1Q84 is the newest novel by Japanese superstar author, Harukai Murakami, and in my opinion, it is his best so far. While I have liked many of Murakami's books, like Kafka by the Shore and Norweigan Wood, this one is different. It is gripping, mesmerizing, inspiring, and horrible, all at once.
It is a love story, a mystery, a horror story, and a compelling read, which is a good thing because it is over 900 pages long.
The title comes from George Orwell's book, 1984, with its perennial images of Big Brother and a totalist sociaty. In 1Q84, it starts out in what seems like Japan in 1984, but then something changes. An assasin climbs down from a jammed expressway in Tokyo, and finds herself in a world with 2 moons. A small green moon parallels the old white moon, like a little sister. Clearly, not just the moons, but everything has changed.
Here is the set up: a boy and a girl go to the same elementary school for 2 years. The boy is a math prodigy and athlete. The girl is entirely forgettable. One day the girl goes up to the boy and grabs his hand. She holds it steadily for a long time, looking directly into his eyes. When he finally looks away, she stares for a long time at the moon. Then she disappears. Both are left altered forever. They are in love, or more than in love, joined somehow. Neither can forget that moment.
But time moves on, 20 years, and the novel begins with the woman, now age 30, Aomame, which means "green peas" in Japanese, who has become a serial killer of men who abuse women. Tengo, the man, teaches math in a cram school for high school kids needing to get into college, and he wants to be a novelist but has never published anything. Both have had other partners and lots of sex, but neither has fallen in love because each remembers that magic moment when they were 10.
Tengo is convinced to undertake a risky venture, by his greedy editor. An unknown 17 year old girl, Fuka-Eri, has submitted a novel for publication that is quite unique and captivates both men, although it is far from perfect. Tengo agrees to ghost rewrite the novel, to improve it, and then they all agree to submit it to a national writing competition, without mentioning Tengo. The novel is called Air Chrysalis, and it is a fantastic story about a 10 year old girl living in a cult who is punished for letting a goat die by being shut into a small shed alone with the dead goat. Out of its mouth pour 6 Little People, and they make an "air chrysalis" for the girl, and she learns to make them as well. Of course, the book wins the competition and becomes a best seller. But then the teenage author disappears.