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1Q84, what are you good for?

It took me a good long while to slog through the 925 pages of Murakami’s latest novel, 1Q84. Like most of the Japanese master’s works, however, I found myself at the end with a great number of unanswered questions. Who were the little people? What exactly is a dohta or a maza? What would be emerging from the air chrysalis that the little people were creating near the corpse of the “misshapen” Ushikawa’s corpse? Was there significance to the “year” 1Q84 having two moons in the sky other than to denote difference?

What sort of a genre label could one place on this (or any other Murakami) novel? Is it science fiction? Certainly the “alternate universe” is a typical sci-fi trope, yet this alternate universe doesn’t feel quite alternate enough to throw the story into science fiction. In fact, only some of the characters, apparently the two principals, Tengo and Aomame; the mysterious teenage writer, Fuka-Eri; and, at the end, the snooping Ushikawa, can see the extra moon in the sky. Therefore, it seems, an odd sort of alternate-universe story with only some of the people apparently in the different world at any given time.

Perhaps, then, the novel is a romance, with the long-separated Tengo and Aomame gradually making their way toward each other after a separation of some twenty years. Of course, their earlier romance had been restricted to a few moments of hand-holding in grade school. Mysteriously, neither child had forgotten the other through two decades. Both had pursued unhealthy sexual lives, Aomame finding middle-aged and balding men in bars for one-night stands and Tengo maintaining a long-term relationship with an older, married girlfriend. Only in the closing chapters of the book does the pair come back together, hardly the stuff of standard romance.

Like much of Murakami’s fiction, a strong but ambiguous vein of spirituality flows through 1Q84. A great deal of the story revolves around the religious cult Sakigake (Pathfinder), which channels messages from the Little People through their leader (called, cleverly, Leader). Elements of Sakigake suggest the Aum Shinrikio group behind the 1995 sarin attack. The actual group was founding in 1984 and their leader, Shoko Asahara, bears some physical similarity to Murakami’s description of Leader. Murakami published a book, Underground, based on his research into the Aum cult.  Sakigake remains a somewhat uncertain commodity by the novel’s close. Leader, initially portrayed as a child molester, is revealed as a powerful and benign person. His followers clearly skirt the law, but their overall threat to the rest of society is unclear.

Besides Sakigake, an aberrant form of Christianity figures significantly in 1Q84. Aomame’s family devotedly follows the “Society of Witnesses,” a thinly veiled version of the Jehovah’s Witness movement.  Despite having rebelled at quite a young age against her parents’ religion, Aomame continues to invoke one of their prayers and speak with some of their terminology. The following prayer is repeated several times through the novel:

O Lord in Heaven, may Thy name be praised in utmost purity for ever and ever, adn may Thy kingdom come to us. Please forgive our many sins, and bestow Thy blessings upon our humble pathways. Amen.

Not only that, but Aomame, when speaking with her friend Ayumi, dismisses worries about the future by suggesting that “the kingdom” is coming.

As a Christian reading this novel, I cannot help but see the echoes from my faith in Murakami’s pages. Certainly, this writer is no Shusako Endo, pouring a Christian message into a distinctly Japanese container, yet that mention of “the kingdom” does not disappear quickly from my mind. What Aomame and Tengo find, first as hand-holding children and later as adults, suggests the pearl of great price. Everything the pair have pursued up to this time in their lives has been meaningless. Upon their climactic meeting in the playground, Tengo reflects on the intervening years:

It was such a long time, Tengo thought too. At the same time, though, he noticed how the twenty years that had passed now held no substance. It had all passed by in an instant, and took but an instant to be filled in.

Compare this with Matthew 13:45-46. Everything that the couple had pursued seemed like rubbish to be discarded when their reunion came about. Their miraculously conceived child exemplified that aspect of the kingdom.

Again, this is not, I think, what Murakami had in mind, but authors often enclose more in their works than even they perceive.


Posted in Contemporary, Japanese Literature.

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