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Murakami's 1Q84

As part of the 2020 A to Z Blogging Challenge, I wrote 26 posts about Murakami's 1Q84. I had recently finished reading it. The lockdown in March aided the finishing of the almost-900 page long book, which consists of 3 volumes, just in time for this challenge in April. I was still (mentally) living in the 1Q84. 
26 posts - some good, some a little forced. After all, you need to have a post for each letter from A to Zee. I know I should have planned better, but I am not surprised at myself that I didn't. Anyway, I am bringing them together here.

Everything in this book is discussed in detail, at a relaxed pace. Details are given even when they are not relevant to the plot of the book. And I enjoyed most of these details.
This is a celebration of Murakami's words in 1Q84. 

*  *  *
The beginning is the name of one of the central characters and the first character to be introduced -
I do wonder how much is lost in translation. Would I have understood the impact of the meaning of the name had I known Japanese?

'...written exactly the same as the word for "green peas" and pronounced with the same four syllables, "Ah-oh-mah-meh"... on the rare occasions when she stayed in an unfamiliar city or town, she would always open the hotel's phone book to see if there were any Aomames in the area. She had never found a single one, and whenever she tried and failed, she felt like a lonely castaway on the open sea.'

'People would stare at the [business] card as if she had thrust a letter at them bearing bad news.'

'If I had an ordinary name..., I could have lived a slightly more relaxed life or looked at people with somewhat more forgiving eyes.'

*  *  *

"Is it possible to become friends with a butterfly?"
"It is if you first become a part of nature. You suppress your presence as a human being, stay very still, and convince yourself that you are a tree or grass or a flower. It takes time, but once the butterfly lets its guard down, you can become friends quite naturally."

"... there wouldn't be much point in giving them names: they die so quickly. These people [butterflies] are your nameless friends for just a little while... When the time comes, though, they just quietly go off and disappear. I'm sure it means they've died, but I can never find their bodies. They don't leave any trace behind. It's as if they've been absorbed by the air. They're dainty little creatures that hardly exist at all: they come out of nowhere, search quietly for a few, limited things, and disappear into nothingness again, perhaps to some other world."

*  *  *

One of the major themes of 1Q84 is a cult-like religious organisation. With close to zero knowledge of Japanese culture, except for the commonly shared stereotypes, it was a web search after reading 1Q84 that I realised that such cults or communes are very common in Japan.

Quite a few things about Sakigake left me feeling uncomfortable, but then the rituals and beliefs of cults always do, don't they? I wonder how much of this aspect of 1Q84 is based on reality and how much is it fictionalised.

"That is because most people believe not so much in truth as in things they wish were the truth. Their eyes may be wide open, but they don't see a thing."

*  *  *

"Things can be seen better in the darkness. But the longer you spend in the dark, the harder it becomes to return to the world above-ground where the light is. You have to call a stop to it at some point."

The darkness that the world is fighting today is not a choice anyone made. We are certainly seeing many things better: a new perspective towards life, many are claiming. Only time will tell how persistent this perspective is.
However, to the universe, to the supreme power, to whoever can do so - "Call a stop to it please".

*  *  *
Existential Crisis

"If...we are nothing but gene carriers, why do so many of us have to lead such strangely shaped lives? Wouldn't our genetic purpose - to transmit DNA - be served just as well if we lived simple lives, not bothering our heads with a lot of extraneous thoughts, devoted entirely to preserving life and procreating? Did it benefit the genes in any way for us to lead such intricately warped, even bizarre, lives?"

"All I can do is live the life I have. I can't trade it in for a new one. However strange and misshapen it might be, this is it for the gene carrier that is me."

*  *  *
Free Will

"It's the same with menus and men and just about anything else: we think we're choosing things for ourselves, but in fact we may not be choosing anything. It could be that everything's decided in advance and we pretend we're making choices. Free will may be an illusion."

*  *  *

I got introduced to many books while reading this one. Chekov is referred to more than once and one of the protagonists of 1Q84 is reading Chekov's non-fiction work, Sakhalin Island. The part about Gilyaks, the indigenous people of Sakhalin finds special mention in this book.
And the part that has stayed with me after months of having read it is this:

'They [Gilyaks] are perky, intelligent, cheerful, and feel no stand-offishness or uneasiness whatever in the company of the rich and powerful. They do not recognize that anybody has power over them, and, it seems, they do not possess even the concept of "senior" and "junior". People say and write that the Gilyaks do not respect family seniority either. A father does not think he is superior to his son, and a son does not look up to his father but lives just as he wishes; an elderly mother has no greater power in a yurt than an adolescent girl.'

Is it just me who finds the idea of having no regard for the elders pause-worthy? It was something that I had never even thought of being possible. I know not everyone looks up to his/her elders and I realize that not all elders deserve it either.
But that's not 'the normal'.
It's not about right or wrong, it's about knowing the differences and accepting them, I guess.

*  *  *

'Robbing people of their actual history is the same as robbing them of part of themselves. It's a crime. Our memory is made up of our individual memories and our collective memories. The two are intimately linked. And history is our collective memory. If our collective memory is taken from us - is rewritten - we lose the ability to sustain our true selves.'

1Q84 also has instances of conveying a large chunk of history in a few, concise sentences.

