Friday, December 5, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami's latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, is a coming of age tale that is both timeless and existential. The main character, Tsukuru, lacks any quality that makes him stand out. "I've always seen myself as an empty person, lacking color and identity," he says. (p. 177) In high school, he befriends 4 students and they become inseparable. But when he goes to Tokyo to college, these friends cut him off without explanation. And Tsukuru does not ask for one. Instead, he falls into a depression, thinking only of death.

Now thirty-six years old, he meets a mysterious woman, Sara, with whom he has an affair. It is Sara who sees his emotional growth as stunted and frozen in adolescence. She gives him an ultimatum - find his former friends and determine the reason they shunned him.

Thematically, the novel examines the journey motif in which Tsukuru's travels take him as far away as Finland. But as he locates and speaks with his boyhood friends, Tsukuru travels deeper into his own psyche. The growth of the character and the development of his self-perception is one of the strengths of the novel.

As with all of Murakami's books, his characters suffer from a sense of otherness and alienation.No one seems truly connected to the people around them. The image of the sea of commuters at the railway station, heads cast downward, is likely a metaphor for the book as whole.

To quote Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings and The Ten Year Nap:

Colorless Tsukuru's mystery is solved before the end, but the mystery of the spell that the great Murakami casts over his readers, myself included, goes, as ever, unsolved. The novel feels like a riddle, a puzzle, or maybe, actually, more like a haiku: full of beauty, strangeness, and color, thousands of syllables long. (NPR, All Things Considered, August 18, 2014)

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