The novel was originally published in Japan in three hardcover volumes by Shinchosha. Book 1 and Book 2 were both published on May 29, 2009; Book 3 was published on April 16, 2010.
In English translation, Knopf published the novel in the United States in a single volume on October 25, 2011, and released a three volume box-set on May 15, 2015. The cover for the box-set, featuring a transparent dust jacket, was created by Chip Kidd and Maggie Hinders. In the United Kingdom the novel was published by Harvill Secker in two volumes. The first volume, containing Books 1 and 2, was published on October 18, 2011, followed by the second volume, containing Book 3, published on October 25, 2011.
Murakami spent four years writing the novel after coming up with the opening sequence and title. The title is a play on the Japanese pronunciation of the year 1984 and a reference to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The letter Q and the Japanese number 9 (typically romanized as "kyū", but as "kew" on the book's Japanese cover) are homophones, which are often used in Japanese wordplay.
Before the publication of 1Q84, Murakami stated that he would not reveal anything about the book, following criticism that leaks had diminished the novelty of his previous books. 1Q84 was noted for heavy advance orders despite this secrecy.
As in many of his previous works, Murakami makes frequent reference to composers and musicians, ranging from Bach to Vivaldi and Leoš Janáček, whose Sinfonietta pops up many times at crucial points in the novel. A verse from the 1933 song "It's Only a Paper Moon" by Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg and Billy Rose, also appears in the book and is the basis for a recurring theme throughout the work. In addition, Murakami refers to more contemporary artists such as Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus and The Rolling Stones.
The text also quotes a lengthy passage about the Gilyak people from the travel diary Sakhalin Island (1893–94) by Anton Chekhov.
In accordance with many of Murakami's novels, 1Q84 is dominated by religious and sacred concepts. 1Q84's plot is built around a mystical cult and two long-lost lovers who are drawn into a distorted version of reality. 1Q84 serves as a culmination of many of his prior works, assigning further meaning to his previous novels. 1Q84 draws a connection between the supernatural and the disturbing. Readers are often cited as experiencing a religious unease that is similar to postmodern sensibilities. This unease is accomplished through Murakami's creation of characters whose religious prescriptions are presented as oppressive, as exemplified in the character of Leader, who is the founder of the Sakigake cult.
Religious othering is a major theme in 1Q84, as Murakami places sacred ideas as existing separately from everyday reality. This separation, is often cited as emphasizing Murakami’s view of religion as a negative force, which lies in opposition to normal, everyday life; however Murakami is quite silent about his personal religious beliefs.
The events of 1Q84 take place in Tokyo during a fictionalized year of 1984, with the first volume set between April and June, the second between July and September, and the third between October and December.
The book opens with a female character named Aomame as she catches a taxi in Tokyo on her way to a work assignment. When the taxi gets stuck in a traffic jam, the driver suggests that she get out of the car and climb down an emergency escape in order to make it to her important meeting, though he warns her that doing so might change the very nature of reality. Aomame makes her way to a hotel in Shibuya, where she poses as a hotel attendant in order to kill a hotel guest. She performs the murder with a tool that leaves almost no trace on its victim, leading investigators to conclude that he died a natural death from a heart failure.
Aomame starts to have bizarre experiences, noticing new details about the world that are subtly different. For instance, she notices that the Tokyo policemen are carrying semiautomatic pistols now, and she always remembered them carrying revolvers. Aomame checks her memories against the archives of major newspapers and finds that there were several recent major news stories of which she has no recollection. One of these stories concerned a group of extremists who were engaged in a standoff with police in the mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture. Upon reading these articles, she concludes that she must be living in an alternative reality, which she calls "1Q84," and suspects that she entered it about the time she heard the Janáček Sinfonietta on the taxi radio.
Other characters are also introduced by then. Tengo, a writer and math teacher in a local school in Japan, and Komatsu, his editor and mentor, asks Tengo to rewrite an awkwardly written but otherwise promising manuscript, Air Chrysalis (空気さなぎ). Komatsu wants to submit the novel for a prestigious literary prize and promote its author as a new literary prodigy. Tengo has reservations about rewriting another author's work, and especially that of a high-school student. He agrees to do so only if he can meet with the original writer, who goes by the strange pen name "Fuka-Eri", and ask for her permission. Fuka-Eri, however, tells Tengo to do as he likes with the manuscript.
