Great Fiction and 1Q84

While reading “1Q84,” one man realizes how great fiction revitalizes us

| March/April 2012

  • Reading Fiction
    Many nights I closed “1Q84” feeling hungry to go out and create something beautiful myself.

  • Reading Fiction

When I was assigned to review the book 1Q84, it had been four months since I’d read a page of anything. That last novel I’d tried to read had also been by Haruki Murakami—The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle—and my bookmark was right where I’d left it, on page 52, the day my wife had gone into labor with our second son.

Raising young children poses two challenges for reading fiction. The first is time, and not having much of it. The second, which I find harder to overcome, is that raising kids and reading fiction require somewhat different mind-sets: Fiction opens you to new possibilities, but once you’ve embarked on an all-consuming activity like parenting you don’t want to think too much about other possibilities; you just need to put your head down and do it.

I started 1Q84 at 9 p.m. at the end of a long day that had featured a 103-degree fever (my younger son, Wally, age 4 months) and several bathroom accidents (his older brother, Jay, age 2 years). As I slumped on the couch with a cup of peppermint tea and my large yellow review copy of 1Q84, I found myself grasping to justify why, outside of the assignment I’d been given, it made sense to spend my only free time reading fiction.

But I did read the book, that night and every night after for a month, and I found that as I read 1Q84 and got deeper into Tengo’s and Aomame’s stories, I stopped questioning the purpose of fiction and instead began to see reading the novel as one of the few necessary things I did all day. The reasons for the change of heart had to do with wonder, with love, and with the way literature provides for the best parts of who we are.

1Q84 is long (nearly 1,000 pages) and wildly imaginative, but at heart it’s a simple love story. Tengo and Aomame, both 30 years old, shared a singular, intense moment as children, disappeared from each other’s lives, and have been trying to recapture that kind of intimacy ever since. As the book opens they fall into a sinister and illogical alternate world called 1Q84. It is most clearly distinguished by the two moons that hang in the sky—the familiar moon and, alongside it, a smaller moon, “slightly warped in shape, and green.” The moons are a tangible reminder of the warning delivered to Aomame by her cab driver, just before she steps out of a taxi on a gridlocked Tokyo expressway and inadvertently into the world of 1Q84: “Please remember: things are not what they seem.”

A few days after I started reading the book I was standing in my Michigan backyard, talking on the phone, when the unusual brightness of the night caused me to look up at the moon—nearly full, unobstructed by clouds—for the first time in as long as I could remember. For a moment I was so taken by the view that I lost track of the conversation.

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