Welcome to Artsweek’s literature crossing! This week, Rita Silverman discusses the importance of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in today’s events while Addy Stupin takes on the surreal dystopia of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Submissions are solicited and edited by Phi Do.
Rita Silverman on Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
We have entered an era of protests. We hold up signs in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and walk alongside the Women’s March to advocate for equal rights. Under our new president, I wonder if these protests can realistically yield anything. As an alternative, we turn to music, art and, specifically, literature to give us answers, hope and a little bit of comedic relief. Sherman Alexie has accomplished just that in his novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which gives a voice to the largely forgotten original people of America: Native Americans. It follows Junior, a 14-year-old Native American boy who lives in an Indian reservation where a cultural genocide is happening. He goes through life thinking the only people who deserve a good life and have a good life are white people. It then occurs to Junior that he must venture outside of the reservation by attending an all-white high school to prove that white people are not the only people who deserve a good life. Aside from racial injustices, the novel also focuses on a young boy trying to figure out his life with girls, bullies, friends and family — things we can all relate to. Moreover, the narration is a first-person voice from a pre-pubescent perspective, making it outrageously hilarious, unimaginably raw and honest. It was absolutely necessary to relieve all the anger and stress from current events. Alexie’s simple and witty writing allows us, as the audience, to realize that there is a racial injustice against Native Americans right in front of our eyes and we can do something about it, starting with by addressing and acknowledging the injustice.
Addy Stupin on Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84
1Q84, written by renowned Japanese author Haruki Murakami and translated into English by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel is, in a word, bizarre. It reads like a fever dream. Taking place in Japan in 1984 and switching between three points of view, a complex story is woven. The narrators of the novel include a dodgy but skilled private investigator, a cram school teacher who is also an aspiring writer and a fitness instructor with an unusual side job, all of whom share a past. At the heart of everything are the young teacher, Tengo, and the instructor, Aomame.
The novel itself follows the repercussions of an unusual book, Air Chrysalis, the brainchild of a beautiful young schoolgirl and ghostwritten by the aforementioned cram school teacher. The presence of two moons in the sky, a feature of the world imaged in Air Chrysalis, hints at a bizarre alternative universe, which is coined “1Q84.” In this slightly-off universe, of which only a certain few are seemingly aware, a powerful cult works to eliminate those who have become aware of this new reality, namely Tengo and Aomame.
Although an abstract connection, a parallel from George Orwell’s famed dystopia, 1984, can be drawn. 1Q84 exists as a separate entity outside of 1984 — a different version of that same year. Often, when society faces difficult times, writers react by fictionalizing darker worlds. Orwell’s 1984 is an example of this technique. His creation of a society dictated by the all-encompassing “Big Brother,” was a response to the rising nationalism and competing ideologies leading to World War II. Murakami borrows directly from Orwell in terms of his title, 1Q84, and also through the alternate interpretation of his novel and the greater message to be found if one reads in between the lines.
While undeniably well written, the intricate and sometimes confusing narrative makes one wonder if the story is so surreal and well done that it is beyond comprehension or a bit clumsily composed at times. This book is a true page-turner and, although open-ended occurrences may be off-putting, the exceedingly well crafted work and interesting characters are undeniable.
Recently, sales of Orwell’s 1984 have spiked with the current American political state cited as the reason. Through the fantastical novel’s connections with Orwell’s 1984, parallels can also be drawn to present day America, the flawed leadership and turmoil comparable, to some, to a sort of alternative universe. A character in 1Q84, a controversial cult leader with an avid following and unhealthy amount of control, perhaps finds similarities, albeit abstract, in Big Brother’s control and replication of not entirely truthful facts.
1Q84 is part mystery, part romance, part commentary and entirely a successful dystopia.