A note on the little project: My favorite contemporary author is Haruki Murakami; his latest work to appear in English translation is 1Q84 and was released in late October, 2011. His novels are often pulpy page turners, and the urge to get to the end to see what happens often hurries me up; I don’t notice things the first time through, and I certainly don’t stop to savor the first reading. So this time I am stopping and smelling the roses, so to speak by blogging about every three chapters I read. I go through them once, think about them for awhile, and then start typing notes—whatever comes to mind—as I skim over the chapters again. Sometimes I refer back to previous sections, but I try to keep it all pretty much within these three chapters. That way I’ll have an ongoing record of my response to the book.
Also, I am reading the book in hard copy. This is odd because I just got a Kindle, which has so far been very useful and has changed my reading habits for the better. I’m doing the hard copy of the Murakami to again be a sort of public reader; it’s a new book, his fans tend to be very loyal, and I am looking to start conversations with random people in a pleasant way.
Phew. The chapters are picking up a certain density right now, and I get the feeling that some major meaning bombs are being dropped (to paraphrase Tracy Jordan). Here’s hoping I can get this post done so I can get back to reading on the way to work tonight, ‘cause the plot is also heating up.
Tengo’s thoughts on the Witnesses
- Tengo has sympathy for people who are born into religious groups and who leave as adults because they are not socialized and cannot blend seamlessly into society. While this is true, I’ve also found it to be true of any expatriate or immigrant; you cannot fit in because your place is somewhere else.
- So how are religious communities different from larger cultures? How are communities defined and how do they work on individuals? Those seem to be the themes that Murakami is getting at, but I am not sure what answers he is providing. He does seem to think that there should be an opposition (based on Fukada’s “revolution”) and that outsiders might have a necessary perspective (Tengo’s conversation with his girlfriend about bullying).
His memories of Aomame
- “…as if by squeezing his hand she had drawn something out of him” (358). Aomame has ushered in Tengo’s adolescence in a way that recalls the way that Fuka-Eri held his hand on the way to meet the professor, as though she were reading him or drawing something out of him. Perhaps Fuka-Eri’s job (in the story) is to draw out Tengo’s creative power. That sounds rather neat but clashes with the feminist themes of the book; why should her purpose in the book be to help a male character get his writing done, as if that were her sole purpose? Maybe Tengo is a sympathetic character and so his sexism is the most subtle. It kinda works as a reading for the feminist slant, but I just don’t buy it.
- I am beginning to suspect that the character Aomame we’ve been reading does correspond to anyone; after all, “Tengo chose to relate to her through the silent realm of imagination and memory” (359). She might be a character that Tengo has invented.
- A-ha. I think that Murakami is intentionally reusing certain phrases in different contexts so as to give us pegs to climb the book he’s written. Take this: “… he wanted her to tell him something—anything—about herself, to whisper some secret about what it meant to be Aomame, what it meant to be a ten-year old girl… though even now, Tengo still had no idea what that ‘something’ might be.” (359). A similarly undefinable something came up before in the context of Tengo and his father; his father resented Tengo’s accomplishments in school, his opportunities; there was something inside Tengo that his father hated. What was it? A self? An identity? The quote about Aomame above is tantalizing: he wants to know what it means to be her (an individual) and to be a ten year old girl (an entire population). What is a self? Where do our data stop and our identities begin?
- There is another recurring phrase—he remembers Aomame following her mother as a child, “her eyes staring at a place that was no place” (360). Those are the same words that end Norwegian Wood, another Murakami book about memory and loss.
Memory and Loss
- Tengo’s regret over not having talked to her as a child manifests itself in fantasies and trains of thought that are very familiar: what would I say to her if I say her now? What would I have said if I had had the courage then?
- Regret is a long running theme for Murakami, and this particular bit reminds me of South of the Border, West of the Sun.
Why is he thinking of Aomame then?
- Tengo theorizes that his new drive to write is somehow connected to Aomame; the urge to write is connected to his dissatisfaction with the past and his urge to rewrite it.
- “What Tengo would have to do, it seemed, as take a hard, honest look at the past while standing at the crossroads of the present. Then he could create a future, as though he were rewriting the past.” (364).
St. Matthew Passion
- Fuka-Eri might refer to the Bach pieces by their BMV numbers and so not realize their import, but Tengo (and Murakami) certainly have the story of Jesus in mind.
- Murakami gives a short synopsis of the biblical story at hand. A woman anoints Jesus with expensive oil as she knows that he will die; he tells his disciples “wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
- These words recur to Tengo as he starts writing about his world, as, perhaps, he writes a story about Aomame and memorializes the ten-year old girl he knew.
- All of this fits with the Tengo-is-writing-Aomame’s-story idea.
