My first introduction to Haruki Murakami (above) was at the bookstore, passing by his novel After Dark, spying a beautiful, sleeping Japanese girl on the cover. Remembering how sensuous and lush Memoirs of a Geisha was, I was interested in perusing this seemingly exotic and mysterious novel. After Dark turned out to be an excellent choice but of a different nature. Murakami's science fiction, dystopian novels evoke ancient myths, mystical connections, and cosmic disharmony. He leads us in very different directions only to reveal unity and order in his denouements.
1Q84, Murakami's anxiously-awaited 925-page tome, has finally appeared! I avidly turned the pages to find his signature quirky characters and alternative realities: he does not disappoint. The world quietly changes: time warps; two moons cross the night sky. Here are his apathetic protagonists ready to reveal an explanatory subcontext of some prior life-deflating experience. Deadpan Fuki-Era has just emerged from a commune in which she fed a blind goat who hatched evil Little People from its mouth. Manslayer Aomame is aloof even when killing or maiming men; is she avenging her abused friend? Detached Tengo becomes emotionally connected to these two women as he is caught in their webs.
This device of bored people in humdrum existences evokes the existential writers, Camus, Sartre, Beckett. Were their characters lacking in feeling or meaning? Were they able to connect on some level? There are studies of autistic people who seemingly don't respond to others' emotions (empathize), but upon psychological analysis very deep and real reactions to others became apparent. Their feelings were expressed differently, and their resonsiveness to the feelings of others was hidden. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon is a great window into this particular world. An autistic child creatively solves the crime through reason and empathy with the other characters.
1Q84 is a dystopian novel reminiscent of Orwell's 1984. The citizens are not allowed to think for themselves, and Big Brother is always watching to make sure they don't. As Murakami says in 1Q84: "They are making mindless robots. They take the circuits out of people's brains that make it possible for them to think for themselves. Their world is like the one that George Orwell depicted in his novel."
Often expressing ideas through dichotomies, perhaps Murakami is addressing the state of our culture vis-a-vis the year 1Q84.
As I mentioned earlier, the first dystopian novel I read by the avant-garde Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami was After Dark. It begins with the mythological tale of sibling rivalry between two sisters; jealousy is not evoked, but the hurtful point of view of the parents creates a diasma between the two. The plain-but-smart sister is drawn into a love hotel named "Alphaville" to help translate Chinese into Japanese.
In naming the hotel "Alphaville," Murakami gives us our first glimpse into Murakami's world of irony and subtle wit. Alphaville was Voltaire's invention for an alien planet in Micromegas and the subsequent Godard film which created a social dystopia (opposite of utopia): a tyrannical, absolute rule something like life in Berlin before the Wall came down.
The contrasts in this novel between good and evil, beautiful and plain, night and day, etc., show us life in its duality; we begin to reason in polarities, and a discerning way of thinking emerges.
After Dark is a mystery that culminates in the transformation of character and the expansion of our own wisdom.
I next read Kafka on the Shore: some of Murakami's broader strokes were becoming familiar to me. The protagonist and antagonist first contrast and then mesh in a mystery which keeps one turning the pages. This novel involves the other-worldly spirit of a Japanese curator who collected tanka poetry (nod to his home). Murasaki--who spent some of his early adult years delving into a huge range of literature and music--draws on them richly to create connections and understanding. There is a man who can communicate with cats in their own language. Kafka can literally walk into a village from a prior time. The science fiction really works more as imagery or symbolism: this is a world we can somehow accept.