Soon it becomes clear that Fuka-Eri, who is dyslexic, neither wrote the manuscript on her own, nor submitted it to the contest herself. Tengo's discomfort with the project deepens upon finding out that other people must be involved. To address his concerns of her past, Fuka-Eri takes Tengo to meet her current guardian, a man called Professor Ebisuno-sensei (戎野先生), or simply "Sensei" to Fuka-Eri. Tengo learns that Fuka-Eri's parents were members of a commune called "Takashima" (タカシマ). Her father, Tamotsu Fukada (深田保) was Ebisuno's friend and colleague, but they did not see eye-to-eye on their subject. Fukada thought of Takashima as a utopia; Ebisuno described the commune as a place where people were turned into unthinking robots. Fuka-Eri, whom Ebisuno-sensei nicknames "Eri" (エリ), was only a small child at the time.
In 1974, Fukada and 30 members founded a new commune called "Sakigake" (さきがけ). The young members of the commune worked hard under Fukada's leadership, but eventually disagreements split the commune into two factions, and the more radical side formed a new commune called "Akebono" (あけぼの), which eventually has a gunfight with police near Lake Motosu (本栖湖) in Yamanashi Prefecture. One day, Fuka-Eri appears on Ebisuno-sensei's doorstep. She does not speak and will not explain what happened to her. When Ebisuno attempts to contact Fukada at Sakigake, he is told that he is unavailable. Ebisuno thereby becomes Fuka-Eri's guardian, and by the time of 1Q84's present, they have not heard from her parents for seven years, leading Ebisuno to fear the worst.
It is while living with Ebisuno that Fuka-Eri composes her story, Air Chrysalis. Unable to write it herself, she tells it to Azami (アザミ), Ebisuno's blood daughter. Fuka-Eri's story is about a girl's life in a commune, where she met a group of mystical beings, whom Fuka-Eri refers to as "Little People" (リトル・ピープル). Over time, Tengo begins to suspect that the mystical events described in Fuka-Eri's novel actually happened.
Meanwhile, Aomame recovers psychologically from her recent assignment to kill the hotel guest. It is revealed that she has a personal and professional relationship with an older wealthy woman referred to as "the Dowager" (女主人). The Dowager occasionally pays Aomame to kill men who have been viciously abusive to women, and it becomes clear that both Aomame and the Dowager have personal pasts that fuel their actions. They see their organized murders as one way of fighting back against severe forms of domestic abuse.
Aomame is sexually promiscuous, and sometimes releases stress by going to singles bars and picking up older men. During one of these outings, she meets Ayumi, a policewoman who also has sex to relieve stress. They start to combine their efforts, which works well for them both. Aomame's close friendship with Ayumi makes her recall an earlier friend of hers who was the victim of domestic abuse and committed suicide because of it. Aomame and Ayumi remain friends until one day when Aomame reads in the newspaper that Ayumi had been strangled to death in a hotel.
The Dowager introduces Aomame to a 10-year-old girl named Tsubasa. Tsubasa and her parents have been involved with Sakigake. Tsubasa has been forcefully abused by the cult leader named only as "The Leader". As Tsubasa sleeps in the safe house owned by the Dowager, the "Little People", mentioned in Fuka-Eri's novel, Air Chrysalis, appear from Tsubasa's mouth and create an air chrysalis, a type of cocoon made from strands pulled straight out of the air. The Dowager had lost her own daughter to domestic abuse and now wants to adopt Tsubasa. However, Tsubasa mysteriously disappears from the safehouse, never to return.
The Dowager researches Sakigake and finds that there is widespread evidence of abuse. In addition to Tsubasa, other prepubescent girls had been sexually abused there. The Dowager asks Aomame to murder the religious head of Sakigake, the Leader, who is reported to have been the abuser. Aomame meets up with the Leader, who turns out to be a physically enormous person with muscle problems that cause him chronic, severe pain. He reveals that he is the father of Fuka-Eri and has special powers like telekinesis. He is also the one in Sakigake who can hear the religious voices speaking to him. The Leader, knowing that Aomame was sent to him to kill him, finally strikes a deal with her: she will kill him and he will protect Tengo from harm. After a long conversation with the Leader, Aomame finally kills him and goes into hiding at a prearranged location set up by the Dowager and Tamaru, her bodyguard.
