As mentioned previously, Shinchosha has announced that Haruki Murakami’s new book will be titled 1Q84 and that it is scheduled to be released in early summer. Here are some of my predictions for the book:
1. It’s going to be a monster. Murakami has admitted that it’s long, longer even than the dreaded Kafka on the Shore. Consider also that it’s been seven years since he wrote Kafka, and during that span he has produced only translations (The Great Gatsby, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Long Goodbye), short stories (Strange Tales from Tokyo, 『東京奇譚集』), a set of memoirs (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running), and a short-ish novel (Afterdark). He’s been busy, for sure, but he started writing in December 2006 (Rubin 338), which means he has probably spent close to two years writing the novel. In the second update to Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, Jay Rubin has speculated that this might be the “comprehensive novel” that Murakami has wanted to write for some time. No pressure.
2. He will not re-work one of his previous short stories or a section of a novel. Murakami has a long history of reworking old stories. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World reworked a medium-length story titled 「街とその不確かな壁」. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, and Sputnik Sweetheart all reworked short stories, and with the exception of Sputnik Sweetheart, the reworked versions are stronger than the original and have been received better critically than works he wrote from scratch (Dance Dance Dance, South of the Border, West of the Sun, Kafka on the Shore). Murakami is at his best when he re-explores wells he’s already partially dug. That said, he’s become so popular with international audiences that he can no longer perform this magic without it being obvious. I continue to hope he looked back on his old works for inspiration, but I think 1Q84 will all be brand new. Although… if it is the big fat 総合 novel he says he’s wanted to write, then maybe it will revise an old work. I was torn on this prediction. If he does use an old story as a foundation, it wouldn’t surprise me if it came from after the quake.
3. World War II will be a theme. Murakami used the war as a central theme in Wind-up Bird, showing the brutality and meaninglessness of war through the skinning of a Japanese agent and the slaughter of zoo animals. He addressed Japanese unease with the Chinese in “A Slow Boat to China,” one of his first short stories, and his most recent novel Afterdark is almost allegorical for the difficulty of coming to terms with the war: a Japanese salaryman has pains in his fist and a bag of stolen clothes but seemingly no true recognition of the beating he handed out to a Chinese prostitute earlier in book, despite the fact that he remembers the event. This time, however, I predict Murakami will address Japanese brutality in the Pacific more directly. In a recent Japan Times article, he mentions Singapore during the war:
Murakami was frequently in court for the Aum trials and saw cultists who had merely obeyed guru Shoko Asahara’s order to release the sarin. Through this experience, he "seriously thought about" the war, he said. "During the war, no one could say ‘No’ to senior officers’ orders to kill prisoners of war. The Japanese did such things in the war. I think the Japanese have yet to undertake soul-searching."
As an example, Murakami mentioned an article contributed by former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to a Japanese newspaper in which he related the cruelty of Japanese troops who occupied Singapore during the war. But once the war was over and they became POWs to the British, they became conscientious and worked very hard to clean up Singapore’s streets, Lee wrote.
Taking this into account along with his recent acceptance speech for the Jerusalem Prize and the title of the book, possibly a homonymic salute to George Orwell’s 1984, and Murakami seems poised to undertake some cultural soul-searching.
4. It’s going to be great. I personally thought that the 東京奇譚集 stories were a return to form. (Strangely enough, a return to his 1984 form – Murakami serialized the stories from 『回転木馬のデッドヒート』 in ’83 and ’84, and 奇譚集 is very similar in form and theme to those stories.) Afterdark was experimental, a “concept album” I believe someone said (or maybe that’s what Murakami said about after the quake), so it will be interesting to see where 1Q84 takes Murakami. He’s been busy with translation and his memoirs, and historically he’s kept the same pattern – work on the novel in the early morning, go for a run, translate in the afternoon – when writing some of his big works.
5. There will be a flush of short stories later this year. Murakami never rests as is clear from his running memoir. He’s always training himself for something. He might pace himself at times (translation and short works, he’s admitted, don’t take the same mental toll that novels do), but he is always working on something. Writing short stories happens to be the way he recovers from writing a novel, and if this is a massive novel, perhaps we can expect a bunch of short stories. Once everything for publication is set, I bet he’ll get back to writing short works, which will hopefully be published later this year. 2009 could be the year of Murakami.
Found the link to the Houston Chronicle article where Murakami says his new book will be twice as long as Kafka on the Shore. They put it in the archives and switched the original link.
Also, realized most folks from the large amount of traffic might not be able to read 『回転木馬のデッドヒート』. That’s Japanese for Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round, an untranslated collection of Murakami stories I wrote an article about here.
Probably wrong about prediction 3.