1Q84: Book Two by Haruki Murakami (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 1184 pp)

Born in 1949 in Japan, Haruki Murakami studied drama at Waseda University. He began writing fiction at the age of 29, inspired to write a novel while watching a baseball game. Murakami earned literary fame with his best-selling novel, Norwegian Wood. In the wake of its success, he earned writing fellowships at Princeton University and Tufts University. Murakami has won the Franz Kafka Prize, the Kiriyama Prize, the Yomiuri Prize, the Jerusalem Prize, and the International Catalunya Prize.

Check out my review of Book One.

Discerning Between Unenviable Options

Often times, life does not provide a right answer. When pondering between two choices, both have pros and cons. If life was a series of obvious choices, we’d never question whether our lives are headed in the right direction. With Book Two of 1Q84, Haruki Murakami establishes one of life’s classic paradoxes where no obvious answer exists but a decision, nevertheless, must be made.

In Book Two, the reader finds the crux of the 1Q84 storyline. If you recall from my Book One review, main characters Aomame and Tengo have operated on parallel narratives seemingly intertwined in unknown ways.

A Dangerous Mission 

Photo by Marufish

Aomame, the vigilante assassin of violent men, accepts the most difficult assignment of her illegal career. Her organization learns of gross sexual misconduct from The Leader, a figurehead of a secretive, rural cult called Sakigake.

A dangerous mission, Aomame must prepare for failure. Suicide is an option.

“At least once a day she would stand in front of the bathroom mirror and put the muzzle of the loaded gun in her mouth. Feeling the hardness of the metal against the edges of her teeth, she imagined herself pulling the trigger. That was all it would take to end her life. In the next instant, she would have vanished from this world. To the self she saw standing in the mirror, she said, A few important points: not to let my hand shake; to brace for the recoil; not to be afraid; and, most important, not to hesitate” (354).

A closely guarded figurehead, the completion of this mission will result in flight for Aomame. Sakigake is an affluent organization that will stop at nothing to bring retribution for their leader’s death if the mission is successful.

In Between Fact and Fiction

Meanwhile, Tengo receives further pressure in the wake of Air Chrysalis’ success. For starters, the author, Fuka-Eri, has run away. The longer she is missing, the more intense the scrutiny the publisher will receive and news of Tengo’s involvement as a ghost writer could ruin everything.

Even worse, the fantastical fictional narrative to which Tengo contributed is shifting into reality. He sees two moons in the sky.

Could this mean, then—Tengo asked himself—that this is the world of the novel? Could I have somehow left the real world and entered the world of Air Chrysalis like Alice falling down the rabbit hole? Or could the real world have been made over so as to match exactly the story of Air Chrysalis? Does this mean that the world that used to be—the familiar world with only one moon—no longer exists anywhere? And could the power of the Little People have something to do with thins in one way or another” (548)?

The world of 1Q84 is becoming more influential.

A Choice

In the process of completing her assassination attempt on The Leader, Aomame gains a fresh but unpleasant perspective.

Photo by Spreng Ben

For starters, The Leader wants to die. A window into the world for the Little People, The Leader cannot handle life anymore. As a conduit for these fantastical beings, The Leader no longer wants to carry this burden.

Even worse, the Little People are targeting Tengo for his involvement in Air Chrysalis, unknowingly cueing the public to the secretive workings of these mysterious beings.

Aomame faces an exceedingly difficult decision. Kill The Leader and ensure her inevitable death when Sakigake hunts her down and save Tengo, or release The Leader, save her life, and guarantee death for Tengo.

Having formed an irrational bond with Tengo in elementary school, her decision has no right answer.

Right, Wrong, Or Balance

No matter Aomame’s choice, people will suffer. The ethic of good and evil carries no weight. In fact, The Leader argues,

“’In this world, there is no absolute good, no absolute evil,’ the man said. ‘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. The most important thing is to maintain balance between the constantly moving good and evil. If you lean too much in either direction, it becomes difficult to maintain actual morals. Indeed, balance itself is the good. This is what I mean when I say that I must die in order to keep things in balance’” (447).

What would you do in Aomame’s shoes? Is self-preservation worth someone else’s life? Is balance a better question than right and wrong? We all face unending choices every day. While most of our decisions do not possess the same onus, choices are rarely clear.

Book Two progresses the 1Q84 narrative nicely and I eagerly look forward to Book Three.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5.

Posted by: Donovan Richards
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