It is sometime in the fall of 1998 and I am standing in the M aisle of the fiction wing of the Idaho Falls Public Library. I am recently back from an uninterrupted two-year stint in Northern Japan, my first taste of life outside the I-15 Mormon Corridor. I have missed the start date for fall semester at Utah State, virtually no friends remain in college-less Idaho Falls, and I am brutally homesick for the city of Sendai. This being Eastern Idaho, there are of course no Japanese people to talk to, very limited (and low quality) Japanese food available, and a rental video selection consisting almost entirely of The Seven Samurai and some pornographic anime. The manga/anime boom that kicks off with Dragonball and Pokemon is a couple years away.
Even worse, the internet in 1998 is mostly blinking text and slow-loading jpegs of supermodels. I have yet to learn about chat clients and language input modules. Streaming video is not even a twinkle in someone’s eye; most of us are still on dial-up anyway. My only connections to Japan in these dark, boring days are infrequent emails and letters, some now embarrassing J-Pop CDs that I brought back with me, and whatever books I can rustle out of the library. Unfortunately for me, any knowledge I have of Japanese literature basically starts and stops with James Clavell’s Shogun, which I read within a few weeks of coming home. If there are resources and recommendations online, I haven’t found them.
So there I am in the M’s, because I vaguely remember from somewhere that Murasaki Shikibu wrote something called The Tale of Genji, which seems as good a place as any to start. Instead, I see the name Murakami attached to several books. One, A Wild Sheep Chase, has the sort of name that appeals to me, so I take it home. A day or two later I come up for air, with my brain still sizzling like bacon in a frying pan. Between that day and the beginning of winter semester, I read every Murakami Haruki book in the library.
Over the next few years, I keep up with his new books, build up better Japan networks, and eventually make it back a couple of times. It isn’t long before the pipeline connecting me and Japan is a superhighway rather than a single thread, but I keep reading. I even start buying Japanese copies of the novels. Once I find myself with a string of Japanese girlfriends, I introduce each of them to Murakami’s books. Without exception they are hooked. (This includes my wife, who has long since passed me in total Murakami consumption.) Because I am young and foolish, I project myself into the stories and identify with his often unnamed narrator. For reasons that may be similar, my girlfriends also project me into the books, though never the same ones as me or each other. (Between us, we account for five or six, though memories are hazy of who said what.)
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I bring this up here, at the start of my 1Q84 read, not just because I enjoy talking about myself, but to give some background for what will likely be an obsequious and fanboy-ish post. (Or posts. Not sure yet.) I’m sure I would have enjoyed Murakami’s books whenever I first discovered them, but the combination of his writing, my tastes, Japan, and a particularly impressionable time in my life created a potent literary addiction. Even now, an older, more stable, and more cynical me feels a slight thrill of anticipation knowing that I will start into a new novel tomorrow. I still remember reading Kafka On the Shore and being unable to disengage from that world, despite the demands of work and family.
Now, looking at the 900+ pages waiting for me, there is a whiff of trepidation in the air. This is a big book during a busy time, and I have a history of sinking further into Murakami than is wise. I hope to churn out a couple of backlogged posts in the next week, as well as dealing with the usual family and music duties while I read. We shall see. For now, if I eventually dribble off into the rantings of a half-mad sycophant, please understand the history I have with this author. He was a lifeline in bleak times, so I feel no shame for my craven discipleship.