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Haruki Murakami’s “IQ84” (image via knopfdoubleday.com)

Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s latest book, 1Q84, has become a blockbuster hit in the author’s native country, but the English edition is still forthcoming. As a preview, Knopf has released images of the book’s cover, by famed graphic designer Chip Kidd. Using transparent vellum as a jacket, the cover represents the book’s engagement with alternate realities.

Murakami (not to be confused with the Superflat artist) is a postmodern author par excellence; his books deal in surreal stories of memories made living, the mysteries of the unconscious and the impossibility of total truth. Sounds pretty tough to take on with graphic design, but Kidd has obviously pulled it off with 1Q84.

In an interview also on the Knopf website, Kidd describes the basics of the story and its opening scene:

The plot follows two seemingly unconnected stories that eventually weave together. The first involves a woman named Aomame, who in the opening scene finds herself descending a service staircase off a busy elevated highway in Tokyo to escape a traffic jam. Once she gets to the bottom and out onto ground level, she eventually comes to believe that she has entered an alternate reality, one only slightly different than what she had known. She refers to this new dimension in her mind as 1Q84 (the book takes place in 1984 and in Japanese ‘Q’ sounds just like ‘9′), with the Q standing for “Question Mark. A world that bears a question.

To depict that divison, Kidd has played around with the inherent layers of a book cover. Normally, you’d expect to see an opaque dust jacket covering a hardcover book, often simply a blank cloth surface. With 1Q84, on the other hand, the dust jacket is made from transparent vellum, exposing some of the book cover underneath. See images of the vellum cover, then the book binding cover, below.

Vellum jacket for Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84” (image via knopfdoubleday.com)

Book binding cover of Murakami’s “1Q84” (image via knopfdoubleday.com)

The white of the jacket represents the semi-transparent vellum. What’s interesting here is that the two images are reversals: the lower binding cover shows blank letters and a larger face while the jacket cuts the face into letter silhouettes. Only by combining the two disparate layers does the full, true image come through. Check out the final book, with jacket and binding cover:

Composite image of Murakami’s “1Q84” (image via knopfdoubleday.com)

Without both layers, or “realities,” no one reality makes any sense, just as Murakami mingles different worlds and different layers in his novels. Now that is badass book design. 1Q84 will be published on October 25, 2011. I can’t wait, both for the novel and the cover.

Kidd has actually designed all of Murakami’s book covers for Knopf after The Elephant Vanishes in 1993. The covers often share similar iconography and approaches, using large pictures of Japanese female faces (or a bird, in the case of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle) layered with typography and opaque silhouetted shapes. The hardcover version of After Dark is probably my favorite, with its iridescent grid of dots, like bright lights at night.

See some of Kidd’s other Murakami covers below.

Haruki Murakami’s “After Dark” (all images via amazon.com)

Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle”

Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood”

Haruki Murakami’s “South of the Border, West of the Sun”

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

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