Aomame and Tengo's parallel worlds begin to draw closer to each other. Tengo is pursued by a private investigator, Ushikawa, who was hired by Sakigake. He follows Tengo in order to gather information on Air Chrysalis. Following the Leader's murder, Ushikawa is also ordered by Sakigake to determine the whereabouts of Aomame. The novel now begins to follow Ushikawa, who was once a lawyer who made a good living representing professional criminals. He got into legal trouble and had to abandon his career. His wife and two daughters left him, and ever since he has been working as a private detective. An ugly man who repels everyone he meets, Ushikawa is also quite intelligent and capable of gathering facts and using logic and deductive reasoning.
Ushikawa focuses on Tengo, Aomame, and the Dowager as suspects in his investigation. Since the Dowager's house is guarded well and since Aomame has disappeared without a trace, Ushikawa decides to stake out Tengo's apartment to see if he can find any information related to Aomame. He rents out a room in Tengo's apartment building and sets up a camera to take pictures of the residents. He witnesses Fuka-Eri, who has been hiding out at Tengo's apartment, coming and going from the building. Fuka-Eri seems to realize Ushikawa's presence, as she leaves a note for Tengo and takes off. Ushikawa later sees Tengo return home after a visit to see his dying father. Finally, Ushikawa spots Aomame leaving the building after she herself followed Ushikawa there in order to find Tengo.
After Ushikawa spots Aomame, but before he can report this to Sakigake, Tamaru sneaks into Ushikawa's room while he's asleep and interrogates the detective on his knowledge of Tengo and Aomame. Tamaru finds out that Ushikawa knows too much and is a liability to the safety of Aomame, the Dowager, and himself, and he ends up killing Ushikawa without leaving any marks or indications of how it was done. Tamaru then phones Ushikawa's contact at Sakigake and has them remove the detective's body from the apartment building.
Aomame and Tengo eventually find each other via Ushikawa's investigation and with Tamaru's help. They were once childhood classmates, though they had no relationship outside of a single classroom moment where Aomame tightly grasped Tengo's hand when no other children were around. That moment signified a turning point in both Aomame's and Tengo's lives, and they retained a fundamental love for each other despite all the time that had passed. After 20 years, Aomame and Tengo meet again, both pursued by Ushikawa and Sakigake. They manage to make it out of the strange world of "1Q84", which has two visible moons, into a new reality that they assume is their original world, though there are small indications that it is not. The novel ends with them standing in a hotel room, holding hands, looking at the one bright moon in the sky.
One of the three point-of-view characters of the novel, Aomame is a thirty-year-old woman working as part of an enigmatic organization for which she commits carefully selected murders. Her full name is Masami Aomame but she goes by her last name, which means "green peas". As a child, she was a member of a religious cult named "the Society of Witnesses" and distributed religious materials with her family on weekends.
Tengo Kawana (川奈 天吾)
The second of the novel's point-of-view characters, he is an unpublished novelist who works as a math tutor at a prep school. His mother died when he was very young; his earliest memory is of his mother in bed with a man who was not Tengo's father. His father worked for NHK going door-to-door collecting the network's reception fee, and he used to make Tengo go with him every Sunday.
A grotesquely ugly man hired by Sakigake to investigate Tengo and, later, Aomame. He becomes a point-of-view character in part three of the novel. He is tireless in his investigation, but he is not a member of Sakigake himself. He had a wife and two daughters earlier in his life, but he is now divorced and separated from them. The same character appears in another Murakami story, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
A 45-year-old editor of a publishing company. He lives his daily life on his own schedule, seemingly oblivious to the rhythms of people around him, and often calls Tengo in the middle of the night. Although Komatsu enjoys a good professional reputation for his competence, he is not seen to be an amicable person. Little is known about his private life beyond rumors.
A slight but striking 17-year-old high-school student whose manuscript, Kūki Sanagi (空気さなぎ, "Air Chrysalis")
, is entered in a literary contest. She is extremely reticent, with an unusual, abrupt way of speaking, and what seems to be an apathetic view of life. She also suffers from dyslexia and struggles in school. Her pen name is taken from her real name, Eriko Fukada.
He is the founder of Sakigake, and he can hear the voices of the little people. He is also the father of Fuka-Eri, and his real name is Tamotsu Fukada. He acts as a prophet for Sakigake. He suffers from mysterious diseases, which cause him a great deal of pain and stiffness, which sometimes cause his body to become completely rigid and numb.
