Books: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

by Bob Schwartz

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami was given to me. I had never heard of or read Murakami. I don’t read as much fiction as once I did, and so don’t keep up with the most popular writers.

I have now learned that Murakami is not just a popular and critically appreciated writer but a global phenomenon. Millions of copies sold. Frequently mentioned in Nobel Prize conversations. And 1Q84 is not just any Murakami book. When it was published after years of anticipation, it was seen as a remarkable moment in his already prolific career. At over 900 pages, with 79 chapters, divided into 3 volumes, it could only be remarkable.

It took me weeks, a few chapters a day, to finish. Since I don’t have the frame of reference, as critics and fans do, of his work before this, I took it at face value, reading without prejudice.

It is stuffed with cultural allusions, which I now understand is a Murakami trademark. None more telling than a character in forced isolation working her way through Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Not that this was necessarily Murakami’s attempt at a Proustian magnum opus. But any reader, veteran of Murakami or new to him, compelled to keep reading, may hit a point when you ask: what am I doing here and what is Murakami (or Proust) doing here?

Which, strangely or appropriately, is central to 1Q84. Along with related questions such as: where am I (are you) and when am I (are you) and who am I (are you)?

On the day I finished reading it, I unrelatedly came across a 1963 essay by Susan Sontag about the philosopher Simone Weil. Far removed at first glance from 1Q84 and yet:

Perhaps there are certain ages which do not need truth as much as they need a deepening of the sense of reality, a widening of the imagination. I, for one, do not doubt that the sane view of the world is the true one. But is that what is always wanted, truth? The need for truth is not constant; no more than is the need for repose. An idea which is a distortion may have a greater intellectual thrust than the truth; it may better serve the needs of the spirit, which vary. The truth is balance, but the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie.

Susan Sontag, New York Review of Books, February 1, 1963

This might be the justification for all who create what we call fiction, whether in writing or painting or any medium. So instead of an attempt at insightful critique or analysis of 1Q84, of which one more isn’t needed, I leave you with that quote. If you have read 1Q84, you will understand the connection. If you haven’t read it, you will be the better for doing so. “The truth is balance, but the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie.”