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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