June 10, 2009 / 6:15 AM / in 8 years

Haruki Murakami's latest novel "1Q84" grips Japan

<p>Japanese writer Haruki Murakami attends a ceremony awarding him with a prize at the 24th International book fair in Jerusalem, February 15, 2009. REUTERS/Baz Ratner</p>

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami has gripped fans around the world with complex, surrealist tales such as “Kafka on the Shore.” Now, his first novel in five years, “1Q84,” has Japan enthralled.

From commuters to bloggers, it seems everybody is flipping the pages of the two-volume, 1,055-page hardcover book, Murakami’s first novel since 2004’s “After Dark.”

The book, which dwells on thought control, takes place in Tokyo in the year 1Q84, a title suggestive of George Orwell’s “1984” as the Japanese word for 9 is pronounced the same as the English letter Q.

Newspapers, television and websites are full of commentary on the book, released about two weeks ago, and over 1 million copies are expected to be on the shelves by the end of the month, a print run the publishers say is very high for a literary work.

“There are others that sold more. But if a literary work sells 50,000 copies, we call that a bestseller. With 100,000 copies, that’s a huge success,” said Fumiaki Mori, a spokesman at the novel’s publishers Shinchosha Publishing Co Ltd.

“By that standard, reaching this number in about 10 days since going on sale is a very fast pace.”

The book alternates chapters between two characters, a female named Aomame and a male named Tengo. It deals with themes such as cults and abuse, loss, as well as sex, love and murder.

The novel has sold out at many shops, and its success is spilling over to sales of music and Orwell’s classic.

LITERATURE FOR THE MASSES

In the book, Aomame and Tengo listen to “Sinfonietta” by Czech composer Leos Janacek, and that CD has sold some 6,000 copies in a week, said Tetsushi Koyama of Sony Music Japan.

“1984” has also sold thousands of copies in recent days, the publishers of the Japanese translation said.

“We have not seen a novel have this much impact on society, and nor has the publishing of one novel been such a social event, for a very long time,” Mori said.

Murakami, one of the most widely read Japanese novelists in the world, has been popular at home since his debut in 1979, but “1Q84,” selling at $19 per volume, is going at an exceptional pace even for such a renowned author.

In the past seven years, about 740,000 hardcover copies have been printed of Murakami’s two-volume “Kafka on the Shore.”

Media reports that Murakami could win the Nobel Prize for Literature, as well as his emotional acceptance speech last year for Israel’s Jerusalem Prize following the fighting in Gaza, may have attracted a wider readership for the new book, Mori said.

The media-shy, 60-year-old writer graduated from Tokyo’s Waseda University and ran a jazz club with his wife before becoming a novelist, with works translated into many languages.

Readers were thirsty for any information on the new novel before it went on sale at the end of May, as there was nothing available on what it would be about following requests from some fans for a complete surprise.

While readers have speculated that there may be a third volume, Mori said that “1Q84” has been concluded, but added that he did not know if there are any related stories in the works.

The novel is likely to be translated into other languages, including English, Mori said, adding some translations could come out in “a year or two.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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