A Friend Dies, a Friend Grieves
- Aomame’s reaction to Ayumi’s death is affecting and believable, particular this sentence: “She would turn into smoke, rise up into the sky, and mix with the clouds. Then she would come down to the earth again as rain, and nurture some nameless patch of grass with no story to tell” (366). A note: Aomame seems upset that Ayumi will somehow lose her humanity; she will have no name and no story to tell; that no one will understand her, that no one will appreciate the loss that her death represents to the world. It reminds me of Norwegian Wood, in which the protagonist feels that his memories are a museum that no one but himself cares to come and see. What are our lives, if they are not remembered by anyone?
- Aomame’s guilty feelings are also very recognizable; that she should have bene more open, that she could have protected Ayumi when maybe she couldn’t have.
- It is a humanizing little touch that Aomame doesn’t assume that Ayumi was out and out murdered; maybe it was a game that just went a little too far.
- It is so upsetting because it seems like they would have made such a good pair, like Fuka-Eri and Tengo.
- Ayumi’s death could lead Aomame to a consideration of the futility of violence; there is a change in her; she thinks to herself that, “Once [she’s] finished this assignment, [she] won’t have to kill anyone any more” (373).
- Ayumi had a wasteland in her. Her identity is built around this wasteland, a void. Is that a tenable way to live? Its it possible?
- Aomame’s is built around her memory of Tengo (as his was built around her). (373)—Tengo as a ten year old boy. She does not want to change the present in the way that Tengo does; she uses the past anchor herself in the present.
- Another paradox: She wants to have sex to remain pure, to exorcise the desire that didn’t exist when she felt pure love for Tengo. Once she got rid of that desire she could be with him in that same, pure way. That doesn’t sound psychologically healthy at all. (374).
- And of course her chapter ends with the motif of the self-imposed prison, which I’ve already mentioned here… Hmmm.
- Three communications in the chapter: Komatsu’s letter, his older girlfriend’s husband’s call, and Ushikawa’s call.
- The chapter is well paced—the letter makes Tengo think that his phone is tapped, and soon after he gets a call about his girlfriend. Is someone spying on him?
The Husband’s Call
- The phone call from the husband is ominous: “My wife will not be able to visit your home any more,” as if she had a broken leg; “My wife is irretrievably lost,” (381-82). Is the husband beating on the wife then? (he’s using words similar to those used by Kumiko in her letter to Toru).
- Tengo regrets not asking her more, not learning about her story; is this part of his broader shift toward being a real author, getting curious about the people around him rather than closing himself off from the world?
- Tengo wonders if his whole life has lead him to recreate the image of a man who was not his father sucking on his mother’s breasts. Hmmm.
- “Things that are important to your life begin to slip out of your grasp, one after another, like a comb losing teeth” (386).
- Tengo is losing things that cannot be replaced; is that the human condition in middle age?
- The whole thing is well done; Ushikawa knows too much, implies that he knows more, but doesn’t say anything incriminating or direct; he writhes and equivocates.
- He says that Tengo and Fuka-Eri might be carriers or a disease; interesting thought—they pose a threat to public health (perhaps, that they know some kind of embarrassing truth, and that is why someone is trying to shut them up); that they are committing some kind of thought crime. Hmmm.
Reviews for Air Chrysalis (and maybe Murkami too)
- It’s uncharacteristic for Murakami to be talking about review of his book, and I wonder if the complaints in the reviews for Air Chrysalis (that the author doesn’t explain what the air people or their air chrysalises mean) are meant as jabs against Murakami’s own critics. Why should he explain everything? Perhaps 1Q84 is his argument that literature is not like math. There are not answers to everything.
- It is not what they represent, but whether or not they move him; whether or not the story has Quality, to borrow a phrase.
- It reminds me of Bob Dylan’s withdrawal from the press; why should a pop star have the answers, after all? Why should a novelist have the answer
Tengo Wises Up
- At last Tengo is wising up a bit
- He realizes that he has some leverage cause he can expose Komatsu (377-78), and he jabs back at Ushikawa by mentioning the Little People. (it reminds me of Toru taking a blind guess at Noboru Wataya in Wind Up-Bird and landing a lucky blow). (387)
- Says that what Aomame and the dowager do “… is reckless. And there’s no end to it.” (370).
- There’s something fatalistic in Tamaru, and here it is marvelously sketched. It’s a whole philosophy in a line; bad things happen; you can fight against them, but applying justice is a never ending process that might never actually lead anywhere.
- I am not sure what to make of his little parable about the vegetarian cat. He might be giving Aomame a warning about who to trust. (he says also that he’s never seen luck, and so doesn’t know if he can believe in it 370).
- If my theory is correct, if Tengo is somehow writing the story of Aomame that we’ve been reading, then there is something curious going on—the initial Aomame chapters were clunky, but now, especially with regard to Tamaru and Ayumi, they are becoming more believable than the Tengo chapters. This is a neat trick—which world are we in, and which one is real? Tengo couldn’t tell at the end of Book 1, and now neither can we.
 If remember correctly, the narrator calls out to Midori (?) from “the dead center of this place that was no place,” which sentence is utterly annihilating after finishing Norwegian Wood at 4AM on the top floor of a school in Phitsanulok Thailand, a location that, at the time, felt very much like a place that was no place.