January 31, 2011
Great news for Haruki Murakami fans: the long-awaited English translation of 1Q84, the writer's epic novel in three volumes that has proved a huge hit in his native Japan, will be published in English in October. All three sections are to appear together in a single 1,000-page volume, translated by Harvard professor Jay Rubin.
The news came in an exuberant Tweet from Knopf US publicity director Paul Bogaards. "Haruki Murakami's long-awaited magnum opus, 1Q84, out from Knopf 10/25," he told the world. "In one volume. Booyah! Midnight store openings for this one?"
Harry Potter-style late-night bookshop openings may be pushing it, but such is the passion of Murakami's loyal readers that publication will certainly be an event. The appearance of the first volume of 1Q84 in Japan in 2008 was met with near-hysteria thanks to the five-year hiatus since the arrival of Murakami's previous longform novel, Kafka by the Shore.
Stung by publication of advance revelations about that book, the writer and his publisher Shinchosha had kept all details of 1Q84 a closely-guarded secret, stoking feverish anticipation. Amid a flood of advance orders, Shinchosha upped its first print run from 100,000 to 480,000, and bookshops were mobbed on publication day, with sales reaching a million within a month .
The title of 1Q84 is taken to be a play on George Orwell's 1984 – the Japanese number nine having the same pronunciation as the letter Q – though others have also suggested the title is a tribute to The True Story of Ah Q, a novella by Chinese writer Lu Xun .
True to form, the story features a surreal narrative and enigmatic characters, including Aomame, a 30-year-old woman whose name means "Green Bean". Aomame – who wanders into a form of parallel reality early in the novel, which she detects by observing minute differences in the physical world around her – commits a series of murders for reasons that are at first obscure. She reflects on this violence in the book with a humorous blandness, visible in a quotation from the Japan Times review :
"If I had not been born with this last name, I wonder if my life would have taken a different shape. For example, if I had a common name like Sato, Tanaka or Suzuki, I might lead a bit more of a relaxed life and look upon the world with a bit more of a magnanimous eye."
Exploring the themes of cult religions, family ties, writing and love, 1Q84 is said to be the story of two characters, a man and a woman, in search of one another. The narrative moves between Aomame's story and that of Tengo, a mathematics tutor with – typically for male characters in Murakami novels – a generally unsuccessful life. Tengo gets involved in an agreement to rewrite on the sly an imperfect novel about a community of little people entered by a teenager for a literary prize. But as the project advances, Tengo realises the dyslexic young girl has not written the novel at all. Growing increasingly uneasy, he finds out more about her past and her childhood days in the commune of Takashima.
Now 61, Murakami became a national sensation in his native Japan when his breakthrough novel, Norwegian Wood, was published in 1987, and its tale of a student encountering sex, death and a love of the Beatles became a hit among the country's young people. ( A film version, directed by Anh Hung Tran, premieres in the UK in March ).
Over the past decade he has won an increasingly broad international readership for sophisticated and droll novels exploring alienation and other modern ills, including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Sputnik Sweetheart and After Dark. He has also written non- fiction : Underground was a series of interviews with those affected by the Tokyo sarin nerve gas attacks, while What I Talk About When I Talk About Running explored his famous passion for marathons.
Murakami won Israel's prestigious literary award, the Jerusalem prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society , in 2009. Despite urgings from pro-Palestinian groups not to accept the award or attend the Jerusalem ceremony, the writer did go, saying: "Like most novelists, I like to do exactly the opposite of what I'm told. It's in my nature. Novelists can't trust anything they haven't seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands. So I chose to see. I chose to speak here rather than say nothing."