#80 review: 1Q84




Translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel

924 p.

Published by Knopf in October 2011

This book counts for


I enjoyed very much After Dark and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, so when I heard that this life opus was coming out, I requested it very early on from my public library, the best ever, and I got it THE DAY IT WAS RELEASED IN BOOKSTORES!

It was really thrilling to be able to dive into it right away, and what a dive it was!

I enjoy long books, but it’s probably the first book of over 900 pages when I never felt bored one line or thought the author could have made it shorter; actually, I was sad it ended, and I could have gone on many more pages. It does seem to me in fact that a sequel would be great.

And it is a work in translation, and translated by 2 people! Not sure how they did it, it felt the same style all over, and so fluid, it did not “stink translation”, as I sometimes say. OK I don’t read Japanese, but still, this seems to be really well done. Congratulations to fellow translators!

So what is so good about this book? First, if you are familiar with Murakami, you have to expect the unexpected, some weirdness here and there; interestingly, this weirdness transpires early on in faces descriptions: eyes, ears, unusual facial characteristics.

As Aomame slips into… into what? another world? another dimension? lots of things around her happen to contain some elements of weirdness, but ever so slightly, so that you never really know if you are in the “real” world or not. One sign though is the presence of two moons. Since I opened 1Q84, I have caught myself checking how many moon were up there…

So you could consider this novel as a reflection on what’s really normal in our lives, in our relationships, in the world around us.

But deeper, this is also a love story; not a usual one of course, as you will need to wait for the last chapter to have Tengo and Aomame finally meet. Oops I hope this is not too much of a spoiler. What’s really interesting is that it shows how both characters are lead to each other 20 years after a brief encounter. This was particularly interesting to me now that having accumulated a few years behind me, I marvel at how long threads in my life lead me to where I am right now, and lead me to meet my own Tengo.

For most of the book, the story is told by alternating a chapter on Aomame and one on Tengo, which makes it even more suspenseful; I had to fight many a times the temptation to skip a chapter to follow a character, especially as Murakami stops a chapter right before something big, and you really want to know what happens next.

There are a lot of dialogues, and also beautiful descriptions and images. I regret not taking time to write down those as I read along. Uncanny and savory images.

By the way, I happened to read Lilith by George MacDonald just a bit before and it struck me that in both works, we find a great role given to the moon and to “little people of the forest”. I have not read anything about a possible influence. What do you think?

The New York Times review and others have been really tough against 1Q84, but please ignore them and give it a try yourself: this is a beautifully written book, a very rich story, with dystopian, romance, thriller elements, reflection on life and poetry. Where else can you find all these together except in a master piece?


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.


Haruki Murakami (村上 春樹 Murakami Haruki, born January 12, 1949) is a Japanese writer and translator. His works of fiction and non-fiction have garnered him critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Franz Kafka Prize and Jerusalem Prize among others. He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature. The Guardian praised him as “among the world’s greatest living novelists” for his works and achievements. [wikipedia]


Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2011:
The year is 1984, but not for long. Aomame bolts from the cab, walks onto the elevated Tokyo expressway, descends an emergency ladder to the street below, and enters a strange new world. In parallel, a math teacher and aspiring novelist named Tengo gets an interesting offer to rewrite a mysterious 17-year-old’s story for the final round of a young writer’s literary prize. So begins Haruki Murakami’s magnum opus, an epic of staggering proportions that folds in a deliciously intriguing cast of characters and central motifs–the moon, Janáček’s Sinfonietta, George Orwell’s 1984–that acquire powerful resonance as Aomame and Tengo’s paths take on a conjoined life of their own, dancing with a protracted elegance that requires nearly 1,000 pages to reach its crowning denouement. 1Q84 was a runaway bestseller in its native Japan, but more importantly, it’s easily the grandest work of world literature since Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 and represents a monstrous literary event. Now would somebody please award Murakami his Nobel Prize? —Jason Kirk

“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.”
—David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

“Murakami is clearly one of the most popular and admired novelists in the world today, a brilliant practitioner of serious, yet irresistibly engaging, literary fantasy . . . 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, [his] novel is tightly plotted, without fat, and he knows how to make dialogue, even philosophical dialogue, exciting . . . Murakami’s novels have been translated into a score of languages, but it would be hard to imagine that any of them could be better than the English versions by Jay Rubin, partnered here with Philip ­Gabriel . . . 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

“Fascinating . . . A remarkable book in which outwardly simple sentences and situations snowball into a profound meditation on our own very real dystopian trappings . . . One of those rare novels that clearly depict who we are now and also offer tantalizing clues as to where literature may be headed . . . I’d be curious to know how Murakami’s yeoman translators Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel divided up the work . . . because there are no noticeable bumps in the pristine and deceptively simple prose . . . More than any author since Kafka, Murakami appreciates the genuine strangeness of our real world, and he’s not afraid to incorporate elements of surrealism or magical realism as tools to help us see ourselves for who we really are. 1Q84 is a tremendous accomplishment. It does every last blessed thing a masterpiece is supposed to—and a few things we never even knew to expect.” —Andrew Ervin, The San Francisco Chronicle

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. Grade: A.”
—Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly [all on amazon.com]


35 thoughts on “#80 review: 1Q84

  1. It says a lot about the translators’ talent that you were never bored with this huge book. It’s been years since I’ve read Murakami. I can’t wait to read this. Great review.


  2. I can believe that Murkami can easily keep you turning pages for over 900 of them. Your review makes me want to go back and add to my review of After Dark that Murakami is also very good at creating suspense. You want to know what happpens next. That’s not an easy thing to do. I’ll have to check this out.


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  5. I enjoyed ‘1Q84’, but I definitely wouldn’t say it’s his best work (or my favourite!). There are too many issues with repetition and a slow middle section for that. However, I did enjoy it a lot, and I hope to reread it soon to give myself another view of the book 🙂

    I am also currently reviewing it on my blog; the first two reviews are already out, and the third part will be out in a few days (if you want to have a look!).


    • Thanks Tony for finding me and leaving a comment. I enjoy very much your blog and the style of your reviews. Interestingly, repetitions did not bother me in this book, I thought they fit well with the context of Tengo trying to follow the thread of his old memory of Aomame and trying to follow that thread to find her, and I don’t remember a mn finding things slow. On another blog I follow, there were som many STRONG reactions, positive and negative, to this book. Interesting indeed


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  16. Great review, Emma! I think you’ve sold me to try this one however long. I can accept some weird elements if it is truly a love story. You deserve much credit for appreciating its vibrant, original beauty when many of the critics were not yet on board! Thanks!


    • It is so well written, and seriously, it could have been longer, I would not have minded. I was furious when I read later that actually it IS longer in Japanese – apparently the translators skipped some parts. Terrible. If I did that as a literary translator, my clients would NOT be happy!!!


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  20. Nice review! I agree with you on the alternating chapters at least! I did like this structure and I confess I did skip some to return to them later and read another point of view. It is interesting what you say about 1Q84 and Lilith by George MacDonald. I keep thinking what were the inspiration of Murakami when he created the Little People and the whole otherworldly set-up. I am sure it must have been some folklore. As I see from Lilith’s synopsis, it also has parallel universes, that is curious.


    • I never really read about MacDonald inspiring him, but some parallel elements between them are really uncanny. I highly encourage you to try Lilith, you will see also how topics in Tolkien and CS Lewis come from him, from this book among others.


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