Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is His The Brothers Karamazov

In an excellent New York Times Magazine piece on Haruki Murakami, Sam Anderson meets with the writer to talk about his latest book being released in the United States: 1Q84. I have pre-ordered it months ago from Amazon.com (you should too), and I can’t wait to read it.

Below, Anderson vividly describes the book and how 1Q84 is Murakami’s The Brothers Karamazov (I’ve read it when I was in high school):

For decades now, Murakami has been talking about working himself up to write what he calls a “comprehensive novel” — something on the scale of “The Brothers Karamazov,”one of his artistic touchstones. (He has read the book four times.) This seems to be what he has attempted with “1Q84”: a grand, third-person, all-encompassing meganovel. It is a book full of anger and violence and disaster and weird sex and strange new realities, a book that seems to want to hold all of Japan inside of it — a book that, even despite its occasional awkwardness (or maybe even because of that awkwardness), makes you marvel, reading it, at all the strange folds a single human brain can hold.

Reading the piece, you come to learn how humble Murakami is. The Little People are characters in 1Q84, and Anderson notes how the idea just came to Murakami:

“The Little People came suddenly,” he said. “I don’t know who they are. I don’t know what it means. I was a prisoner of the story. I had no choice. They came, and I described it. That is my work.”

And in case you’re wondering: do Murakami’s dreams resemble his novels?

I asked Murakami, whose work is so often dreamlike, if he himself has vivid dreams. He said he could never remember them — he wakes up and there’s just nothing. The only dream he remembers from the last couple of years, he said, is a recurring nightmare that sounds a lot like a Haruki Murakami story. In the dream, a shadowy, unknown figure is cooking him what he calls “weird food”: snake-meat tempura, caterpillar pie and (an instant classic of Japanese dream-cuisine) rice with tiny pandas in it. He doesn’t want to eat it, but in the dream world he feels compelled to. He wakes up just before he takes a bite.

This part about translation is fascinating, I think:

Murakami has consistently denied being influenced by Japanese writers; he even spoke, early in his career, about escaping “the curse of Japanese.” Instead, he formed his literary sensibilities as a teenager by obsessively reading Western novelists: the classic Europeans (Dostoyevsky, Stendhal, Dickens) but especially a cluster of 20th-century Americans whom he has read over and over throughout his life — Raymond Chandler, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut. When Murakami sat down to write his first novel, he struggled until he came up with an unorthodox solution: he wrote the book’s opening in English, then translated it back into Japanese. This, he says, is how he found his voice. Murakami’s longstanding translator, Jay Rubin, told me that a distinctive feature of Murakami’s Japanese is that it often reads, in the original, as if it has been translated from English.

But as Anderson later notes, Murakami’s “entire oeuvre…is the act of translation dramatized.”

I am currently reading Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance. It might take me some time to finish reading 1Q84, as it’s over 900 pages (Murakami’s take on his book: “It’s so big…It’s like a telephone directory”). I’ve never been to Japan, but reading Murakami’s fiction makes me want to visit. But as you learn from Anderson’s piece, Murakami’s Japan is different from actual Japan in so many ways.

On a final note, do not miss the interactive feature that goes along with Anderson’s piece.

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