Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage takes readers on a dreamlike adventure.

Many of Haruki Murakami’s most popular novels — his most recent ones having sold more than 1 million copies in their first few weeks of publication in Japan alone — merge the glacial dread and paralyzing tedium of youth with a sci-fi varnish.

But this month’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Knopf, $26) ditches most of the trademark genre seasonings that have made Murakami “a pop culture rock star” in his homeland, in favor of a more naturalistic feel. Gone are the men in sheep costumes, unicorn skulls and dismembered shadows, as well as supernaturally potent whiskey and jazz that recalls a lifetime of memories, although Colorless Tsukuru provides tangible evidence of Murakami’s confession that “writing a novel is like having a dream.”

As a protagonist, the new book’s Tsukuru, like the heroes of novels such as Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and Kafka on the Shore, is virtually defined by his spiritual ache and deep sadness; a man who builds train stations where people routinely come and go. Tsukuru is a shell of a man who, at 36, reluctantly sheds the crushing weight of his monotonous life and hits the road to discover at last why his close-knit group of college friends utterly and mysteriously abandoned him nearly two decades earlier.

The journey of the death-obsessed Tsukuru — whose name means “to make, build or create” — is bildungsroman as detective fiction, where nostalgia is a hallucinogen, memory a frail reed and crazy wisdom stubbornly tantalizing in the most mythic sense. Compared with Murakami’s magnum opus, 2011’s 1Q84, which is dusted with cities ruled by alternate realities, ­Colorless Tsukuru is almost minimalistic, its hero not indicted in a Byzantine conspiracy of telekinesis, time-slipping and police states but unraveled by an existential collapse and a slow-drip remembrance of agonies past but never released by his coterie of friends.

The effect remains dreamlike, glazed with a musical motif provided by Franz Liszt’s mournful “Le Mal du Pays.” Here, Murakami’s characters are connected not by friendship’s harmonies but by a briar patch of scar tissue and trauma, revealed in a series of one-on-one encounters with the ostracized Tsukuru. By the time Tsukuru arrives, however improbably, in Finland to conclude his road to awakening, Murakami has demolished readers with a vivid voyage that haunts and resonates long after the novel’s final sentence.



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