1Q84 – the book* I got so hooked on that I spent late evenings and early mornings reading it. Interestingly, I did not know any single bit about this book before I started reading it … I was very excited when I received it as Christmas present, but I had no idea about the fascinating story lying between its covers.
Having read only one other book by Haruki Murakami, The Norwegian Wood (which is said to be different than his other books), I started reading 1Q84 with no expectations at all.
1Q84 in a nutshell
1Q84 is about two main characters, Tengo and Aomame, each facing surreal situations and unusual people. The events take place in Tokyo (Japan), in April – December 1984. The reader is presented with bits and pieces of information in alternating chapters, information that starts making sense as the story unfolds. Still the feeling of understanding what is happening is just an illusion, as there are so many mysterious aspects yet to be solved! Easy to read and plot-driven, with short chapters and many hooks along the story, 1Q84 is for sure one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Out of the multitude of topics related to 1Q84, I chose to focus on (1) explaining the title, (2) illustrating the religion theme, and (3) discussing the construction of the surreal world.
What does 1Q84 actually mean?
To begin with, the English title is pronounced “One Q Eighty-Four”. I personally didn’t know exactly how to pronounce it at the beginning (I thought about Ten Q 84 and 1 Q 8 4), but after a short search on Google I found out 1Q84 was “the first instance of a publisher dictating the pronunciation of a book title” 🙂 (The Telegraph, 2010)
However, in Japanese the pronunciation of the number 9 and letter Q are very similar, so the Japanese title is actually pronounced 1984 (the year in which the book is set).
Now, when it comes to the meaning of the title, the letter Q stands for question mark – 1Q84 is the alternate year 1984 that bears a question. This name is given by Aomane, the main female character, as she realizes that she was situated in a parallel existence, a world not governed by the rules of the normal world. A world with two moons.
Religion in 1Q84
As religion is one of the overarching themes of 1Q84, it was interesting to find out that Murakami had previous experience in dealing with religious subjects before writing 1Q84. In his book “Underground” (2000), Murakami interviewed former members of a sect that planned the 1995 gas attack at the Tokyo subway. In that book he suggested that he would write a fiction book on the subject of cults … and 9 years later he delivered 1Q84 (The Guardian, 2011).
In 1Q84 we are presented two examples of religious cults, each one with its own strong beliefs and curious customs. Murakami illustrated how being raised in a certain religious extreme influences children’s development and that certain beliefs remain rooted deep down in the adult’s soul, even after voluntarily leaving the religious group.
All in all, the main message sent by Murakami about cults is that “they are dangerously effective feeders of people’s need for stories“:
“[..] 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.” (Leader of a religious cult in 1Q84)
The surreal world of 1Q84
1Q84 is filled with surreal events and peculiar characters. What impressed me most is not the alternate reality per se (though there are some very weird happenings there), but how the main characters react to their parallel existence – with calm and patience, accepting it as the new reality. In this context, I was also inclined to accept easier the odd elements and see them as intrinsic parts of the story.
“Murakami is like a magician who explains what he’s doing as he performs the trick and still makes you believe he has supernatural powers … But while anyone can tell a story that resembles a dream, it’s the rare artist, like this one, who can make us feel that we are dreaming it ourselves.” (New York Times Book Review)
I felt that a trick used by Murakami to anchor readers in the shifting realities was to sprinkle real cultural references through the story: Aomame was reading “In Search of Lost Time” by Proust, other characters were talking about Dostoevsky, Lewis Carroll, Chekhov, and Carl Jung. In the same time, Janácek’s Sinfonietta plays a major role in the story, being mentioned several times. Talking about music, did you know that Murakami ran a jazz bar before becoming a writer? That’s one of the reasons why music appears often in his stories.
As you can imagine by now, I warmly recommend reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. It is a suspenseful and bizarre book which will surely captivate you right from the start. The mysteries left unsolved add up to the beauty of the reading experience … and you might end up like me, thinking every time you look at the moon:
How would it be to suddenly see two moons in the sky?
Book covers around the world
If you’re curious how the book’s covers are illustrated around the world, check out this post: Book covers around the world: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.
‘Till next time, happy reading!
PS: 1Q84 is, in fact, a trilogy 🙂 The edition I read had all three volumes in one physical book, so I prefer to refer to 1Q84 as a book, taking into account my reading experience.