Haruki Murakami is known for his stylistic innovation of the plot-blends in the aleatory nature of the situations and simplistic characters. His characters work in record stores, as school teachers, engineers living their simple lives with rigid and intense routine. They have a passion for jazz music, obsess over suicide, cleaning, ironing and going for long runs or swimming.
They meet somebody, find something or receive a strange phone call and then they undertake a journey, which is both geographical and metaphysical, away from traditional Japanese setting to the other end of globe. They solve mysteries of their past, seek answers and in the process, open their hearts to unexpected people and philosophize on life, love and relationships. On their journey, they meet talking cats and crows, man in sheep’s costume, an elephant which adds the element of magic to his stories.
There is a lot of sex and sometimes the descriptions of it can make your skin crawl. However, the violence and sexual abuse add intensity to his novels. As he says “The violence and sex abuse are a kind of stimulation for the story. I don’t like to write them but I have to for the story’s sake.”
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage has something different to offer. This perhaps is the reason that its Japanese edition sold one million copies in the first week of publication and readers queued up at midnight for the launch of its English edition. When the author was questioned about the authenticity of his translations and what do the readers who experience his novels in translation lose by not reading in the original Japanese language at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. He replied “I can read the books in English. Not in French, Russian, German or others. But when an English translation is complete, they send me the manuscript. When I read it, it’s fine for me! I don’t know what’s going to happen next! My point is that if I enjoyed it, the translation is good. So you can relax! Sometimes I find mistakes and I call the translator. But three or four things in a book, maybe.”
There is no magic, no alternate universes or talking animals and birds. There is only ordinary Tsukuru Tazaki whose friends one day announced that they no longer want to see or talk to him. His life stopped there. Two decades later, he lives his life comfortably with a decent job and a promising third date with a woman, but he’s never been able to understand exactly what went wrong in that friend circle. The wound of this incident still remains in his heart and stops him from giving himself completely to the new relationships he is forming, obstructing his natural flow of emotions. In one instance Sara, his girlfriend, tells him “you can hide memories but you can’t erase history” and asks Tsukuru to confront his friends about the incident that led them to abandon him.
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The book catalogs his painful, halting attempts to find out what happened. He goes back to Nagoya, his home town and all the way to Finland with no talking animals to guide him. There is one moment when Tsukuru recalls listening to a story told by a friend from the past, one that the friend’s father had recounted to him, that contains a hint of something extraordinary and magical.
The novel incorporates a deeper understanding of how we connect and reconnect with people around us. It brings together the colorful cultural threads bound strongly through the blend of contemporary social reality and the jazz music, particularly Fraz Liszt's ‘Le Mal du Pays’, which is a recurrent motif in the book. There are several allusions to philosophers, musicians and pop stars like Barry Manilow and Pet Shop Boys. Murakami draws all these influences from his own experience of growing up in the sixties and his love for everything American, rejection of Japanese literature and his complicated relationship with his father.
The novel doesn’t have a sound conclusion or happily ever after. Murakami’s novels open ups the debates about human nature. On the surface the seemingly calm, uncomplicated, colorless and dispassionate people can carry within themselves complex ideas, emotions, anxieties and insecurities.
As he says in the blind willow sleeping women, “I sometimes think that people’s hearts are like deep wells. Nobody knows what’s at the bottom. All you can do is imagine by what comes floating to the surface every once in a while.” This novel particularly focuses on the darker recesses of consciousness, a different shade of the colorless. His wet dreams in which he always ejaculates in Shiro, one of his abandoning friends, and Shiro’s pregnancy after the whole incident happened hints towards the fact that seemingly ‘colorless Tsukuru’ actually raped Shiro. It also leaves the reader hanging on to the very basic questions as to whether Sara chose him or the older man she was dating. Did Tsukuru commit suicide in order to hold on to Sara because in that moment she didn’t belong to him or to the older man and he could still claim her. The role of Sara could only be of a device through which Tsukuru interrogates his own consciousness.
These thoughts linger in the mind of the reader. It leaves us with more questions than answers which in a way reflect on the nature of life, the very impossibility of finding all the answers. Here, the search serves as a metaphor. Someone who can go on with the search has a possibility of being happy. The search gives his characters meaning and that is why most of his characters are searching for something be it a cat, sheep or some answers.
The book, although has all the characteristics of a typical Murakami novel but it is also different as he moves away from his typical magical realist style, limiting it to only the story that Haida recounts about his father and Midorikawa. The story relies more on psychological realism. Most of the action happens inside the brain or recollected during his conversations with Sara. This shift in style also makes it a darker and more intense experience.