Monday, June 4, 2012

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I decided to do this review in 3 parts, considering that whole piece is dived in three books, and each one of them has a lot to be discussed, so please bear with me. This post will be updated as I finish each of the three books, so I’m guessing it will be quite long at the end. I want to say, that this is the first book that I’ve read that takes place in Japan and that is written by a Japanese author, so I was really looking forward to a different view of Japanese culture. If I may, I suggest that when you start your book, you start listening to this (it starts at around 0:20) as is mentioned in the book, and changes the whole environment...well, it did for me.

Book summary, books 1-3 (From

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.

My review (Book 1)

The first book introduces us to the main characters Aomame and Tengo, and all through the books, the chapters will be divided by their names, and the chapter will be named after a sentence we will find in the chapter itself.  All of the character, whether main or secondary are slowly introduce to the story, their personal traits being explored little by little making you crave for more in every chapter. 

Aomame, as you know for the description above, is a young woman, a gym instructor with a secret…she is also a killer. She hates men who mistreat women, religious fundamentalists and being constipated. She loves history books (there’s this scene of here in a bar reading a book about trains that I just loved in my head) and mature men, that are starting to lose their hair, type of Sean Connery. 

Tengo, on the other side, is about the same age of Aomame, a math teacher aspiring to be a writer that felt “used” by his father since every Sunday when he was a kid he was forced to go with his dad to collect bills, so people would feel forced to pay with a young kid in front. He explains his love for math and books as a type of evasion of reality.

The story starts with Aomame, in a taxi cab, stuck in traffic. The only way out, since they are in a bridge in the highway is to go down an emergency stair, which is sort of difficult when you are wearing hills and a skirt. When she finally goes down, she realizes that subtle changes are taking place in her world, but nobody else seems to think they are actual changes.  

On the other side of Tokyo we have Tengo, that is being asked to correct (or should I said edit) an aspiring novel the “Air Chrysalis”, written by an intriguing teenager that barely speaks. Even though at first Tengo feels he should not do it, the novel is so inviting and he wishes so to share it with the world that he jumps in and does it.

As secondary characters we have Fukaeri, the teenager writer. As we read more, we learn that something happened to her which could explain her interaction limitations. The Professor, Fukaeri’s tutor in a way; Tamaki, Aomame’s best friend; Komatsu, Tengo’s editor and boss, and the mind behind the editing of Fukaeri’s novel; an old lady who is the “boss” of Aomame who also shares a secret with her, Tamaru, the lady’s employee, and finally Ayumi, Aomame’s newly acquired friend. All of them will help to explore the characteristics of the main characters, as well as to dig deeper in their past.
Aomame’s and Tengo’s story starts intertwining, not explicitly, but as we read we see how their lives are connected. 

We also learn about Sakigake (Vanguardia in Spanish or Vanguard) and Akebono (Amanecer in Spanish or Sunrise). The first one a “pacific” group, formed by Fukaeri’s father, looking to have a new community, based on agriculture and apart from the society. However a more revolutionary faction of the movement (Akebono) eventually splits. Nowadays Akebono doesn’t exists, and Sakigake has degenerated in a cult, or religious movement that seems to have a dark secret that would explain Fukaeri’s “weird”behavior.

During the first book then, we have the introduction of the characters as well as a continuous simile with Orwell’s 1984. If like me, you haven’t read 1984, is a dystopian story, reflecting Stalinism and portraying the “Big Brother” who represents a dictator in this word. In 1Q84, they mention the Little People, but they are not fully explained yet. 

The book has several sentences that marked me (I might make a mistake while translating, so my apologies): 

               “Most of the people don’t know the real value of a novel […] when a book wins a price and everyone is talking about it, they bought it and read it”

               “Reading a book is a discontinuous operation that takes a relatively long period of time”

These two stayed with me, since I felt they were a message from Murakami saying: people are going to talk about my novel, and then more people will buy it and read it without even knowing what I meant. Reading some of the comments and critics by other readers I found that, most them are overwhelm by the length of the book (hence the second sentence that I mentioned) or by it’s crudeness, and were unable to dive deeper in the book. What do I mean by crudeness? Is not the references to women breasts, which a lot of people complained about in the critics, but I just don’t think is that bad, sure, there’s several of them, and some sex scenes, but they are not even close to “romance” novels, if you know what I mean. Is more…the rapes. So far, I haven’t read one rape scene, not even sure if there will be one. But when he puts the subject on the table, it’s so bluntly there, that I had to put my book down for a second and breathe a little before going on. 

               “Perpetrators can rationalize their acts by using any convenient argument and then forget […] but the victims can’t forget”

I can’t give you more context, for I feel I would ruin the book for you, but the thing is there is a fair amount of victims in the book. However, the reason why it marked me is because is so true and yet not that obvious. Is not something that is in our heads that often, how “easy” is to hurt someone, since we can rationalize that we didn’t really hurt them. 

The first book closes with the first physical appearance of the Little People on Aomame’s side and the differences between lunatic and insane, which I’ve never before I gave so much thought. I got to the end of book 1 last night…and I just felt like I had to continue, even though my eyes seemed to differ. Since both sides criss-cross so beautifully, you want to know if they might become one. Is kind off what happens in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, where you have 2 very interesting stories going on side by side, but when they become one the momentum just gets bigger if that’s even possible (physics are NOT my forte, sorry).

Anyway, as for today 12th of April, 2012. I’m just beginning book 2. I will keep you posted, but so far I strongly recommend the book.

