I’m not a big fan of fantasy literature or genre and had I remembered the story of Kafka on the Shore I wouldn’t have started reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I think he has a thing or two for what the cliche would call “parallel worlds” where his protagonists find themselves and go through various adventures.
But I’m happy that I started reading this book. By Indian standards, I must agree, it cost me lots of money because it has three volumes, but after having read it, it was worth it. Literature-wise it was a wholesome entertainment. It is a romance novel steeped in a plot that touches upon the supernatural without directly getting into the gory details.
I like reading plots that are real. Before 1Q84 I was reading Losing My Virginity (Richard Branson’s autobiography), before that I had completed Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy and before that, War and Peace (second time) by Tolstoy. In between I also read a couple of non-fiction business-related books. So I am more inclined towards reading real-world stories instead of fantastical narrations. In the fag end of the previous year I read The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie and I had decided that for some time I would consciously avoid surrealistic storylines. Hence, I wasn’t expecting 1Q84 to have its characters exploring preternatural realms.
Anyway, since I had already spent some good money purchasing the two volumes (unaware of the fact that I would also need to purchase the third in order to complete the story) and also, since it gave me enough intellectual pleasure, I went on reading the book.
Romance is the underlying theme of the novel. The story revolves around two protagonists, Aomame and Tengo who study in the same elementary school up till the age of 10 and then for 20 years they don’t see each other. Without realising for a long time, they’re strongly drawn to each other but none is aware of the other’s whereabouts. In the whirlwind of various vicissitudes they suddenly find themselves in a world that has two moons. Since it is very difficult to make sense of what’s going on, Aomame decides that this isn’t the time she had been living up till now. This is something new. Since she doesn’t know where exactly to pinpoint the current time, she names it as 1Q84. She is a professional assassin and she falls into this new world while on an assignment.
Tengo is a mathematician and was a child prodigy. At the time the story takes place, he teaches in a cram school (something like Brilliant Tutorials in India where students come to study and prepare for the various entrance exams like IIT etc.). This gives him enough time to dabble in his literary writings and this pursuit brings him in contact with a capricious editor, Komatsu, who is highly sought after despite his whimsical attitude. Komatsu appreciates Tengo’s writing and strongly believes that there is great potential, but somehow he feels that Tengo hasn’t yet really reached there.
Komatsu is also on the panel of a committee that holds literary competitions and to financially help Tengo he has also gotten him a committee membership. Due to their this involvement they come across a badly written script that has a highly unusual but engaging storyline. It is written by a 17-year-old girl who has no sense of language and style. She has written this fantastical story in monosyllables. Although Tengo immensely likes the story, he knows that it cannot be submitted for the competition. But Komatsu has a different plan.
He urges Tengo to rewrite the story and then submits it to the competition committee for the review. He knows that the story has great potential and provided Tengo can give it his brilliant touch, it can turn into a sensation. Obviously Tengo vociferously turns down the offer initially but then eventually, he relents.
So, he rewrites this book named Air Chrysalis, about a world where there are two moons in the sky and some people can make an air chrysalis by drawing translucent threads from thin air. The novel is a raving success but nobody knows that actually Tengo has reworked the entire story. The problem begins when a remote commune where the young girl used to live in and about which she has written in the book, begins to pursue the people associated with the publishing of the book. This is the time when Tengo finds himself in the world that has two moons.
In this manner, two lovers who have been unconsciously looking for each other forever, find themselves in the same uncanny world where semi-magical things take place just as if normal things are happening, and they have to accept that that is the reality. The events taking shape in this world, whether diabolical or straightforward, are constantly bringing these lovers closer to each other. Do they get to meet? This you will have to find by reading the book.
You will need to read the book with an open mind. As the narrator says somewhere, there are more questions than answers in the world, and you don’t always have to look for answers. Some things happen, just like that. Although, while Haruki Murakami has followed the philosophy of not explaining why things are happening the way they are happening, during one of the interactions between Tengo and Komatsu, Komatsu insist that Tengo must rewrite the portion where he explains the appearance of two moons in the book because a reader needs to be explained thoroughly whenever something strange or exceptional manifests in the plot. Lots of inexplicable things happen in the story, and most of them are left unanswered.
Nonetheless, you will enjoy reading this book. Especially if you like reading good literature. You will need to exercise patience because this is not something you would read just as pastime. Not just because it contains three volumes, sometimes the author goes on and on, and sometimes it seems needlessly, but this is for your reading experience — he seems to be enjoying the process of writing and he wants his readers to just immerse themselves in his words. He succeeds.