Guest Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
19 July, 2013
Haruki Murakami fans all over the world are waiting with bated breath for the translation of his new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Year of Pilgrimage which should hopefully be published sometime next year. I still have 1Q84 to get through so I’m happy to wait although I was tempted to try and read it in Japanese. But many of my Japanese friends have and so I present to you my lovely friend and fellow reader Eriko who will give you a glimpse of what Murakami has in store for us.
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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Since the new book by Haruki Murakami came out, I’ve been on trains and passed by bookstores bursting with ads for this book. This has made me feel a bit uneasy, as reading a book, especially Murakami’s, is a very personal experience for me and often I forget that it is written by a famous author and not just for me.
36 year old Tsukuru Tazaki works as a railway station planner in Shinjuku,Tokyo. He has always felt that there might be something abnormal about himself hidden beneath his very ordinary, dull persona – a feeling that he is different from others.
His new girlfriend, Sara, is a few years older than him and a smart professional working for a travel agency. They have just started seeing each other and Tsukuru is obviously very attracted to her although things are still quite polite between them – his attraction is still on a level of dreamy yearning from a slight distance, being unsure whether she will really become his.
One night, Tsukuru ends up talking about an incident that occurred 16 years ago which changed his life. While at university in Tokyo, he was suddenly expelled from his group of high school friends back in his hometown of Nagoya for no obvious reason. Until that point, their group of two girls and three guys including Tsukuru had maintained a spotless harmony and exclusive closeness which Sara now sees as unnatural and constructed. Because he was tormented, Tsukuru never tried to find out why this happened and just let it sink.
Sara gently suggests that Tsukuru should face his past split with his high school friends and find out the reason behind it. She says that there is a certain aloofness about him that prevents her from developing a serious relationship with him. Thinking upon it, Tusukuru begins to understand that he may have commitment issues stemming from his past.
With Sara’s help, Tsukuru reconnects one by one with his old friends, Mr. Blue, Mr. Red, Ms. White and Ms. Black, to find out the truth and finally finds redemption by sharing their emotional wounds from their past.
In this novel, you find lots of real people with ordinary jobs and lives in which things are seemingly pretty sane. They all seem to be out in the world and properly connected with society, compared to say the protagonist in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle who has just quit his job at a law firm and stays at home alone when he starts to receive weird phone calls from a strange woman, or the 15-year-old runaway boy in Kafka on the Shore who travels to Shikoku and settles in a local library as a total stranger. Yet with Tsukuru, we are led through metaphysical and symbolic dreams or perhaps dream-like reality, catching glimpses of people’s inner longings and agony urged by very strong sensations of both life and death.
This time, it is Liszt’s melody Le Mal du Pays that is played and mentioned repeatedly in the story and outlines the vague melancholy Tsukuru carries within himself.
Like the other novels by Murakami, I find it difficult to summarize what went through me while reading this story as every line contains details that grasp your imagination or trigger an inner dialogue between you and the narrative.
Overall, it was an easy read, concentrating on human emotions such as friendship and love, with a twist of mystery. The story left me with a rather warm feeling as well as hope, not yet promised, for a happier future for Tsukuru as he seems to find himself a renewed person after the pilgrimage.
In a closed memorial lecture and interview for late psychologist, Hayao Kawai, held at Kyoto University in May, Murakami reportedly referred to his work as follows:
Stories lie at the very bottom of human souls. Because they are at the deepest spot of people’s heart, they can connect people at their roots. The role of a novelist is to provide a model for the stories people have. If the readers sympathize with the novel and react to it, something like a network of souls will be constructed. This is what I feel like doing – constructing a network of souls via my novels.
I am certain that Murakami was successful in touching my mind and heart at a deep level with his new novel again this time and made me react to it in many parts. Probably even more so because it had to do more purely with human relationships as well as life and death. Particles of Tsukuru’s story still remain quietly resonant within me.
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Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on Murakami’s new novel, Eriko.
Eriko is of mixed Japanese and German origin and lives in Tokyo.
Intrigued by the thought-provoking title of Murakami’s new work, she got a copy as soon as it was published. She also reread her favorite dialogue between Murakami and the late Jungian psychologist, Hayao Kawai, Haruki Murakami goes and meets Hayao Kawai, which helps her gain new perspectives in experiencing Murakami’s work. Murakami says that Kawai was the only person who truly understood what he was trying to do in his work.