Happy Murakami Day!

~Post by Jenn S., who has a thing for photos of authors with their cats.

It has been six long years, people. Haruki Murakami’s last big novel, Kafka on the Shore, came out in 2005. Since then, other publications have trickled into English—the novella After Dark, his autobiography about running ultra-marathons, essays and stories—but these have only managed to tide hardcore Murakami fans over as they waited for 1Q84. When its first volume came out in Japan in 2009 and quickly became the year’s bestseller, my patience started to wear thin.

I briefly considered learning Japanese myself to get the thing translated a little faster.

Finally, the three-volume work has arrived in a massive English version thanks to master-translators Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel. Designed by Chip Kidd, 1Q84 is an intricate, vellum-wrapped, 925-page hardcover doorstop. It’s by far the prettiest book to hit shelves this fall. And also the most addictive. I’m only partway through and already I want to forsake all other activity to read it. This is the mark of a Murakami gem.

Following two characters, Aomame and Tengo, on separate quests in what may be 1984 Tokyo—or may be a parallel world—1Q84 weaves Murakami’s usual series of bizarre mysteries, sudden shifts, and wormholes between realities into the lives of his most deeply felt characters since The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. So far, parts of this novel read like Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment, if Raskolnikov happened to be a young Japanese woman.

It’s never easy to retell a Murakami story, as our blog series has shown. The best you can do is say that things were oh-so-ordinary, until they weren’t anymore.

Here’s the 1Q84 version: Aomame was stuck in traffic one day when she decided to climb down the side of the highway and entered a slightly alternate universe. The title speaks to Orwell’s dystopian tale of the future, but this book isn’t set in the future. Instead, it happens in the 1980s, a near-past that Murakami says grants more freedom to the fiction writer: ‘“Most near-future fictions are boring…It’s always dark and always raining, and people are so unhappy. I like what Cormac McCarthy wrote, The Road— it’s very well written. . . . But still it’s boring. It’s dark, and the people are eating people. . . . George Orwell’s 1984 is near-future fiction, but this is near-past fiction,’ he said of 1Q84. ‘We are looking at the same year from the opposite side. If it’s near past, it’s not boring.’” (From the New York Times.)

If you’re looking for a book that will take over your life, this is the one. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do.

2 thoughts on “Happy Murakami Day!

  1. I could accept that Japan got it first. Nothing much to say about that, really. What really got me wound up, however, was the fact that it has been available in German translation for well over a year. I speak and read German fluently, but I don’t enjoy it. It’s a great language for philosophy, but not for poetry and literary imagery. At least that’s my view. The book was fully accessible to me, but I couldn’t bring myself to settle for less than a wonderful and profound experience. In that respect, it has felt like a very, very long year.

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