'...1926 Czechoslovakia: The First World War had ended, and the country was freed from the long rule of the Hapsburg Dynasty. As they enjoyed the peaceful respite visiting central Europe, people drank Pilsner beer in cafes and manufactured handsome light machine guns. Two years earlier, in utter obscurity, Franz Kafka had left the world behind. Soon Hitler would come out of nowhere and gobble up this beautiful little country in the blink of an eye, but all the time no one knew what hardships lay in store for them. this may be the most important proposition revealed by history: "At the time, no one knew what was coming."'

*  *  *
Mathematics and Writing

Tengo, a protagonist of 1Q84 is a mathematics teacher and a writer. His thoughts:

'Math is like water. It has a lot of difficult theories, of course, but its basic logic is very simple. Just as water flows from high to low over the shortest possible distance, figures can only flow in one direction. You just have to keep your eye on them for the route to reveal itself. That's all it takes. You don't have to do a thing. Just concentrate your attention to keep your eyes open, and the figures make everything clear to you. In this whole, wide world, the only thing that treats me so kindly is math... When I'm writing a story, I use words to transform the surrounding scene into something more natural for me. In other words, I reconstruct it. That way, I can confirm without a doubt that this person known as 'me' exists in the world. This is a totally different process from steeping myself in the world of math.'

'Where mathematics was a magnificent imaginary building, the world of story as represented by Dickens was like a deep, magical forest for Tengo. When mathematics stretched infinitely upward toward the heavens, the forest spread out beneath his gaze in silence, its dark, sturdy roots stretching deep into the earth. In the forest there were no maps, no numbered doorways.'

*  *  *
Impossible Choices

Words that make you ponder and wonder at the truths of life. And then make you smile at the realization that the power of words can make you question anything.

Where there is light, there must be shadow, and where there is shadow there must be light. There is no shadow without light and no light without shadow. Karl Jung said this about 'the Shadow' in one of his books: 'It is as evil as we are positive ... the more desperately we try to be good and wonderful and perfect, the more the Shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive.... The fact is that if one tries beyond one's capacity to be perfect, the Shadow descends to hell and become the devil. For it is just as sinful from the point of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself.'

*  *  *

Words that make you ponder and wonder at the truths of life.

Once you pass a certain age, life becomes nothing more than a process of continual loss. Things that are important to your life begin to slip out of your grasp, one after another, like a comb losing teeth. And the only things that come to take their place are worthless imitations. Your physical strength, your hopes, your dreams, your ideals, your convictions, all meaning, or, then again, the people you love: one by one, they fade away. Some announce their departure before they leave, while others just disappear all of a sudden without warning one day. And once you lose them you can never get them back. Your search for replacements never goes well. It's all very painful - as painful as actually being cut with a knife.

*  *  *
'I'm looking at a map and I see someplace that makes me think, 'I absolutely have to go to this place, no matter what'. And most of teh time, for some reason, the place is far away and hard to get to. I feel this overwhelming desire to know what kind of scenery the place has, or what people are doing there. It's like measles - you can't show other people exactly where the passion comes from. It's curiosity in the purest sense. An inexplicable inspiration.

*  *  *

'There is no one in this world who can't be replaced. A person might have enormous knowledge or ability, but a successor can almost always be found. It would be terrible for us if the world were full of people who couldn't be replaced.'

'Cause and effect are linked that way in a twisted form. You can pile up all the worlds you like and the twisting will never be undone.'

'If you don't believe in the world, and if there is no love in it, then everything is phony.'

'...mental acuity was never born from comfortable circumstances.'

*  *  *
World of Contrasting Memories

'The ones who did it [massacre] can always rationalize their actions and even forget what they did. They can turn away from things they don't want to see. But the surviving victims can never forget. They can't turn away. Their memories are passed on from parent to child. That's what the world is, after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories.'

*  *  *

"Humans see time as a straight line. It's like putting notches on a long straight stick. The notch here is the future, the one on this side is the past, and the present is this point right here... But actually time isn't a straight line. It doesn't have a shape. In all senses of the term, it doesn't have any form. But since we can't picture something without form in our minds, for the sake of convenience we understand it as a straight line. At this point, humans are the only ones who can make that sort of conceptual substitution... Maybe we're wrong and the crow is right. Maybe time is nothing at all like a straight line. Perhaps it's shaped like a twisted doughnut. But for tens of thousands of years, people have probably been seeing time as a straight line that continues on forever. And until now they haven't found anything inconvenient or contradictory about it. So as an experiential model, it's probably correct."

When the word doughnut immediately makes you think of Iron Man sitting on a doughnut and Iron Man commenting that he is in a flying doughnut, you realize how much influence your teenage son has had on you. The other way round? I don't know, really. He's certainly not reading Murakami.

*Italicized text are excerpts from Murakami's 1Q84*


  1. I was so looking forward to your blog when I read the theme! Can't wait for all 26 days. I have to disagree on one thing though- the details are always relevant, sometimes you have to wait a long time to find out how they are relevant. Think about it. Great theme! Thanks.

    1. Hi Janice. As I have written, I enjoy the details. That in itself makes them relevant. But there is a unhurried pace in the book with no haste to move on to the next important event in the plot and that is why I wrote that the details are not strictly relevant to the plot.


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