Reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $3.25
Takeaway: The world is not what it seems.
This is a wide ranging book, originally written as a trilogy in Japanese . It is hard to classify it as a genre, but I would probably call it a contemporary fantasy. Although I think that most of the people that will like it would not pick up a book labeled fantasy as a first choice.
Aomame (the female protagonist) opens the book late for an appointment. She is stuck on a skyway in a cab. The cabbie suggests that if she really needs to get to her appointment she could get out of the cab, climb down an emergency ladder and take the subway (which has a stop near the bottom of the stairway.)
Aomame decides to do this, but the cabbie warns her that nothing will quite be the same once you have stepped outside the realm of your normal life. And nothing is. Aomame is not going to any old business appointment. She is on her way to assassinate a man who beats his wife. She has a relationship with a rich older woman that provides her with information (and money and support) to kill men to stop them from beating their wives.
In another story line, Tengo, a young math teacher and aspiring fiction writer is asked to re-write a story originally written by a 17 year old girl. The girl escaped from a cult compound when she was younger and has written a fantasy story recounting her life, including a blind goat, little men, an invisible air chrysalis and more. Tengo in rewriting the story gains the wrath of the cult and potentially damages his entire career by committing the authorial fraud. There are a whole host of other story lines. But getting into them reveals more plot details than is necessary.
1Q84 is fascinating story. It did not feel like a 47 hour audiobook (or 946 page print book). On the other hand there was a ton of repetition in this book. It felt like it needed an editor. Some of the repetition is probably from the fact that this was three separate books combined. But a lot of the repetition is within pages of the prior account. And while I listened to interviews with the translators at the end of the audiobook, I thought that some of the problems had to have been translation problems. The book feels like it wanted to be a bit clunky at points and that it was part of the author’s intent. But there are other places that it just feels like the translator didn’t do their job. A significant plot point involved Aomame’s Jehovah Witness background. But it was always referred to as Society of Witnesses. Maybe that was intentional in Marakami’s part, but it feels like a mistake by the translator. And toward the end there is a quote from Carl Jung that is just wrong. The quote is supposed to be “Called or Uncalled, God is Present”. But Marakami quotes it as “Cold or Not Cold, God is Present”. Again it feels like a translator mistake.
Despite the translator (or maybe author) problems the story is interesting (and a bit crazy).
What is also interesting is the fact that this is clearly not an standard US fiction story. Murakami is well versed in western culture, in fact I have no doubt that he knows much more than I do about western literature. But he is also Japanese and so there are differences. When the Aomame describes attractive men she always talks about the shape of the head. I have never heard an American romance story talk about the shape of then head when describing an attractive man. It is also assumed that a person will have to walk blocks away from their home to find a place open enough to see the moon.
Another point that is probably not cultural, but still is important to know for the potential reader, is that for all of the threads of the story (and there are a lot) there is really only one that is wrapped up fairly well. The rest are just left open. This will really annoy some people, especially for a nearly 1000 page novel.
Also of note is that there is also a lot of sex in this book. But it is described very differently than in a standard American fiction book (and almost alway far less erotically and much more metaphorically). This book also reveals how much Western culture leaks into other cultures without nearly as much reciprocal cultural leakage.
On the whole I really liked the book, I just think the translation could have been better and 200 pages could have been trimmed without losing any of the power of the story.