Murakami's novel a hit in Japan before it arrives

May 28, 2009 9:55:13 AM PDT
Everything has been kept secret, except the author and title. But the first novel in five years by Japan's Haruki Murakami has become a hit even before its official release Friday.

The book's publisher, Shinchosha, said it raised its first printing to 480,000 copies from 380,000 after orders flooded in.

Murakami, 60, is one of the most widely translated Japanese writers alive, with global best-sellers such as "Norwegian Wood," "Kafka on the Shore" and "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle." He is considered a top Japanese candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature.

As part of a marketing scheme, the contents of his new novel have been kept secret. Fans ordering the book know nothing but the title, "1Q84," which can be read as "1984" in Japanese.

"I don't care a bit," longtime Murakami fan Michiyo Sato said Thursday of the book's mystery, after buying the 3,600 yen ($38) novel at one of a handful of stores that began selling it ahead of its nationwide rollout.

"I've been waiting so long for his new work," the 45-year-old Tokyo resident said. "He offers such quality in his humanness and intelligence."

"The secrecy surrounding the work is making customers absolutely famished for this book," said Toshiaki Uchida, assistant manager at Yaesu Book Center, where The Associated Press obtained a copy.

Like many of his previous works, "1Q84" is a complex and surreal narrative. It shifts back and forth between tales of two characters, a man and a woman, who are searching for each other. Through their thoughts and experiences, which include murder and historical references, the book explores social and emotional issues such as cult religion, violence, family ties and love.

It is unclear when the work will be translated into English, according to Shinchosha.

Murakami, who has lived in the U.S., including stints at Princeton and Harvard, is fiercely private. He was not immediately available for comment.

Murakami has also written works of nonfiction, including a book based on interviews of victims of the 1995 deadly nerve gas attack in Tokyo, and has translated works by Raymond Carver, Truman Capote, John Irving and J.D. Salinger.

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