Friday, September 26, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

I usually like to spread out over time the authors I review.  However, Haruki Murakami has taken a firm hold on my imagination, and when his newest book arrived recently, I immediately began reading.  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a fascinating tale of relationships, the meanings of friendship, and the effect misunderstandings can have.

Five friends in high school – three young men and two young women – band together to complete a community service project.  When the project ends, they continue to hang out with each other.  Four of the members of this group have, as part of their names, a kanji symbol which also refers to a color: red, blue, black, and white, which they used as nicknames.  Tsukuru’s name did not contain any color, so he remained Tsukuru.  After graduation, they all went their separate ways to college.  Tsukuru receives a strange message, that his four friends no longer want anything to do with him, and furthermore, he was not to contact any of them in any way whatsoever.  This message contained no explanation of what had happened.  Naturally, Tsukuru becomes devastated to the point of contemplating suicide.  Then he meets a woman who urges him to contact his friends and learn why he was ostracized from the group.  His “pilgrimage” involves traveling around Japan and Europe to track down his friends.  What he discovers about them – and more importantly about himself – is a rather poignant story.

As he has done in previous novels, Murakami sprinkles lots of references to music in his story.  He also plays with the colors and the occupations of the five friends.  Also, like Tengo in 1Q84, Tsukuru is a rather fastidious creature of habit.  Again, like Tengo, Tsukuru frets over his fear of being alone.  Murakami writes, “Maybe I am fated to always be alone, Tsukuru found himself thinking.  People came to him, but in the end they always left.  They came, seeking something, but either they couldn’t find it, or were unhappy with what they found (or else they were disappointed or angry), and then they left.  One day, without warning, they vanished, with no explanation, no word of farewell.  Like a silent hatchet had sliced the ties between them, ties through which warm blood still flowed, along with a quiet pulse.

One of the interesting aspects of Murakami’s fiction is his attention to microscopic detail.  He describes an encounter with the new friend who urges him to solve the mystery of his lost friends.  Murakami writes, “She took a sip of coffee and returned the cup to the saucer.  She paused, and checked her enameled nails.  They looked beautiful, painted in the same maroon color as her handbag (perhaps a little lighter).  He was willing to bet a month’s salary this wasn’t a coincidence” (147).

Compared to some of his other novels, this small format book of a little less than 400 pages, really seems like a novella.  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami would be a great introduction to this important figure in world literature.  5 stars

--Chiron, 9/20/14

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