Bringing The World Home To You

© 2024 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'1Q84': Murakami's Orwellian Best-Seller Now In U.S.

Do you miss the girl with the dragon tattoo? Do you long for the thrill of following her adventures again through three volumes of exciting, intelligent fiction? If so, I have good news for you. She's got a sort of soul sister in one of the two main characters in Haruki Murakami's wonderful novel 1Q84.

Picking up the new book may strain your arms. 1Q84 (more about the title in a moment) checks in at more than 900 pages. But unlike a number of other novels that embrace both what we think of as the real world and the world of the fantastic, it will not strain your credulity. With more than enough narrative and intellectual heft to make it enjoyable for anyone with a taste for moving representations of modern consciousness in the magical realist mode, this story may easily carry you away to a new world and keep you there for a long time.

You may even fall in love with one of the two main characters, an attractive 30-something Tokyo physical trainer named Aomame (pronounced "Ah-oh-ma-meh," which in Japanese means "green peas") with a murderous avocation. In the fabled year of 1984, Aomame finds herself on the way by taxi to carry out an assassination (not her first) of a businessman singled out as a profligate wife-abuser and torturer, and when she gets stuck in a traffic jam on an elevated roadway, she exits the cab, scoots among the stalled cars, and climbs down to street level by means of a construction-site stairway that might as well be a rabbit hole.

Even as she goes about her dangerous business, she suddenly notices that the sky and cityscape have turned slightly odd and out of kilter. By climbing down those exit stairs, she seems to have put the world of 1984 behind her and entered the realm that she comes to identify as 1Q84, an alternate realm — and thus the Q — "that bears a question ..." The deep and resonant plot that serves as the anchor for her actions, and for those of Tengo Kawana, the young writer whose movements and thoughts we observe in alternating chapters, takes place under a sky with two moons, and unfolds at a leisurely pace but in compelling fashion by luring us along with scenes of homicidal intrigue, literary intrigue, religious fanaticism, physical sex, metaphysical sex and asexual sex. And music.

<p>Haruki Murakami is also the author of <em>The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle</em>, <em>Norwegian Wood</em> and <em>Kafka on the Shore</em>.</p>
/ Knopf

Haruki Murakami is also the author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore.

Tengo, a big guy with a big writing talent, has, as the novel begins, been roped into a somewhat fraudulent publishing scheme that can only make trouble for his career. His ties to a beautiful, young, odd teenage girl named Fuka-Eri, the putative author of a strange but compelling fiction contest entry, grow tighter and tighter even as they pull him closer to his own origins, and to the early life of Aomame who, like him, had quite an unhappy childhood. His ties to this idiosyncratic and terrifically engaging heroine emerge as the novel unfolds, blossoming into a romance motif as bold and as baldly created as any in recent fiction.

Murakami's main characters find themselves drawn toward each other as irresistibly, magnetically, hypnotically, soulfully and physically as any characters in Western fiction. Given the plain-spoken but appealing nature of the prose (translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel), most of you will feel that same power as an insinuating compulsion to read on, despite the enormous length, hoping against hope for a happy ending under a sky with either two moons or one.

Two moons — two worlds — a girl with — 900 pages — 1Q84 is a gorgeous festival of words arranged for maximum comprehension and delicious satisfaction.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.
More Stories