The Dowager (老婦人)
Her name is Shizue Ogata. She is a wealthy woman in her mid-70s. She lives in the "Willow House" in the Azabu neighborhood and has set up a safe house nearby for women who are victims of domestic violence. She meets Aomame through the sports club she attends, and she later on convinces her to take on the job of taking out targets, men who are guilty of heavy domestic abuse.
A 40-year-old man who is the dowager's loyal bodyguard. He was in the toughest unit of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, where he was fed "rats and snakes and locusts". Openly gay, he lives in another part of Azabu with his younger beautician boyfriend. He has a fondness for German Shepherds and enjoys toying with machines and gadgets.
Professor Ebisuno (戎野隆之先生)
A man in his mid-60s who is Fuka-Eri's guardian. He has an apartment in Shinanomachi. He used to work in Academia alongside Fuka-Eri's father before Mr. Fukada went with 30 of his students to start Sakigake.
The book scored 54% rating from the review aggregator iDreamBooks based on 44 critics' reviews. The Guardian's Douglas Haddow has called it "a global event in itself, [which] passionately defends the power of the novel". One review described 1Q84 as a "complex and surreal narrative" which "shifts back and forth between tales of two characters, a man and a woman, who are searching for each other." It tackles themes of murder, history, cult religion, violence, family ties and love. In another review for The Japan Times, it was said that the novel "may become a mandatory read for anyone trying to get to grips with contemporary Japanese culture", calling 1Q84 Haruki Murakami's "magnum opus". Similarly, Kevin Hartnett of The Christian Science Monitor considers it Murakami's most intricate work as well as his most ambitious and Charles Baxter of New York Review of Books praised the ambition of the novel down to the typography and attention to detail. Malcolm Jones of Newsweek considers this novel emblematic of Murakami's mastery of the novel, comparing him to Charles Dickens.
Among the negative reviews, Time's Bryan Walsh found 1Q84 to be the weakest of Murakami's novels in part because it excises his typical first-person narrative. A negative review from The A.V. Club had Christian Williams calling the book "stylistically clumsy" with "layers of tone-deaf dialogue, turgid description, and unyielding plot"; he awarded a D rating. Also criticizing the book was Sanjay Sipahimalani, who felt the writing was too often lazy and cliched, the Little People were risible rather than menacing, and that the book had too much repetition. Janet Maslin called the novel's "1000 uneventful pages" "stupefying" in her review for The New York Times. She had previously picked Murakami's earlier work, Kafka on the Shore, as one of the best 10 novels in 2005.
Awards and honors
The novel was longlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize and, in November, placed No. 2 in Amazon.com's top books of the year.Book 1 (ISBN 978-4-10-353422-8, 554 pages), published on May 29, 2009
Book 2 (ISBN 978-4-10-353423-5, 501 pages), published on May 29, 2009
Book 3 (ISBN 978-4-10-353425-9, 602 pages), published on April 16, 2010
Single volume (ISBN 978-0-307-59331-3, 928 pages), published on October 25, 2011
Volume 1 (ISBN 978-1-84655-407-0, 624 pages), containing Books 1 and 2, published on October 18, 2011
Volume 2 (ISBN 978-1-84655-405-6, 368 pages), containing Book 3, published on October 25, 2011
Single volume (ISBN 978-0-09957-807-9, 1342 pages), published on August 2, 2012
Book 1 (ISBN 978-9639973510, 469 pages), October 25, 2011.
Book 2 (ISBN 978-9639973305, 510 pages), October 25, 2011.
Book 3 (ISBN 978-9639973626, 576 pages), April 2012.
Volume 1 (ISBN 978-82-530-3380-8, 751 pages), containing Books 1 and 2, published in 2011.
Volume 2 (ISBN 978-82-530-3483-6, 432 pages), containing Book 3, published in 2012.
Single volume (ISBN 978-605-0906-387, 1256 pages), published April 2012
Book 1 (ISBN 978-960-496-654-7, 480 pages), published on October 25, 2012
Book 2 (ISBN 978-960-496-833-6, 416 pages), published on October 25, 2012
Book 3 (ISBN 978-618-01-0101-0, 512 pages), published on April 18, 2013