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Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's prescient fiction

Japanese writer Haruki Murakami uses his novels to peel back the layered chaos of an uncertain world.

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"Those were hard years," Murakami says, rubbing his chin. "But I learned discipline in those years, how to save money, and how to use time wisely."

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Japan's current predicament feels eerily anticipated by Murakami's latest novel, "1Q84," in which twin protagonists, a male writer and female assassin, are reunited through the power of a novel and the seduction of a cult while the world they inhabit – "1984," or "1Q84" (the "q" being both a homonym for the Japanese word for '9' and also denoting a question) – melts into a very uncertain reality.

"The world is very chaotic today," Murakami says. "You have to think about so many things – your stock options, the IT industry, which computer you should buy, junk bonds. You have 54 channels on DTV. You can know anything you want from the Internet. It's so complicated, and you feel lost. But if you enter a small, closed circuit, you don't have to think about anything. The guru or dictator will tell you what to do and think. It's simple. So people like to enter those small, closed systems – just like the very intelligent people who gather in Aum Shinrikyo [the Japanese terrorist cult that poisoned Tokyo subways in 1995]. But once you enter that system, you cannot escape. The door is closed."

Murakami's world is about seeking the openings amid closed-circuit systems, a way out of the oppressive structures that civilizations build around their individuals. His world increasingly feels like a stand-in for ours – whether his readers are Japanese, Americans, Europeans, or other Asians – where globalization has made borders more porous but also less reliable. Surely that is part of his immense global appeal. While other novelists strive to keep pace with the headlines, Murakami has always seemed both below and ahead of them, writing from a source beneath our immediate perceptions and crafting narratives that force us to confront our secret selves.

Fiction, he told his audience in Israel in 2009 when he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, the nation's highest literary award, garners its power "by telling skillful lies – which is to say, by making up fictions that appear to be true. The novelist can bring a truth out to a new location and shine a new light on it. In most cases, it is virtually impossible to grasp a truth in its original form and depict it accurately. This is why we try to grab its tail by luring the truth from its hiding place, transferring it to a fictional location, and replacing it with a fictional form. In order to accomplish this, however, we first have to clarify where the truth lies within us. This is an important qualification for making up good lies."

"1Q84" is a novel that weaves good lies into a simple truth: We reside in a world of uncertainty, and we better learn quickly how to live and love in it.


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