1Q84: Book One by Haruki Murakami (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 1184 pp)

Born in 1949 in Japan, Haruki Murakami studied drama at Waseda University. He began writing fiction at the age of 29, inspired to write a novel while watching a baseball game. Murakami earned literary fame with his best-selling novel, Norwegian Wood. In the wake of its success, he earned writing fellowships at Princeton University and Tufts University. Murakami has won the Franz Kafka Prize, the Kiriyama Prize, the Yomiuri Prize, the Jerusalem Prize, and the International Catalunya Prize.


Do you remember the last time you didn’t know that answer to a question? Did it bother you, your state of unknowing? I’m a big fan of knowing. I seek clarity; I need answers. As such, I’m thankful for my iPhone.

A question mark. It is the “Q” in Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and the underlying premise in the foundational narrative of Book One. 1Q84 highlights two protagonists connected in ways still uncertain.

Assassin Aomame

Photo by Jesslee Cuizon

On one side, Aomame is a reserved young woman with dark secrets. She grew up in a cult and ran away from home at a young age. Her best friend committed suicide in the wake of domestic violence. Ever since the suicide, Aomame seeks vengeance. Collaborating with a wealthy benefactor possessing the same goals, Aomame removes aggressive and violent men from this earth.

This was an easier death than you deserved, Aomame thought with a scowl. It was just too simple. I probably should have broken a few ribs for you with a five iron and given you plenty of pain before putting you out of your misery. That would have been the right kind of death for a rat like you. It’s what you did to your wife. Unfortunately, however, the choice was not mine. My mission was to send this man to the other world as swiftly and surely—and discreetly—as possible. Now, I have accomplished that mission. He was alive until a moment ago, and now he’s dead. He crossed the threshold separating life from death without being aware of it himself” (37).

Interestingly, this assassin hates men yet holds a strong affinity for one-night stands with middle-aged, receding-hairlined men.

Trickster Tengo 

On the other sides exists Tengo, a math instructor at a cram school and wannabe literary genius. Tengo desires recognition but his stories lack the panache necessary for a bestseller.

Luckily, Tengo uncovers a startling debut, Air Chrysalis, from a teenager in a new writer’s competition. Despite a stunning narrative, this young woman’s prose is poor. An editorial friend, Komatsu, devises a plan where Tengo re-writes Air Chrysalis, publishing under the teenager’s name, Fuka-Eri.

“Reasoning, common sense, instinct—they are all pleading with me to pull out of this as quickly as possible. I’m basically a cautious, commonsensical kind of person. I don’t like gambling or taking chances. If anything, I’m a kind of coward. I just can’t bring myself to say no to Komatsu’s plan, as risky as it is. And my only reason is that I’m so strongly drawn to Air Chrysalis. If it had been any other work, I would have refused out of hand” (118).

If everything goes well, Komatsu, Tengo, and Fuka-Eri stand to make copious amounts of money. If the plan fails, professional ruin lies ahead.

A Questionable World 

While Tengo places the finishing touches on the re-written Air Chrysalis, Aomame begins to perceive strange alterations to her environment. The police—her enemy given her line of work—have new uniforms and weapons out of the blue; the moon gains a companion in the sky, less shiny but strikingly moon-like. She labels this world “1Q84”.

“Like it or not, I’m here now, in the year 1Q84. The 1984 that I knew no longer exists. It’s 1Q84 now. The air has changed, the scene has changed. I have to adapt to this world-with-a-question mark as soon as I can. Like an animal released into a new forest. In order to protect myself and survive, I have to learn the rules of this place and adapt myself to them” (110).

An Orwelian Narrative?

Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Clearly a reference to Orwell’s 1984, Murakami’s 1Q84, especially Book One, builds setting through a question mark. The reader doesn’t know what is real and what is fiction. Yet through dazzling prose and remarkable ideas, we are drawn into this question mark. In particular, Murakami introduces mysteries characters known as “the Little People.”

In Aomame’s timeframe, the Little People cryptically influence a 10-year old rape victim from a countryside cult. In Tengo’s narrative, the Little People play a crucial role in Air Chrysalis and Fuka-Eri claims they exist from her time in this same secretive cult. Murakami notes the connection to 1984:

“George Orwell introduced the dictator Big Brother in his novel 1984, as I’m sure you know. The book was an allegorical treatment of Stalinism, of course. And ever since then, the term ‘Big Brother’ has functioned as a social icon. That was Orwell’s great accomplishment. But now, in the real year 1984, Big Brother is all too famous, and all too obvious. If Big Brother were to appear before us now, we’d point to him and say, ‘Watch out! He’s Big Brother!’ There’s no longer any place for a Big Brother in this real world of ours. Instead, these so-called Little People have come on the scene. Interesting verbal contrast, don’t you think” (236)?

Book One introduces many questions. I eagerly look forward to answers in Book Two and Book Three. Murakami is a brilliant writer and I am enjoying my introduction to him in 1Q84. I enthusiastically urge you to give this book a read!

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

Posted by: Donovan Richards
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