By Dennis Abrams
OK – let’s start with Aomame’s part of the story:
It’s 1984, an Aomame is in a taxi on a way to meet a client, listening to Janacek’s “Sinfonietta” playing on the cab driver’s excellent sound system. She’s surprised that the music affects her; we learn her name means “green peas,’ and that she loves sports, history and dates. She and the driver are stuck in traffic which could take hours to clear up; and since Aomame has to meet her client at a specific time, the driver suggests that she use an emergency stairway off the elevated highway to get to the subway to get to her meeting. He cautions her to be careful because of the early April wind, and warns that while things are not always as they seem, “there is only one reality.” With all the other drivers watching her, she gets out of the cab, she gets out of the cab and makes her escape; as she descends the stairs, the wind blows her hair and reveals – a misshapen left ear.
As she continues going down the stairway, her mind wanders, and she thinks about a sexual experience she had with another girl at summer camp some years before. THIS causes her to think about the future – dates, times and places. When she gets to the bottom of the stairs, she finds a locked gate, but slips through a hole in the metal fence, gets on the subway and heads off to a hotel for her meeting.
There she goes to room 426, where she meets Mr. Miyama, a callous businessman who had beaten his wife. Pretending to be a hotel employee, she informs him he has a spot of paint on his neck, and while examining it, pushes a thin needle (which she had encased in a specially made soft cork covering) into his neck, puncturing a part of his brain, instantly and painlessly killing him. After cleaning up any evidence of her presence in the room, she leaves.
She then heads to the Akasaka District to s hotel bar for a drink to calm her nerves. Sitting at the bar, hoping nobody takes her for a prostitute, she reads a book about the history of the South Manchurian Railway, and spies an older man whose thinning hairline reveals the kind of shaped head that she’s attracted to. After striking up a conversation about Cutty Sark, and asking him when the Japanese police started using more high powered weapons (she noticed this after she climbed down from the highway), she seduces him, asking if the size of his “cock” is large enough to make her happy. They go to his room, have sex, after which she watches the TV news.
The next day she visits an old, Western-style home called Willow House, where she is greeted by Tamaru, a muscular, gay, professional bodyguard. He takes her to see the Dowager, who wants to meet Aomame in her hothouse – filled with ordinary plants and extraordinary butterflies. The dowager takes about butterflies as her “nameless friends” who live and die as if they had never existed. The dowager shows Aomame photographs of the murder victim’s badly beaten wife. We learn that Willow House is a home for beaten women.
Aomame, still concerned about her lack of memory about the Japanese police, asks Tamaura about when they started using more modern weapons – he confirms that the change happened two years earlier.
Aomame goes to the library to research the past few years – some of the stories she remembers vaguely, others not all – and she finds this disturbing due her need for control – and if she’s lost control and memory her job could be at stake. She does find the story she’s looking for: a gunfight at Lake Motosu in Yamanashi, which led to the deaths of three police offers and the change in weaponry from revolvers to automatics. She wonders whether or not her mind has willing blacked out certain events, or, more likely she thinks, that the world has begun to change around her, like “switching tracks” – a parallel world. She decides to call the “new” present year 1Q84, the “Q” standing for “question” – 1984 no longer exists for her.
She realizes that she is going to turn thirty in a week.
On to Tengo:
If Aomame is being defined by what she doesn’t remember, we open Tengo’s sections with his first memory from infancy – watching his mother have her breasts sucked on by a man who isn’t his father. He wonders whether this is a real or “created” memory, but decides it has to be real, since recalling the memory also brings about a kind of paralysis that causes Tengo to tremble and sweat. In public, he tells others that it was simply dizziness.
Tengo, an aspiring novelist, has dinner with a “friend” and editor named Komatsu at a café near Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, where they discuss the novella “Air Chrysalis” by a seventeen year-old girl named Fuka-Eri. Though the writing leaves much to be desired, the plot and mood of the piece are extraordinary. Komatsu, although he believes the girl has only one story in her, wants Tengo to edit/rewrite “Air Chrysalis” and submit it to the Akutagawa Prize competition under the girl’s name. Tengo isn’t entirely convinced of the ethics of the idea, but when Komatsu tells Tengo that he knows that he wishes he had written the story, he agrees to think it over.
Komatsu calls Tengo in the middle of the night (Tengo recognizes his ring) and reveals that Fuka-Eri wants to meet Tengo before she commits to the rewrite. Tengo goes to meet Kamatsu (reading a book on Japanese occultism and curses while he waits) – she’s late, and when she arrives Tengo is struck by her beauty. It turns out that she had sat in on two of his lectures on mathematics – Tengo explains that he likes math because everything fits together in its proper place. Fuka-Eri, who is very direct (speaks in one sentence answers) doesn’t seem to care about the form of her story and agrees to Komatsu’s plan.
