If you’ve read Orwell’s 1984, you should be aware that this story has nothing to do with a dystopian future where Big Brother is watching your every move. It is, in fact, a tale where the lead characters wander off into an alternate timeline or parallel universe. Not everybody seems to notice that the world around them has inexplicably changed in subtle and then increasingly perplexing ways.
The book begins with what might be the best opening chapter I’ve read in a long time. A young woman is stuck in rush-hour traffic in a taxi. She is traveling on a highway in Japan and the music playing inside the taxi is Janacek’s Sinfonietta. This, by the way, is a beautifully crafted piece of music. I would probably have never heard of it if not for this book. This music alone is worth the price of admission.
We learn later that the woman’s name is Aomame. She has an important appointment and is getting late because of the traffic jam. The taxi driver suggests that if it is really that important, she could get out of the taxi and climb down an emergency stairway that will take her to the city streets below. Once there, she could catch a train to go to her destination. However, he also warns her that the world might change in subtle ways if she chooses to do this. His parting words to her are that there is only one reality and she would do well to remember this.
She does climb down the emergency stairway and the world does begin to change. But only for her, it seems. Have you ever wondered what you might feel like if you saw two moons in the sky and realized that everyone else is probably seeing only one moon? This is one of the many changes Aomame must learn to live with.
The second primary character in the book is a young man called Tengo. He is an aspiring writer who is hired by an editor to help ghost-write a fictional book by a beautiful but dyslexic girl. The book goes on to becomes a best-seller and wins a prestigious literary prize but Tengo is troubled by the story the girl has written and is not completely happy that he played a secret role in getting the story to a wider audience. Tengo’s world also begins to wander off in the strange reality that Aomame is experiencing.
The book alternates between Aomame and Tengo until we realize that they are on a collision course. Apart from these two lead characters, there are several memorable characters including an old, soft-spoken dowager who hides a terrible secret, a gay bodyguard who thinks of himself as the ultimate professional in his field and of course, the mysterious teenage girl who wrote the original story that Tengo later modified and polished. All characters are beautifully developed and you actually will care about what happens to each of them as they play out their parts. Add to this a weird religious cult called “Sakigake” and last but not least, the so-called “little people” who seem to be pulling all the strings.
The entire story takes place in what you and me would refer to as the year 1984. The title 1Q84 refers to the alternate universe in which Aomame thinks she has been drawn into. Within the book, there is a fantastic, somewhat creepy and almost dream-like tale about a town full of cats. I have never been able to visit this town in my dreams. But if I do wander there on some night, I hope I return in one piece to the world of the waking.
Long story short, go get this book and read it through to the end. You will not be disappointed. Or even better, get the audio CD version and listen to it. The one common thing about all great stories is that they stay inside your mind forever. I will remember this story for a long time to come. And so will you.