Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.
This is how bad I am: when given the opportunity to read the new Haruki Murakami (that is the first time I’ve managed to write that out correctly on the first try), I thought I was getting my hands on new Kazuo Ishiguro.
Imagine my surprise when that was not the case at all. I initially thought that maybe this would be a tough read – I’d never read a Murakami before and never really wanted to.
But I kind of loved Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.
When we meet Tsukuru Tazaki he is on the brink of death, contemplating suicide every hour of every day. He had been a part of a close group of 5 friends – they did everything together, together they made up whole people, filled the gaps in each other that were wanting. Even though he had always felt a little bit other in this group – the other 4 all had names that had a colour in them: black, red, white, blue while Tsukuru Tazaki was colourless – they were his best friends. When his friends cut him out of their lives without an explanation, without any warning, Tsukuru is left numb and confused.
The story moves back and forth between those days leading up to the break and the aftermath, and the present day when 36 year old Tsukuru is embarking on the beginning of a promising relationship with this new woman. She becomes the first person he’s ever told the full story to, the first person he’s ever been open with about the fact that since those friends he’s never really bothered to make any new ones. She encourages him to contact those friends to find out what it was that made them cut him out of their lives. She’s convinced that they won’t be able to have any kind of relationship until he has worked out this emotional blockage, until he can feel secure knowing that not everyone he cares for will just cut him off.
For some reason I was expecting some kind of sci-fi futuristic situation so a story in modern day Tokyo was a pleasant surprise. I loved travelling with Tsukuru to find out what happened, why his friends cut him out. There was a story within a story situation early on the book that I didn’t understand and a fairly graphic sex scene that I could have done without (especially since I still can’t figure out what that achieved) but mostly I couldn’t wait to get back to this very modern tale. Tsukuru is left out in the cold, without any support in his critical years of development. Without friends he wanders through his life, not really caring about anything, always wondering about the friendships that he used to have. He achieves what he wants to professionally but without anyone to share it with, he just kind of bobs along alone.
I’m not anywhere near the loner that Tsukuru is, but I so identified with him. These days we have a tendency to live through our devices without making actual contact with the people we care about. Although Tsukuru’s lack of contact was not his own choice, he didn’t follow that up by going out into the world and finding new friends. Without friends, without the presence of meaningful relationships in his life, Tsukuru is just an empty vessel.
The fact that this book was a translation added an extra layer of intrigue for me. The descriptions of the names of his characters and their meanings are beautiful. There’s a whole passage where Tsukuru’s name and its meaning are described and why his father chose a certain spelling over the more common one. Murakami describes language and the way we use it in different situations to illustrate the state of Tsukuru’s relationships. In one scene, Tsukuru is meeting with an old friend and no longer feels that the casual form of you is appropriate; in English we don’t have these distinctions but I liked having it pointed out to better understand the moment. His prose is incredibly elegant; so much so that I almost found myself holding my breath so as not to disturb the moments he was creating.
I’m glad I thought Murakami was someone else or I never would have given Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage a chance.
PS One last thing: this book is really cool looking. It’s a hardcover but like a tiny one. The actual cover, once you remove the dust jacket, is covered in Japanese train station lines. And I love the hand – each finger a different colour…Just wanted to add that.