When discussing the story, Fuka-Eri reveals that the Little People do exist, and tells Tengo that she has someone she wants him to meet on the following Sunday morning. Tengo tells Komatsu that there is something special about Fuka-Eri – that she sees things that others don’t.
Komatsu calls Tengo and tells him to buy a word processor at Komatasu’s expense; Tengo agrees to start on the rewrite. We learn that Tengo also has a married girlfriend (quick easy sex) who cancels on him for the day (she’s having her period) which allows him to get to work on “Air Chrysalis.” He compares his work to that of a carpenter – leaving the basic structure and framing in place, while reworking the trim, the walls, the floors, and so on.
It seems that “Air Chrysalis” is the story of a ten year old girl who lives in an ancient village and has the responsibility of tending a blind goat that is somehow important to the community. When the goat dies, the girl is punished by being locked up with the goat’s dead body – the “Little People” use the corpse to come into the little girl’s world, and taught her how to make an air chrysalis.
Fuka-Eri refuses to tell Tengo whether the experiences in the story were real.
Tengo dresses in his “best clothes” for his meeting. As he and Fuka-Eri travel by train to a destination unknown to Tengo, he asks her if she reads a lot – when she says that she doesn’t because it takes her a long time, he suspect that she is dyslexic.
On their way to meet the man she calls the “Professor,” Tengo learns that Fuka-Eri had dictated the story to another girl named Azami, who wrote it all down and then submitted it. Fuka-Eri lowers her voice while talking to Tengo so that the Little People will not overhear that she has included them in the story.
We also learn that Tengo hates Sundays based on childhood memories of spending them going door to door with his father, a television fee collector for the NHK. Noticing that Tengo is stressing out, Fuka-Eri gives him her hand and reassures him that it is “not just another Sunday.”
The hand-holding continues as they ride and transfer trains, though there is nothing romantic about it – Tengo thinks that she is trying to communicate or discover something about him without using words.
Finally after arriving at Futamatao Station, they take a taxi to a large old home, where he is introduced to the Professor, a short, elderly, physically unimpressive man. His name is Ebisuno which means “field of savages.” After questioning Tengo about Komatasu’s scheme, the Professor, believing that Tengo is honest approves of the rewriting.
We also learn t hat the Professor is Fuka-Eri’s caregiver: Her father, Tamotsu Fukada, was a fellow professor at the university, although both left the academic world after violent left-right clashes at the end of the 1960s. Fukada though was a Communist, and he and some of his students wanted to learn to farm and become self sufficient.
They built up a nearly abandoned village in Yamanashi called Sakigake which became a communal farm with private ownership and regulated compensatory pay. The population soon split though: a group of militant communists wanted to use farming as a cover for violent revolution and left the commune to form their own village nearby, which is when Fuka-Eri came to live with the Professor. The radicals ended up in a firefight with police at Lake Motosu – obviously the same fight that Aomame read about and that led to the introduction of new uniforms and weaponry for the Japanese police.
That’s the basic plot as we know it so far. Some favorite things and quotes:
Janacek’s Sinfonietta: I wonder what it’s going to end up meaning. Listen to it here.
The specificity during Aomame’s cab drive – the brand names, the cars. The grounding in reality.
The cabdriver’s “warning”: “And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before. I’ve had that experience myself. But don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”
And then again, “There is always, as I said, only one reality.”
The spare leanness of Aomame. In every aspect of her life.
What’s up with her frown?
“Don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”
Tengo and his mother. But even more importantly, the idea, that during one of his “spells” of the tsunami, but then, even more importantly: “…he experience no loss of awareness. It was just a sense of having been switched to a new track.”
Tengo, another in a long line of Murakami’s heroes “satisfied” with not a whole lot. Or seemingly so.
Tengo’s initial description of “Air Chrysalis” “…the best thing about this…is that it’s not an imitation of anyone…The style, for sure, is rough, and the writing is clumsy…You could pick it apart completely if you wanted to. But the story itself has real power: it draws you in. The overall plot is a fantasy, but the descriptive detail is incredibly real. the balance between the two is excellent…after you read your way through the thing, with all its faults, it leaves a real impression – it gets to you in some strange, inexplicable way that may be a little disturbing” – Couldn’t that apply as a description of Murakami’s own works?
Aomame’s climb down from the highway. The rubber plant (why other than to ground the description?). The flowing of her memories as she…switched tracks?