***Update: Book 2, April 16th 2012.***

So, first of with The Girl who liked to play with yourselves a favor and get the third book, before getting to the middle of Book 2. I didn't and here I am, waiting for the library to give me the third book and just dying to know what happens next.
Book 2 starts in the middle of the summer, July to be exact. I will try not to give away a lot, but believe me, it will be hard. Anyway, a new character is introduced to us, Ushikawa, a representative of a council that will try to buy Tengo's silence, without success. He is a suspicious, little, ugly man (not my words, mind you). He tells Tengo that he let out something "dangerous" but he wont say what. 

At the same time, we learn that Aomame never left Tengo's mind, and viceversa. This is the moment where I finally understood why the reviews talked about the book as a love story. 

Now, this book is supposed to develop in 3 months, just like the first one, but it passed a lot faster to me. There is a lot more of action, and since I mentioned before, the chapters about Aomame and Tengo are alternating each other, so I was reading as fast as I can to know what happened whit the other. 

We get a detailed look on how Sakigake was formed, and a glimpse on what the Little People really are, how they got here and why was Aomame's world changing, when no one else noticed. At the same time, precious people to Tengo start disappearing, and they are referred as lost.

When book 1 felt to me like a message form Murakami about how a novel should be written and read, this one felt more like an adventure in a more and more twisted yet magical world, with knowledge about knowledge.

"In this world there is territories that we can't or we shouldn't pass"
A warning to Aomame, before she encounters her final mission. And it also becomes a warning to the reader for we learn a lot (a little bit too much sometimes) about Sakigake, it's leader and what happens in the community. Now, (SPOILER ALERT) I know a lot of people complained about the mentions of rapes. I am glad they were not descriptive, because just the situations, the way they are bluntly putted made feel weak. But, I have to tell you, keep reading after that, since an explanation (granted, weird, but less gruesome) forms while you are reading, particularly when Aomame finally gets to read the “Air Chrysalis”. (END OF SPOILER).

As for Tengo, we finally meet his father, and little by little a better picture of his childhood is formed. 
"Knowledge is a valuable social patrimony [...] it should be accumulated and used carefully"
"If you don't understand it without me explaining, you won't even if I do"
Words from the father to Tengo, and once again they become a warning, for Tengo will have to find the answers to all the changes around him, on his own. Fukaeri is more and more mysterious yet more clear, somehow all that she is starts to be explained as Tengo understands what's happening...however (SPOILER ALERT) I really hope there will be an explanation on why the Receiver and the Perceiver can only work after having sex, I'm just saying (END OF SPOILER).

Now, I mentioned before the difference between insane and lunatic, didn't I? Well, I didn't give you the definition, but basically if you are a lunatic, just blame it on the moon. I mention this again because the moon has a tremendous role in this story, or so it seems to me. On book 1, and I'm mentioning this assuming you already read book 1, Aomame notices that there is a second moon in the sky. The funny part is that on Book 2, we learn the significance of this second moon for the Little People and the daughter.
The daugther it seems, is the shadow of a person, a shadow born form the Chrysalis, a shadow that might take the place of the person (the mother) but won't be the person...I'm telling you, it gets complicated, yet your mind will start making connections without you noticing.

I really don't want to give away anything else, so I will stop here.

At the end of this book Aomame will be...well, lost. But Tengo is more determined than ever to find her. There is a lot of loose ends, so I hope I will get to read Book 3 soon. 

***Final Update: Book 3, June 3rd 2012.***

Well, I did it, I finished the whole 3 books. I have something to say: I'm now a Murakami fan. 

This will be the hardest review, since I will have to work extra hard not to give away much of the story. 

First things first, most of the loose ends from book 2 were solved (in my opinion). There is a new main character involved, as in he gets his own chapter, and it pretty much works without knowing it, to intertwine the other 2 stories.

As we go deeper and deeper in this fantastic new alternate world, the feelings already placed will start growing and by the end you will be devouring the book to know if there is a way to "come back" to the real world...well, at least I was.

I know a lot of people complained about the book having too many description, but just as it happens I appreciate author's that take their time to construct the atmosphere for you, so in my case, I do not feel that there were too many descriptions of characters, places or anything.

I'm also aware that for a lot of people certain points of the story were hard to digest, particularly the ones involving sex. And I understand why this was hard for them, but I cannot agree with them as it being too much. I feel that Murakami wrote the sex parts that include Aomame as just a natural need, as a lot of people would have, an urge of intercourse, and that's exactly how she puts it in a couple of paragraphs. As for as the parts that involve Fukaeri and the other dothas, I understand how it can be as completely wrong and hard to picture for a lot of the readers. But I don't think is cruder than the raping scene in The Bluest Eye, and I do not think that Murakami condones it in anyway; is something that happens in his story, that makes part of it. How many stories have we read that were hard to swallow? Books about the holocaust describe what happen, yet do not make it ok, do they? Could've the book been written without those parts? I imagine yes; would've the book been as powerful without them? I guess we can't know it.

At the end of the day and the story, I realized that I was actually reading a love story, a really mixing, crude sometimes love story, splashed with crime, religious dogmas and social changes all over. If it wasn't for the fantasy that grows around Aomame and Tengo, this could be a direct love story, but is exactly the fantasy and mystery building around them that makes this book so interesting.

Is it a book I would recommend to everyone? Possibly not, but is more related to the person than the book. Once again, I know there are some parts that are hard to accept as happening, but the same feeling came to me while reading The Kite Runner and I do not regret reading that book at all, just as I wouldn't regret meeting Murakami through 1Q84.


  1. Hi! I've been meaning to read this book for a while, now I guess it's time :-)
    I found your blog thanks to Book Blogs. I'm following it and would be happy if you joined mine too.

    Thank you!

    All best! Aly

  2. I hope you like it. I think I will post the review for book 2 between today and tomorrow. I love your new Audrey book!