Opening Quote: “From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.”
Haruki Murakami is an author who writes about the everyman in the voice of the everyman. He has a knack of writing in a casual and informal manner that easily allows the reader to empathise with the protagonist regardless of the situation that they find themselves in. I read this book around the same time that I listened to the audiobook version of another one of his recent works, “What I Think About When I Think About Running,” and what struck me both times was how easy it was to relate to the author and his work.
In other aspects of his writing, there are similarities with other Asian literature exports translated to English. The cultural context of these novels, understandably appear to be as different as east and west when compared to typical Western fare. Observations of the main characters’ actions and thoughts are often dry and brutally honest. Characters who harbour strange and unique interests in these novels are often more socially acceptable than those who make the slightest of faux pas out and about with friends. In some ways this strange logic can make works like Murakami’s even more enjoyable for their refreshing view on human interactions.
In this novel, we meet the woefully depressed and socially exiled Tsukuru Tazaki. From the very beginning, it is clear to see that an incident from his past has weighed heavily on him his whole adult life. Even though he has successfully graduated from college and now lives a personal dream of sorts as a train station engineer in Tokyo, he is deeply unhappy. We soon learn about his childhood group of friends and how he returned one summer to find himself suddenly ostracised from his close-knit group without explanation.
We find out that in many ways, Tsukuru has always expected this. Being of a nervous disposition, he has always felt that he stood out in the group. On a very basic level, his friends Aka, Ao, Shiro and Kuro all have names that link to some meaning of colour whereas poor Tsukuru’s name blandly means ‘to make.’ Furthermore, with five being an odd number, he also feels that his presence as ‘the extra boy’ somewhat unsettles the natural balance of the group.
These and many other differences haunt Tsukuru as he drowns in self-pity and wonders where it all went wrong. This scenario alone provokes contemplation in the reader’s own mind. How often have many of us tried to second guess the inexplicable thoughts and actions of others as we stumbled down memory lane? How deep do these suspicions, fears and doubts seep into our subconscious and on what level do they affect our everyday life?
It is only when Tsukuru begins a relationship with a new girl called Sara that he begins on the path to recovery. Sara encourages him to actively chase down his four childhood friends and to get to the bottom of what really happened during that summer long ago. As each of the original five friends have now scattered far and wide around Japan, this is not an easy task. Never the less, Tsukuru rises to the challenge and begins to uncover the hidden truths that have profoundly shaped his life. As he does so, he finds a new perspective and perception of himself while bringing the reader along the same journey.
For me, this book puts forward the idea that we do not really fully understand or grasp those around us as well as we think we do. Within life there are an infinite amount of complicated narratives at play all around us. The best that we can do is try to look much closer at what seems to lie beneath the surface of our friendships and relationships or at the very least engage with works like this effort from Haruki Murakami to help gain an insight into the universal human soul.
Would I recommend this book to a friend?
Yes, I would recommend Haruki Murakami as an author to many readers as he seems to offer something for everyone. You mightn’t like this one, but a quick look through his back catalogue it sure to find you something you like. I currently have an interesting two-in-one book of his called Wind/Pinball lined up to read. Whoever designs his book covers for him also does a brilliant job.
- Chip Kidd designed one of the initial front covers for Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and it is a real 3D crowd pleaser.
- The Vintage publication of Wind/Pinball is also very eyecatching!