The cool methodical way she killed the businessman. Brutal description. But then, after, during the five minutes she waited to stop any drop of blood from the wound, “And in her head, in time with the beat, resounded the opening fanfare of Janacek’s Sinfonietta. Soft, silent breezes played across the green meadows of Bohemia. She was aware that she had been split in two…I’m here, but I’m not here. I’m in two places at once…”
The beauty of Fuka-Eri, another of Murakami’s odd but wise teenage girls who help guide the passive hero towards…something.
“But this seventeen-year-old girl, Fuka-Eri, was different. The mere sight of her sent a violent shudder through him. It was the same feeling her photograph had given him when he first saw it, but in the living girl’s presence it was far stronger. This was not the pangs of love or sexual desire. A certain something, he felt, had managed to work its way in through a tiny opening (Compare to Aomame’s escape from the fenced in after climbing down from the freeway, “If you changed the angle a little and pulled it inward, a space opened up that was just big enough for a person to squeeze through.”) and was trying to fill a blank space inside him. The void was not one that Fuka-Eri had made. It had always been there inside Tengo. She had merely managed to shine a special light on it.”
Aomame in the bar – as cool and detached in picking up the balding businessman and having sex with as him as she was murdering the other businessman in his hotel room.
WHY a history of the South Manchurian Railway Company?
Why did she have the urge after having sex with the businessman to kill him as she did the other guy? “There was no reason to expunge this man from society, aside from the fact that he4 no longer served any purpose for Aomame…’This man is not an especially bad person,’ she told herself…The shape of his head and the degree of his baldness were just the way she liked them.”
The observation post on the moon.
“All she had done was record a story – or as she had put it, things she had actually witnesses – that she possessed inside her, and it just so happened that she had used words to do it.”
Obviously, we’re going to learn more about the story.
The oddness of Fuka-Eri. The phone call. “Fuki-Eri fell silent again, but this time it did not seem deliberate. She simply could not fathom the purpose of his question or what prompted him to ask it. His question hadn’t landed in any region of her consciousness. It seemed to have gone beyond the bounds of meaning, sucked into permanent nothingness like a lone planetary exploration rocket that has sailed beyond Pluto.”
Aomame and the Dowager. The butterflies. “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.”
The Dowager and her butterflies. Not giving them names “These people are your nameless friends for must a little while. I come here every day, say hello to the butterflies, and talk about things with them. When the time comes, though, they 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.” Like us?
Loving Tamaru: “’As luck would have it’ is a bit too direct for me…I prefer ‘Due to heavenly dispensation.’”
Tengo’s father – again, Manchuria and the war.
Tengo’s lack of focus on the train. “An ominous sandstorm was developing somewhere on the plane of his emotions.”… “Don’t be afraid. It’s not just another Sunday.”
Aomame’s quick review of recent history. The gunfight with the radicals.
What do the things forgotten have in common?
“It’s not me but the world that’s deranged…At some point in time, the world I knew either vanished or withdrew, and another world came to take its place. Like the switching of a track [like Tengo]. In other words, my mind, here and now, belongs to the world that was, but the world itself has already changed into something else…”
She remembers the cabdriver’s words
It wasn’t her that changed: “Of course, it’s all just a hypothesis…But it’s the most compelling hypothesis I can produce at the moment. I’ll have to act according to this one, until a more compelling hypothesis comes along. Otherwise, I could end up being thrown to the ground somewhere. If only for that reason, I’d better give an appropriate name to this new situation in which I find myself. There’s a need, too, for a special name in order to distinguish between this present world and the former world in which the police carried old-fashioned revolvers. Even cats and dogs need names. A newly changed world must need one too. 1Q84 – that’s what I’ll call this new world…Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.”
“To think I’m going to have my thirtieth birthday in this incomprehensible world, of all places!”
Tengo’s carefully prepared meal, grilled dried mackerel with grated daikon, miso with littlenecks and green onions to eat with tofu, cucumber slices and wakame seaweed dressed with vinegar, rice and nappa pickles, vs. Aomame’s papaya, three cucumbers with mayonnaise and soy milk (to avoid constipation) “Constipation was one of the things she hated most in the world, on part with despicable men who commit domestic violence and narrow-minded religious fundamentalists.”
The first linking of Aomame and Tengo’s world – the commune and shootout. Tengo: “Gun battle,’ Tengo thought, ‘I remember hearing about that. It was big news. I can’t remember the details, though, for some reason, and I’m confused about the sequence of events.”
I’m going to end it here. As a special bonus discussion of Murakami is pretty cool
Thoughts so far? Thoughts on Murakami in general? Share with the group!
My next post: Tuesday, September 16th; Chapters 11-16