Friday, April 12, 2013

A World With Two Moons

Haruki Murakami has achieved literary fame yet that celebrity status is based on a singular purpose. After all it takes focus to write. Luckily Murakami is a man of concentration as is evidence by his yearly habit of running marathons (his highlight being a 3:31:27 in 1999 in NYC).

Murakami didn't always have writing as his main purpose. He owned a jazz club for a while and then he reached an epiphany that he could write novels while watching a baseball game. A ball was hit and he was struck with the idea that he could write, and write he has.

His latest work, 1Q84, a play off of George Orwell's 1984 and the Japanese word for nine, pronounced like an English "Q," is a three volume, one thousand one hundred fifty seven page piece of labor. The lengthy love story was originally two volumes published in Japan in 2009, a year later Murakami expanded the story to its denouement and the finished product was published in 2010.

1Q84 is an amplification of Murakami's "On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" with the main character's, Aomame (meaning Green Peas), and Tengo falling in love with each other as children. Aomame grasps onto Tengo's hand one day in school and the two fall for each other. However, their fates pull them apart with Aomame being sent to a different school. They continually think of each other but never come in contact until a strange series of events propels them to meet in a world with two moons. Their inescapable love and fateful coming together is alluded to by Aomame early in the novel when she speaks of free will to her friend Ayumi saying,

"It's the same with menus and men and just about anything else: we think we're choosing things for ourselves, but in fact we may not be choosing anything. It could be that everythings's decided in advance and we pretend we're making choices. Free will may be an illusion" (241).

The illusory agency of the characters is initially propelled forward through Tengo, a cram school teacher and aspiring writer, deciding to rewrite a novel called "Air Chrysalis." Fuka-Eri, the original author, is a beautiful seventeen year old woman whom is dyslexic and comes from a shadowy cult, The Sakigake. Under the influence of Komatsu, a popular editor, Tengo decides to rewrite the novel and submit it to an emerging writer's contest. The novel wins and becomes immensely popular.

In the meantime, Aomame, an aerobics teacher, body worker (she stretches people in something akin to yoga), and part time assassin is hired by an older woman, the dowager, to kill the leader of the Sakigake cult who has been raping young girls. Aomame engages in her missions by touching a specific part of the body with a make shift ice pick and targets men who are domestically abusive. This by no means should be taken as Aomame being a feminist or a lesbian, as she states explicitly to the dowager's question if she is either, "I don't think so. My thoughts on such matters are strictly my own. I'm not a doctrinaire feminist, and I'm not a lesbian" (168). Aomame does engage in some lesbian activity though, but that is one of the lighter "sexual deviancies" in the novel.

The leader of the cult, whom also happens to be Fuka Eri's father is a large, mystical man, who can levitate alarm clocks and undergoes prolonged periods of muscular rigidity during which he is unable to move his body at all. This is what leads Aomame to him. As an expert in muscle stretching she is recommended to alleviate his ailments. While he is in rigid states young women fornicate with him. When quizzed about the nature of these relations, the leader evades  the question of rape stating that "'I had congress with her,' he said. 'That expression is closer to the truth. And the one I had congress with was, strictly speaking my daughter as a concept'" (580). If that doesn't make any sense, don't worry about it, most of the rest of the novel doesn't either and according to the leader the morality of "having congress" with young women is entirely subjective as,

"In this world, there is no absolute good, no absolute evil... Good and evil are not fixed stable entities but are continually trading places. A good may be transformed into an evil in the next second. And vice versa. Such was the way of the world that Dostoevsky depicted in The Brothers Karamazov" (558). 

Through the conversation between Aomame and the Leader, the Leader convinces Aomame to kill him anyways. He wants out of his life, and his crappy body. She obliges and then is on the run from the cult. She hides out in a safe house provided for her by the dowager and then is mysteriously impregnated, much like the Virgin Mary. Unlike the mother of Jesus, Aomame knows the father, Tengo! Evidently he knocked her up somehow, and Murakami alludes to Tengo boning down with Fuka Eri as being the source of Aomame's pregnancy. Somehow Fuka Eri acts as a medium for his sperm and Aomame's body, basically its a magical realist menage a trios! 

Murakami seems to enjoy playing with weird sexual acts, and often has some serious mother loving situations as evidenced in Kafka On The Shore which has a Oedipal story line. Murakami certainly doesn't disappoint the mother lovers amongst us in 1Q84.

He gives Tengo a weird relationship with his mother who abandoned him as a child. His only memory of her is a scene in "which his mother in underclothes let a man who was not his father suck on her breasts" (345). Tengo continues to relive the scene and remembers the "look of ecstasy suffused his mother's face while the man sucked on her breasts, a look very much like his older girlfriend's when she had an orgasm" (218).   Tengo decides to relive the scenario with his older girlfriend who wears a white slip like Tengo's mother.  Tengo takes off the slip and:

 "adopted the same position and angle as the man in his vision, and when he did this he felt a slight dizziness. His mind misted over, and he lost track of the order of things. In his lower body there was a heavy sensation that rapidly swelled, and no sooner was he ware of it than he shuddered with a violent ejaculation" (218).

The novel isn't just about weird sex though, its also about cooking! Murakami's characters often cook and drink cans of beer. Murakami carefully lays out cooking scenes with care  as is evidenced by Tengo who:

"chopped a lot of ginger to a fine consistency. Then he sliced some celery and mushrooms into nice-sized pieces. The Chinese parsely, too, he chopped up finely. He peeled the shrimp and washed them at the sink. Spreading a paper towel, he laid the shrimp out in neat rows, like troops in formation. When the edamame were finished boiling, he drained them in a colander and left them to cool. Next he warmed a large frying pan and dribbled in some sesame oil and spread it over the bottom. He slowly fried the chopped ginger over a low flame" (452).

Despite all this cooking "Tengo drank only half his beer and ate only half of his shrimp and vegetables" (453)! What a waste! Luckily Tengo goes on to cook some more while listening to old Rolling Stones Albums with Fuka-Eri. After all "cooking was not a chore for Tengo. He always used it as a time to think- about everyday problems, about math problems, about his writing, or about metaphysical propositions" (653). Tengo was making rice pilaf with ham, mushrooms, and brown rice accompanied by a miso soup with tofu and wakame to help him think about his metaphysical propositions.

Ushikawa, the novel's villian, of sorts, doesn't cook for himself. Instead he eats simply and when he stakes out Tengo's place he just eats "canned peaches, and smoked a couple of cigarettes" (923). When Ushikawa does go out it is for simple food as he "ordered a bowl of soba noodles with tempura. It had been a while since he had had a hot meal. He savored the tempura noodles and drank down the last drop of broth" (954). Ushikawa's meals have none of the metaphysical properties of Tengo's, that's for sure yet there is still a large role of food for even the villain.

Along with weird sex, and food, another recurring topic is music, specifically Leos Janacek Sinfonietta. Both Tengo and Aomame continually listen to the piece throughout the novel. I have no idea why, nor the significance of it although this write up might shed a helpful light on things. Tengo and Aomame also listen to jazz and modern rock too. Why they don't listen to Oingo Bongo, or Duran Duran, beats me, I guess its just a Murakami thing.

Overall the novel is a sprawling tale. Murakami takes his time in telling a convoluted, twisted, and surreal love story. The premise is simple, boy and girl meet, fall in love and live happily ever after but as Murakami says "the role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a single problem into another form" (222) and that other form is a lengthy weird tale... or in other words its a typical Murakami piece that is longer than the rest.

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