In just under two weeks, Japanese publisher Shinchosha will be releasing Haruki Murakami’s new novel, 1Q84. The Millions broke the news about the new novel last October, when Murakami discussed it during a reading held at Zellerbach Auditorium in UC Berkeley. Now, with the release of the novel imminent, the Internet is crawling with speculation about what Murakami has in store for us.
Hard information about the new novel, however, is scarce. Murakami has described it as his most ambitious work to date and a “real doorstop.” All his fans know for sure, though, is the title, the release date (May 29), and the price, 1,890 yen for each of book’s two volumes (around 40 US dollars). All other details have been assiduously guarded by Murakami and his publisher. Why the secrecy? Citing reader complaints about leaked plot details during the run-up to Murakami’s 2002 novel Kafka on the Shore, the solicitous author has insisted that his fans be allowed to approach the new book with no preconceptions.
Some of Murakami’s fans, however, are not content to wait. Fans have already begun to post five star “reviews” (which have since been deleted) of the book sight unseen on Amazon’s Japanese site, and the secrecy surrounding the novel’s contents has created a heated debate in the Japanese blogosphere, leading amateur and professional book lovers alike to engage in fevered attempts to decrypt the book’s title. One popular theory claims the book is inspired by George Orwell’s dystopian classic Nineteen Eighty-Four (the number nine in Japanese is pronounced like the English letter Q, thus in Japanese 1984 and 1Q84 have the same pronunciation). Another finds inspiration for the title in the novella The True Story of Ah Q, by Chinese novelist Lu Xun, an early 20th century writer and intellectual.
The latter opinion has been fueled by the comments of a prominent Tokyo University professor Shozo Fujii, who argues that Lu Xun is one of Murakami’s primary influences. The 1 in the book’s title, he argues, should be read as the personal pronoun I. In other words, I am Q. What the 84 might stand for is unclear. Fujii’s analysis of Murakami’s work breaks with the commonly held view of Murakami’s influences, primarily Western writers and literary heavyweights like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dostoyevsky (a view confirmed by Murakami himself). Nevertheless, Fujii’s theory about 1Q84’s meaning has developed a large following online, and has been bolstered by his close readings of Chinese literary themes in Murakami’s early novels, Hear the Wind Sing and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
Although there is no official publication date for the English translation (and no Japanese review copy coming our way, hint… hint…), check back here next month for information on reviews and commentary from the Japanese release.