Aomame (青豆) is riding in a taxi listening to her favorite music "Sinfonietta" by Janacek. I don't know the music, but I imagine it to be repetitious but not overly repetitious. The music must have some connections to the composition of 1Q84 in mood, rhythm, or form. The narrator tells us Aomame's favorite subjects are history and sport. But the male narrator seems nuts about the ancient history and exotic places. He says Aomame imagines the wind over the Bohemian plain and the way the history developed. His words seem unconvincing, but I think perhaps later on, she'll reveal herself worthy for such description. Maybe she has gone to Checkoslovakia in her childhood, and her father is a historian. Maybe? I'll read very slowly.
In a Tokyo freeway, the taxi moves in a snail speed. After her brief negotiation with the driver, expressionless Aomame gets off the taxi that is still on the freeway and heads to a gray stairway that leads to an emergency exit. She is wearing a suit with a tight mini skirt and high heels and a sun glasses. I won't list the brand names. The narrator even describes the model of the car they are riding and also focuses on the type of stereo the taxi is equipped. I wonder why we need to know that. Maybe the information becomes important later on. I'll read on since I paid 1800 yen ($18) for the first volume.
Tengo is a twenty nine year old. He is actually a genius in math, but because he wants to write novels, he became a math teacher at an advance cram school for future college students. When Tengo was a year and a half, he saw a sex scene of his mother and a man. This memory haunts him. The scene comes up more than five times throughout the book. This explains to him why he looks different from his father in appearance and inclination. He doesn't get along with his father.
The story falls in the fantasy genre, and between good and bad fantasy, it falls into a bad one. But I sense positive elements underneath the narration. So I read the next page.
Another scene starts when Tengo has an epileptic-like attack talking with his editor boss, Komatsu. Their relationship goes back five years since Tengo submitted his early novel to a yearly literary competition. Tengo hasn't won the award yet, but Komatu who is a judge has been giving Tengo writing assignments and feedbacks. As for Tengo's physical condition, it is not serious but habitual. After he recovers from the attack, he and Komatsu discusses about one promising submission, "Air Pupas" by Fukaeri, a seventeen year old girl. They both recognize her talent, but her writing lacks in strong descriptions. Komatsu suggests Tengo to rewrite it so that the story gets a new-comer award. She is a beautiful young girl, and the mass media will go crazy after her. Her book can be a best seller over night. Komatsu says they can be rich, but that's not all, he can look down on the stale and bureaucratic literary community. Tengo is unsure about the morality of his assignment.
Tengo lost his mother when he was small. His father was a fee collector for NHK, Nippon Public Broadcasting. Currently, his father is hospitalized for Alzheimer outside of Tokyo. Tengo lives alone in a tiny apartment at Koenji, Tokyo. His place is close to everything. He spends time with his girlfriend once a week. She is a married woman who is ten years older than he. She calls him, but he cannot. The narrator tells us he is quite satisfied with his current situation.
Tengo at first refuses Komatsu's idea of colluding on ghost writing "Air Pupas," but Komatsu insists him on meeting Fukaeri. Tengo meets her. She speaks in a mono tone with no expression. But she agrees with his rewriting. She says her friend wrote her oral story and mailed it without her knowledge. Tengo is against immoral approaches but cannot resist rewriting the book.
Many descriptions in this book appear as a long list. When a list becomes very long,
I tend to forget especially about guns. Again, he goes in and out of Aomame's consciousness when describing about guns, but I don't know how she learned about them. The detail about guns must give male readers an extreme pleasure. So I won't complain about it. Besides, it isn't easy to write an entertaining novel for all.
Throughout the book, dialogues are logical, and most of the times, each speech is written in a complete sentence. So it's very easy to read and understand. Another advantage is probably easy to translate. It is well edited also. As I'm reading, I feel no bumpy rides, but since the story has enough plots and surprises, I'll continue to read.
The male and omnicient narrator's voice sometimes cross over to Aomame's voice in Aomame chapters. Aomame was seventeen when she had a friend named Tamaki. The narrator describes their relationship like lesbians, but he must have received a vague command from the author. It doesn't matter to me either way, but I want to see it exactly the way author intended. By the way, there are many sexual, body descriptions in this book, but the narration stops before becoming erotic or violent. Maybe because I read "Running with Scissors" by Augusten Burroughs, and once I took Jessica Barksdale Inclan's class that included writing a sex scene and read fellow writers' works in progress, I appreciate the art. I know how hard it is to go after such scenes. I've never written it and probably cannot. But I can tell good one from bad. In this book, such scenes are neutral.
