Impressions of 1Q84: Murakami meets Brubeck

“(…) (T)he vast majority of the people in this world does not believe in truth but believe, willingly, in that what they wish to be true” (‘1Q84’, Haruki Murakami)

Tokyo Metro, by Stefano Constanzo (
Tokyo Metro, by Stefano Constanzo. (Creative Commons license).

Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84’ is one of the best novels I have read in the recent weeks. Despite the reference to Orwell’s ‘1984’ (in Japanese the letter “q” and number 9 are homophones) there is not much of the Big Brother/political-critique in this book. Or at least, I do not find it significant enough.

In ‘1Q84’ the main characters, Aomame and Tengo, exchange chapters throughout the book. Aomame is a talented killer who is hired by a rich lady, who protects women who have been victims of abuse, to execute what would be her most dangerous job: Murdering the leader of a sect which used to be a extreme-left wing organization linked to the armed group Japanese Red Army. Tengo, on the other hand, is a teacher in a private school and tries unsuccessfully to write his first book during his spare time. The story of one of the victims of the sect is re-written by Tengo (although is published as written entirely by the young victim) and brings the attention of the media because of her age and the quality of “her” writings. Between Tengo and Aomame, however, there is a connection that we will just find out after the first part of the book is well advanced.

The essence of Japan is well described by Murakami as much as it is depicted musically by Dave Brubeck in his 1964 album ‘Impressions of Japan’. Murakami makes us travel to a parallel universe where nothing is what appears to be, he is also capable of describing the decade of late 70s and early 80s in Tokyo and its surroundings: stressful traffic jams (check the first song in this post), religiosity, politics (capitalism and left-wing attempts to escape from it within isolated communities) and moral values (respect to elders, honour and fidelity), all of it also present in Brubeck’s impressions of Japan.

Furthermore, ‘Impressions of Japan’ might be used for a description of many of the scenes covered in this book. Its intricate passages with melancholic melodies fit with Tengo’s visits to his father, with whom he has not spoken in a while, and with whom he has no easy relationship. The song posted above (‘The city is crying’) is a good example of this. It has a solid piano solo which is a story in itself, ending up in a sad musical conversation between Eugene Wright (bass) and Dave Brubeck (piano). This ending could describe in a few seconds the end of the book, this is, the fusion between both main characters, as it is the fusion of both musicians.

The smooth writing of Murakami makes the reader flow along some horrible crimes and atrocities, as well as intriguing romances. As every chapter brings you to one or another of the main characters, it keeps you focused on each of the stories while also making you anxious to go back to the one that you just abandoned temporarily. Brubeck’s songs bring a westerner’s view of Japan to its fullest expression, and it is another master piece of one of the pioneers who dared to mix American jazz tradition with other musical traditions from around the world. Read ‘1Q84’ while listening to ‘Impressions of Japan’ and travel to another country in another universe without leaving your home.


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