Synopses & Reviews
The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.
A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.
A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s — 1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
“Murakami is like a magician who explains what he’s doing as he performs the trick and still makes you believe he has supernatural powers....But while anyone can tell a story that resembles a dream, it's the rare artist, like this one, who can make us feel that we are dreaming it ourselves.” The New York Times Book Review
"Once you start reading 1Q84, you won't want to do much else until you've finished it. Murakami possesses many gifts, but chief among them is an almost preternatural gift for suspenseful storytelling....Despite its great length, Murakami's novel is tightly plotted, without fat, and he knows how to make dialogue, even philosophical dialogue, exciting....There's no question about the sheer enjoyability of this gigantic novel, both as an eerie thriller and as a moving love story....I read the book in three days and have been thinking about it ever since." Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"A book that...makes you marvel, reading it, at all the strange folds a single human brain can hold....A grand, third-person, all encompassing meganovel. It is a book full of anger and violence and disaster and weird sex and strange new realities, a book that seems to want to hold all of Japan inside of it....Murakami has established himself as the unofficial laureate of Japan — arguably its chief imaginative ambassador, in any medium, to the world: the primary source, for many millions of readers, of the texture and shape of his native country....I was surprised to discover, after so many surprising books, that he managed to surprise me again." New York Times Magazine
"Profound....A multilayered narrative of loyalty and loss....A fully articulated vision of a not-quite-nightmare world....A big sprawling novel [that] achieves what is perhaps the primary function of literature: to reimagine, to reframe, the world....At the center of [1Q84's] reality...is the question of love, of how we find it and how we hold it, and the small fragile connections that sustain us, even (or especially) despite the odds....This is a major development in Murakami's writing....A vision, and an act of the imagination." Los Angeles Times
"1Q84 is one of those books that disappear in your hands, pulling you into its mysteries with such speed and skill that you don't even notice as the hours tick by and the mountain of pages quietly shrinks....I finished 1Q84 one fall evening, and when I set it down, baffled and in awe, I couldn't help looking out the window to see if just the usual moon hung there or if a second orb had somehow joined it. It turned out that this magical novel did not actually alter reality. Even so, its enigmatic glow makes the world seem a little strange long after you turn the last page. Entertainment Weekly
"[A] masterwork...[Murakami has] crafted what may well become a classic literary rendering of pre-2011 Japan....Orwell wrote his masterpiece to reflect a future dystopia through a Cold War lens....Similarly, Murakami's 1Q84 captures attitudes and circumstances that characterize Japanese life before the March earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster. Reading 1Q84, once can't help but sense already how things have changed." Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[1Q84] is fundamentally different from its predecessors. We realize before long that it is a road. And what the writer has laid down is a yellow brick road. It passes over stretches of deadly desert, to be sure, through strands of somniferous poppies, and past creatures that hurl their heads, spattering us with spills of kinked enigma. But the destination draws us: We crave it, and the craving intensifies as we go along (unlike so many contemporary novels that are sampler menus with neither main course nor appetite to follow). More important, the travelers we encounter, odd and wildly disparate as they are, possess a quality hard to find in Murakami’s previous novels: a rounded, sometimes improbable humanity with as much allure as mystery. It is not just puzzlement they present, but puzzled tenderness; most of all in the two leading figures, Aomame and Tengo. Converging through all manner of subplot and peril, they arouse a desire in us that almost mirrors their own....Murakami makes us want to follow them; we are reluctant to relinquish them. Who would care about the yellow brick road without Scarecrow’s, Woodman’s and Lion’s freakiness and yearning? What is a road, particularly Murakami’s intricately convoluted road, without its human wayfarers?” Richard Eder, The Boston Globe
About the Author
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into more than forty languages, and the most recent of his many international honors is the Jerusalem Prize, whose previous recipients include J. M. Coetzee, Milan Kundera, and V. S. Naipaul.
Reading Group Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of 1Q84, the magnum opus of critically acclaimed and best-selling novelist, Haruki Murakami, author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, and Kafka On the Shore.
is a vast and intricate novel. What are the pleasures of reading such a long work, of staying with the same characters over such a long period of time?
2. Murakami has said he is a fan of the mystery writer Elmore Leonard. What elements of the mystery genre does 1Q84 employ? How does Murakami keep readers guessing about what will happen next? What are some of the book’s most surprising moments?
3. Why would Murakami choose to set his story in 1984, the year that would serve as the title for George Orwell’s famous novel about the dangers of Big Brother?
4. The taxi driver in Chapter 1 warns Aomame that things are not what they seem, but he also tells her: “Don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality” (p. 9). Does this statement hold true throughout the novel? Is there only one reality, despite what appears to be a second reality that Aomame and Tengo enter?
5. Aomame tells Ayumi: “We think we’re choosing things for ourselves, but in fact we may not be choosing anything. It could be that everything's decided in advance and we pretend we’re making choices. Free will may be an illusion” (p. 192). Do the events in the novel seem fated or do the characters have free will?
6. When Tamaru bids goodbye to Aomame, he says: “If you do go somewhere far away and I never see you again, I know I’ll feel a little sad. You’re a rare sort of character, a type I’ve seldom come across before” (p. 885). What type of person is Aomame? What qualities make her extraordinary?
7. The dowager insists, and Aomame agrees, that the killing they do is completely justified, that the men whom they kill deserve to die, that the legal system can’t touch them, and that more women will be victims if these men aren’t stopped. Is it true that Aomame and the dowager have done nothing wrong? Or are they simply rationalizing their anger and the desire for vengeance that arises from their own personal histories?
8. Tengo realizes that rewriting Air Chrysalis is highly unethical and that Komatsu is asking him to participate in a scam that will very likely cause them both a great deal of trouble. Why does he agree to do it?
9. How does rewriting Air Chrysalis change Tengo as a writer? How does it affect the course of his life?
10. How do the events that occur on the night of the huge thunderstorm alter the fates of Aomame, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and the dowager? Why do Aomame and the dowager let go of their anger after the storm?
11. At first, Ushikawa is a creepy, totally unlikable character. How does Murakami make him more sympathetic as the novel progresses? How do you respond to his death?
12. Near the end of the novel, Aomame declares: “From now on, things will be different. Nobody else’s will is going to control me anymore. From now on, I’m going to do things based on one principle alone: my own will” (p. 885). How does Aomame arrive at such a firm resolve? In what ways is the novel about overcoming the feeling of powerlessness that at various times paralyzes Aomame, Ayumi, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and all the women who are abused by their husbands? What enables Aomame to come into her own power?
13. What does the novel as a whole seem to say about fringe religious groups? How does growing up in the Society of Witnesses affect Aomame? How does growing up in Sakigake cult affect Fuka-Eri? Does Leader appear to be a true spiritual master?
14. What is the appeal of the fantastic elements in the novel—the little people, maza and dohta, the air chrysalis, two moons in the sky, alternate worlds, etc.? What do they add to the story? In what ways does the novel question the nature of reality and the boundaries between what is possible and not possible?
15. What makes the love story of Tengo and Aomame so compelling? What obstacles must they overcome to be together? Why was the moment when Aomame grasped Tengo’s hand in grade school so significant?
16. In what ways does 1Q84 question and complicate conventional ideas of authorship? How does it blur the line between fictional reality and ordinary reality?
17. References to the song “Paper Moon” appear several times in the novel. How do those lyrics relate to 1Q84?
18. What role does belief play in the novel? Why does Murakami end the book with the image of Tengo and Aomame gazing at the moon until it becomes “nothing more than a gray paper moon, hanging in the sky” (p. 925)?