Set in 1984, “1Q84” tells the story of the deeply intertwined fates of its two remarkable protagonists, Tengo and Aomame. The book’s title is a play on words — “Q” sounds like “kyuu,” the Japanese word for “nine.”
Tengo and Aomame were grade school classmates who experienced a moment of mystical union when Aomame, a girl shunned for belonging to a fringe religious group, suddenly seized Tengo’s hand and looked deeply into his eyes. Their paths diverged shortly after Aomame’s impulsive and ambiguous gesture, but each was left profoundly changed by it. For the next 20 years, they are held in the gravitational pull of this brief moment of connection.
Now they are nearly 30. Tengo is a math teacher and unpublished novelist, drifting rather aimlessly through his life, with no clear sense of purpose or ambition. Aomame is a fitness instructor, bodyworker and, most importantly, an assassin of men who have violently abused their wives.
When Komatsu, an unscrupulous and cynical editor, asks Tengo to rewrite a story by 17-year-old Fuka-Eri so that it can be considered for a major literary prize, Tengo realizes he’s entering into a devil’s bargain. But he’s so taken with the story that he is unable to resist Komatsu’s offer.
Accepting the task opens up a Pandora’s box of perils that far surpass even Tengo’s and Komatsu’s worst fears. The novel, “Air Chrysalis,” becomes an immediate best-seller, attracting widespread media attention that threatens to uncover Komatsu’s and Tengo’s scam. More ominously, the novel has aroused the ire of the “little people,” a malevolent group of other-worldly miniature spirits.
Aomame meanwhile has her own secrets. Employed by an elderly dowager, she stealthily and expertly murders men who have abused their wives but remain unprosecuted. When she accepts the assignment to kill the heavily protected leader of Sakigake, the very religious cult that Fuka-Eri had fled and written about in “Air Chrysalis,” she too enters a world of danger she never could have imagined.
She has literally entered another world, one that is nearly identical to the ordinary world of 1984 except that it has two moons in the sky. And in this new world, the flow of time — and rules of reality — have been subtly altered.
Blurring the line between possible and impossible, linear and non-linear time, fiction and reality, fate and free will, “1Q84” is both a metaphysical mind-teaser and a fast-paced thriller where the stakes for Tengo and Aomame couldn’t be any higher. Murakami’s most ambitious novel to date, “1Q84” is also a love story, a story about the power of a single moment of deep connection to transcend time and space — and justify even the greatest of risks.
Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into 42 languages. The most recent of his many honors is the Franz Kafka Prize.
His books include “A Wild Sheep Chase,” “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World,” “Dance Dance Dance,” “Norwegian Wood,” “After Dark,” “After the Quake,” “Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche,” “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle,” and “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”
The translator, Philip Gabriel, is professor of Japanese literature at the University of Arizona. He has translated works by Kenzaburo Oe, Senji Kuroi, Akira Yoshimura, Masahiko Shimada, and Natsuo Kirino.
Gabriel previously translated Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore,” “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” (co-translator), “Sputnik Sweetheart,” and “South of the Border, West of the Sun.” Gabriel is a recipient of the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize (2006) and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for Translation of Japanese Literature (2001).
On the Web: www.harukimurakami.com