Japanese author Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite writers. His book about the Aum Shinrikyo cult and the Sarin gas attacks in Tokyo is an excellent and thorough exploration of the topic. The book, Underground, consists of two collections of interviews — with the victims of the Sarin attack, and with former and then-current members of Aum. It also includes an essay about cults and a society’s reaction to them. I highly recommend it.
His latest novel is entitled 1Q84, and it is of interest to scientology watchers because the plot revolves around a cult. One that bears some similarities to the COS, as well as Aum Shinrikyo. The story begins with Aomame, a young woman with an unusual occupation as an assassin for a just cause; and also Tengo, a young man who finds himself involved in a scheme to sell a strange teenage girl called Fuka-Eri as the “next big thing” among Japanese writers. Their stories intersect when Aomame crosses over into an alternate timeline, and in the course of her work for a woman known only as “the Dowager”, she is tasked with gaining access to the reclusive leader of a strange religious group.
Through his entanglements with the young writer, Tengo also finds himself confronting the reality of this strange group and their bizarre rituals. Rituals that involve improper relations with underage girls, and “little people” from another world. As well as punishments involving isolation and manual labor, or even confinement in a small space, and prominent leaders who have gone missing or died under questionable circumstances.
Eventually, Tengo’s own childhood memories, as well as circumstances beyond his control, drive him to a long-anticipated reunion with Aomame. She has carried the vivid memory of a brief childhood bond with Tengo, but never let herself hope to see him again. Fate draws them together, and when they are both hounded by a cult “enforcer”, she leads him to escape.
It is a strange and remarkable story, like all of Murakami’s fiction. The cult angle makes it particularly interesting for scientology watchers. You will find many moments of recognition. But be warned, Murakami is not for everyone! This is a long novel, translated from the Japanese, and it is just as bizarre and nebulous as any of Murakami’s stories. So if you are annoyed by a slow pace or stories without tidy answers, you may prefer to read a synopsis. However, if you like surreal stories, with complex storylines and amazing imagery and characters — you will enjoy this novel. I recommend it!
Another review from IndieBound.
And one from the NY Review of Books.
An interesting article from The Atlantic, about the process of translating this novel.