Fantastic Voyage

Haruki Murakami has been praised by The Guardian as “among the world’s greatest living novelists”.  Although I’ve read or listened to most of his fiction, I wouldn’t have whole-heartedly agreed with this until now.

His latest novel 1Q84 was first published in Japan in 3 parts in 2009-10.  Coming out in English in October, 2011, I waited almost a year before making this 1318-page journey.

For a more traditional take on Murakami’s latest tome, I highly recommend this review:  The Economist Review.

I would love to have been alive and reading in the late 18th, early 19th century.  “The Golden Era” of Russian Literature.  Anton Chekhov.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  Leo Tolstoy. Epic plot and character driven stories interwoven with universal truth and wisdom in times of war and peace.

Similar to the Russian giants, Murakami has the uncanny ability to make even the banal and mundane somehow compelling.  I don’t know if it’s the way the characters speak to each other, what they actually say, or how he describes them and their surroundings.  Either way, I experience a kind of effortless flow as I read.

Take this scene as the male protagonist Tengo describes his first meeting with a despicable, potentially ominous interloper:

His trunk had already filled out so that it had lost all sign of a waist, and excess flesh was gathering at his throat…His teeth were crooked, and his spine was strangely curved…Around the borders of the flat, lopsided area of his head clung thick, black curly hair that had been allowed to grow too long, hanging down shaggily over the man’s ears.  Ninety-eight people out of a hundred would probably be reminded by it of pubic hair.  Tengo had no idea what the other two would think. 

With Murakami’s fiction I always know I’m going to be highly entertained.  And with his best work, transported into a bizarre universe occupied by larger than life heroes and villains, helpers and hinderers and always an animal with something wise to impart.  Universal truth, however, is not something I’ve come to expect.  Until now.

Murakami has dealt with the phenomenon of the cult in Japan before and he re-visits this theme again in 1Q84.  As I myself grew up in an extremely religious family, I was struck by this particular passage when a key character speaks on the phenomenon of religious leaders:

People have been repeating the same kinds of fraud throughout the world since the beginning of time, using the same old tricks, and still these despicable faces continue to thrive.  That is because most people believe not so much in truth as in things they wish were the truth.  Their eyes may be wide open, but they don’t see a thing.  Tricking them is as easy as twisting a baby’s arm.

Nothing earth-shatteringly new here.  Nevertheless, a brilliant explanation for a lot of things that are simply wrong in our world.

So if you’re looking to lose yourself in the early 21st century in a strange world (or two) full of intriguing personalities and the occasional nugget of wisdom, this fantastic voyage is waiting for you.

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