About naming of characters and places, I had fun guessing. That gives you bonus pleasures reading this novel. Aomame is a professional killer. At Chapter 4, she finally gets to a hotel room and kills a business man. His name is Miyama written as 深山. 深(deep)山(mountain). Each kanji has two ways to pronounce, and we read深Fuka-I as well as Mi.
In Chapter 5, egotistic Komatsu calls Tengo in the middle of the night and persuades him to meet up with Fukaeri. Tengo finishes teaching his three classes and heads to the meeting place. He stops by at the Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku and buys a few books. He reads a book while he waits for Fukaeri. The book is about how the ancient society used curses. The curses helped filling gaps in the ancient society in which conflicts arose. After a long wait, Fukaeri arrives. She seems like a space-cadet supposedly with a special brain. She also seems like a main character of Yoshimoto Banana's book, Kitchen. These characters appear to be living in a fairy tale.
I'm interested in male narrators becoming a woman. What is their female point of views? If they were women, what would they think they would think and do as a woman? But the author probably didn't tell the narrator to delve into it. On page 91, the narrator tells us that Tengo had only a few girlfriends in the past. Those women were his former students. The narrator explains that the students had graduated sometime ago, and they were callers, not him, and he had no reason to refuse their offers. Besides, he is a single guy. The narrator seems apologetic to his behavior for some reason. The author must be a good husband and father. Anyway, Tengo dated those women. He seems very passive. He only waits and receives. He does not initiate actions. That's a turn off. I'm not behind him. He is unattractive. In my past creative writing classes, I learned that main characters must be active. Tengo is not, but 1Q84 is selling like pancakes. Anyway, the narrator explains that Tengo did have a sexual relationship twice among those former students, but the relationships ended naturally. I don't know what twice means or how naturally means. The narrator stops short. Tengo didn't feel very comfortable with those young women. He feels comfortable with older women because he doesn't have to lead. Well, he is absolutely unattractive. Tengo therefore is satisfied with his current relationship. Nevertheless, he feels something trembling inside while meeting Fukaeri. Over all, the narrator has been logical before this point. But this illogic therefore mystery leads readers to read on.
The next scene, Tengo meets Fukaeri and negotiates on his rewriting of "Air Pupas." The narrator says that Fukaeri's simple and complete way of speaking manner was convincing, and it may be only a show, but some smart young women instinctively act in an eccentric way and confuse men. He says it's difficult to distinguish their real actions from their acting. I think this is well written about how women unconsciously disturb men. "Mice and Men" by Steinbeck came to my mind. Later on in 1Q84, a genius boy keeps making sculpture mice. So, in my mind, I find a connection to the American classic. I don't know what the author will say about it.
Other literary connections are obviously "1984" by George Orwell, "Heike Monogatari," a Japanese historical story told orally, "The Brothers Karamazov" by Dostoevsky, and "Sakhalin Island" by ?Chekhov.
Aomame has only girlfriends. The narrator tells us that she likes middle-aged men with bald spots on their heads like Sean Connelly, and her favorite people are Kansai people who have moved to Tokyo and try to speak in Tokyo accent. Well, anything is possible, but somehow the narrator must convince readers, not just telling those inclinations. Later, I find that Aomame is truly in love with Tengo since they met when they were ten. He is her only love although they haven't met for twenty years. Their love is mutual, but they both do not know the other's heart.
One of my enjoyments reading this book is the year, 1984. The year we still used pink public phones instead of cell phones, former activist students formed their cults, and salaried-men still worked like slaves. In the past, the author wrote about the sarin-gas incident by the Ohm Cult. If you remember that weird and violent crime in Japan, it helps reading this book.
I missed the detail like changing police uniforms and guns because I lived in the U.S. in 80s. In 1984, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart were competing for a Democratic candidate for President. Gary Hart had his extra marital affair with a young woman. He humiliated his wife, and the guilty woman appeared in a jeans' commercial, saying "No excuses." I said that, not the narrator.
A week or so ago, this is 2009, I read an Asahi Shinbun article that a prisoner who finished his term and got out the prison. But right away, he was arrested again for a misdemeanor charge. He said, "I want to go back to my prison because I miss the dinner of 400 yen." The prison he came from was full, so he has to go to some other prison. The reporter says it's still about 400 yen for a dinner in other prison. Because I lived in the U.S. for over 35 years, I thought this interesting. The reporter asked a food worker in the prison in which the prisoner wanted to go back. The food worker said, "I have confident in our cooking and the taste of our foods, but I don't know what to think on what the prisoner said." Growing up, the prisons used to be the place nobody wanted to go, and the prisoners wanted to get out and never wanted to go back! This paragraph is nothing to do with "1Q84" by Murakami Haruki. But it made me think about the difference from the society then.
I appreciate your comments.