls herself Fuga-Eri. Together, they write the story and the editor submits it for publication under Fuga-Eri’s name.
The publication of Fuga-Eri’s book, Air Chrisalis, causes problems for Tengo.
The religious cult exposed by the book holds Tengo responsible. But, while evading the cult, Tengo discovers that Aomame lives in Tokyo. Tengo never forgot the brief touch of Aomame’s hand on his. He fell in love with her then and he is still in love with her in 1984. Aomame haunts Tengo’s dreams for twenty years. When he learns of her existence in Tokyo he dedicates himself to finding her whereabouts. But first, he must discover what she saw in the sky that memorable day when they first touched hands.
1Q84 is long (925 pages); it is often confusing and there are many plot digressions, but eventually the love story unfolds. The two 30-year-olds, Tengo and Aomame, find each other, and the love that first was ignited when they were 10-year-olds living in the mountains East of Tokyo is restored.
In an interview just before publication, Murakami provided a cryptic summary of the work:
“A young boy and girl meet. And they fall in love. From that point of view it’s a simple story. But something happens and the two of them go to the dark side of the moon.”
–Murakami, pre-publication interview in Japan
This is an intriguing love story; it is unlike any story that I have read before. Be prepared for some violence (always controlled, and in context), some unusual sex (told frankly, but with restraint), and, finally, there is some brutality (domestic violence and rape). So, be ready for challenging reading.
I found the book rewarding and thought-provoking.
Week 1-2012: 1Q84, Haruki Murakami (2011, English Translation by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel).