Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A quietly powerful masterpiece

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

By Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Knopf 

Pub. Date: August 12, 2014

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Tsukuru Tazaki has four close friends, two men and two women. They all have names that means colors; Red, Blue, White, and Black. Tsukuru is colorless. His name means “Builder”. But he sees himself as colorless in other ways. He perceive his friends as having special talents while he thinks he has none. He sees himself as drab only finding meaning with his friends and wondering what they see in him. When his friends suddenly drop him from their life with no explanation, it is devastating and he falls into a suicidal depression for months. While he recovers he never does totally, wondering why his friends abandoned him. It is now 17 years later.

That is the basic plot of Haruki Murakami’s new novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Murakami has essentially two types of books. There are the surrealist magical realism novels like Kafka by the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. Then there are his more intimate and realistic novels like Norwegian Wood. His last novel 1Q84 was somewhere in between. With Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, he returns the real world and writes a very down-to-earth chronicle of a very troubled man. While I prefer the more surrealistic novels I think Tazaki (as we shall call it so I don’t wear out my fingers) is the best of his other type of story. The book starts out with an almost morbid description of Tazaki’s depression to the point that the reader may wonder what he is getting into. But as we learn more about Tazaki we understand him and worry about him. Tazaki wonders why he cannot hold on to relationships and his current girlfriend Sarah thinks he will need to confront his ex-friends from 17 years ago in order to move on. Sarah is an abnormality in a Murakami novel; a woman who is a strong stable influence and is not disassociating over something. It is a nice exception to Murakami’s cast of insecure seekers.

This is a strong work for Murakami. It features some of his most intimate and personal writing. I always felt Murakami puts a lot of his own seeking and insecurity into his novel but I have no doubt here that he is writing a very personal tale even if it is totally fictional. He seems to be exploring the effects of relationships; not only what they give to us but what they take away. It also explores our sense of identity in how we see ourselves and why. Despite its depressing beginning, it is in a lot of ways the author’s most positive novel. Plus he still has the sparse but exquisite way of making the simplest observation a cornucopia of wisdom. It is probably a compliment to say the only weakness to this new novel is that the author does not include any cats! Murakami always give you a new way of seeing the world, the ones who mean most to us, and ourselves.

Tazaki may not be a masterful epic like The Wind-up Bird Chronicle or 1Q84 and it may not have the magical complexity of Kafka on the Shore. However it is still one of his most powerful novels and if you like your Murakami down-to-earth, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage will be a fine recommendation

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