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83 pages 2 hours read

Haruki Murakami

1Q84

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2009

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

1Q84 is a novel written by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The book was first published in Japanese in three volumes and released in 2009 and 2010, ahead of an English translation published in 2011. Set in 1984 in Tokyo, the story concerns an assassin who stumbles upon an alternate world she refers to as 1Q84. There, she becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving an abusive religious cult.

This study guide refers to the 2011 edition published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Plot Summary

In 1984 Tokyo, 30-year-old Masami Aomame sits in a cab that is stuck in traffic on the expressway. She is running late for an appointment at a hotel, where she plans to assassinate a wealthy oil executive as retribution for abusing his wife. Rather than miss her appointment, Aomame leaves the cab and descends an emergency stairway. Before she does so, the cab driver warns her, “[A]fter you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little” (9). When she emerges at street level, Aomame notices subtle changes that weren’t there just hours earlier and later sees that there are two moons in the sky.

Interspersed with Aomame’s narrative are chapters written from the perspective of Tengo Kawana, a classmate who knew Aomame in elementary school. For the past 20 years, Aomame and Tengo have harbored a secret love for one another, even though they haven’t seen each other since fifth grade. Today, Tengo is a 29-year-old math teacher and writer. His friend and editor Komatsu asks him to ghostwrite a draft of a novella called Air Chrysalis which was submitted to the editor’s publishing house by a 17-year-old young woman named Fuka-Eri. Set in a world with two moons, Air Chrysalis tells the story of a ten-year-old girl living in a religious commune who encounters fantastical creatures known as the Little People. Later, Tengo learns that at age ten Fuka-Eri escaped from Sakigake, a shadowy religious commune led by a mysterious individual known only as “Leader.”

Meanwhile, Aomame is tasked with assassinating Leader, who at this point is revealed to be Fuka-Eri’s father and the rapist from whom she ran away at age ten. Aomame’s benefactor orders him to be killed because he routinely rapes prepubescent girls. When Aomame is alone with Leader, he appears to have foreknowledge of his assassination. Furthermore, Leader welcomes his own murder because he is in extraordinary pain and no longer wishes to serve the Little People, who compel him to rape young girls. Convinced of his sincerity, Aomame murders Leader by stabbing a tiny ice pick into his neck.

That same night, as a terrible thunderstorm rages outside, Tengo wakes up naked, unable to move. Fuka-Eri climbs on top of him, and he ejaculates inside of her. At that same instant, Aomame becomes pregnant with Tengo’s child.

With Sakigake on the lookout for her, Aomame hides out in a safe house, which coincidentally is not far from Tengo’s apartment. One evening, Tengo walks to a playground and climbs to the top of the slide so he can see the moon. To his shock, there are two moons in the sky, looking exactly as he described them in Air Chrysalis. The playground is below Aomame’s window, and she recognizes Tengo looking up at the sky. She runs down to him, but he is already gone. Every night for the next few weeks, Aomame waits outside her balcony, hoping for his return.

In the final chapters, a third character, the disgraced lawyer Ushikawa, emerges. Tasked by Sakigake with finding Aomame, Ushikawa stakes out Tengo’s home after learning he was Aomame’s classmate. One evening, Tengo goes out to look at the moons again, and Ushikawa follows him. Aomame happens to be on the phone when he arrives so she misses him. When she returns to the balcony, Ushikawa is atop the slide; he too sees the two moons. Confused that this stranger is in the exact same position as Tengo and with the same look of awe, Aomame decides to follow him. She trails him to Tengo’s apartment. Inside, she sees Tengo Kawana’s name on his mailbox.

Finally reunited, Tengo and Aomame meet and embrace atop the slide. She leads him to the spot where she first entered 1Q84. They go up the stairs and emerge on the expressway. In the sky above, there is only one moon. However, a nearby billboard is facing the wrong direction, suggesting that they are in a third world that is neither 1984 Tokyo nor the world of 1Q84. 

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