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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel Hardcover – August 12, 2014
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“Murakami is a charming travel companion. Though we know where we’re going, and must endure plenty of bumps in the road, the trip is rarely boring, his company is amiable, and we can rest assured that he will take us to strange places we’ve never been before, except perhaps in dreams. . . . [In Colorless Tsukuru] there is only a single moon in the Tokyo sky. Yet we’re undeniably in Murakamiland. Nobody else could have written this novel, or dared to try. Then again, given the remarkable continuity of his fiction, nearly every Murakami novel feels like a new volume of the same meganovel, a vast saga that is now approaching 7,000 pages in length. . . . In Murakamiland, death means merely traveling across a ‘threshold’ between reality and some other world. It is not necessarily the end. In fact, as we soon learn, Tsukuru’s obsession with death is only the beginning. . . . The mesmeric pull of Murakami’s fiction lies in this tension between the narrator’s perfectly ordinary existence and this shadow world, which might reside in our subconscious or even in an alternate universe, where we are free to enact our darkest, most violent, most perverse fantasies. . . . [He] writes genre fiction—formulaic, conventional, with an emphasis on plot. But it is a genre that he has invented himself, drawing elements from fantasy, noir, horror, sci-fi, and the genre we call ‘literary fiction.’ . . . The tone [in this new novel] is wistful, mysterious, winsome, disturbing, seductive. It is full of gorgeous, incongruous imagery. . . . Murakami is balletic, evoking metaphysical realms and a fine sense of the grotesque.” —Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic
"A devotional anticipation is generated by the announcement of a new Haruki Murakami book. Readers wait for his work the way past generations lined up at record stores for new albums by the Beatles or Bob Dylan. There is a happily frenzied collective expectancy—the effect of cultural voice, the Murakami effect. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru] is a book for both the new and experienced reader. . . . The book reveals another side of Murakami, one not so easy to pin down. Incurably restive, ambiguous and valiantly struggling toward a new level of maturation. A shedding of Murakami skin. It is not ‘Blonde on Blonde,’ it is ‘Blood on the Tracks.’ . . . [The book’s] realism is tinged with the parallel worlds of 1Q84, particularly through dreams. The novel contains a fragility that can be found in Kafka on the Shore, with its infinite regard for music. Hardly a soul writes of the listening and playing of music with such insight and tenderness.” —Patti Smith, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)
“[A] remarkable novel [that] takes us on a spellbinding descent through the rings of hell in Tsukuru Tazaki’s young life. . . . A virtual symphony of literary and musical referents. Murakami’s wizardry lies in his ability to pack all that cultural and spiritual resonance into a book that is as tightly wound as a Dashiell Hammett mystery. . . . Murakami can herd the troubles of a very large world and still mind a few precious details. He may be taking us deeper and deeper into a fractured modernity and its uneasy inhabitants, but he is ever alert to minds and hearts, to what it is, precisely, that they feel and see, and to humanity’s abiding and indomitable spirit. . . . A deeply affecting novel, not only for the dark nooks and crannies it explores, but for the magic that seeps into its characters’ subconsciouses, for the lengths to which they will go to protect or damage one another, for the brilliant characterizations it delivers along the way. . . . A page-turner with intervals of lapidary prose and dazzling human comprehension.” —Marie Arana, The Washington Post
“Intoxicating. . . . It's hard to think of another writer who is as popular, as strange, and as lionized as Haruki Murakami is. . . . At first glance, you might think that Murakami has no overlap with that other writer whose work gets people lining up at midnight, J.K. Rowling. And yet they do have something in common. Both of them are comfortable creating their own specific and elaborate house blend of fantasy and reality. And as a result, they each shape a world that is recognizably their own. . . . The mystery of the spell that the great Murakami casts over his readers, myself included, [in Colorless Tsukuru] goes, as ever, unsolved. The novel feels like a riddle, a puzzle, or maybe, actually, more like a haiku: full of beauty, strangeness, and color, thousands of syllables long. . . . Weird and inviting.” —Meg Wolitzer, NPR
“[Murakamai] has opened his vision, his sensibility, to reflect the distances implicit in being alive. . . . More than just a story but rather a meditation on everything the narrative provokes. How do we connect, or reconnect, to those around us but also to the very essence of ourselves? Where, in the flatness of contemporary society—which in this novel, as in so much of his work, Murakami evokes with a masterful understatement—do we find some point of intersection, some lasting depth? . . . There is a rawness, a vulnerability, to these characters, a sense that the surface of the world is thin, and the border between inner and outer life, between existence as we know it and something far more elusive, is easily effaced.” —David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“Mesmerizing, immersive, hallucinogenic. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru] calls to mind Murakami’s career-defining 1987 novel, Norwegian Wood.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Bold and colorful threads of fiction blur smoothly together to form the muted white of an almost ordinary realism. Like J.M. Coetzee, Murakami smoothly interlaces allegorical meanings with everyday particulars of contemporary social reality. The shadows cast may be larger than life, but the figures themselves feel stirringly human. . . . This new novel chronicles a spiritual quest that might also be a love story. But here the author strips away the magical quavers of reality and the mind-bending plot structures that have become hallmarks of his work. . . . Readers find themselves propelled along by the ebb and flow of an internal logic that feels as much like a musical progression as it does an unfolding of events. The steady calm of the prose, the ambient rhythms of recurring motifs like Fraz Liszt's ‘Le Mal du Pays,’ and the close attention to repetitive patterns in characters' lives bring readers into a carefully measured cadence like that of Tsukuru's pared-down lifestyle. . . . Thanks to Philip Gabriel's discerning translation into subtle yet artful language, the novel[‘s] . . . ease and obviousness convey an internal complexity that you ‘get’ without realizing it. . . . Tsukuru's situation will resonate with anyone who feels adrift in this age of Google and Facebook.” —Christopher Weinberger, San Francisco Chronicle
“[A] feeling . . . lingered with me for days after I read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, a feeling of having experienced some extreme vividness, some extreme force of emotion. I'm still not sure exactly what it was. ‘An encounter with genius’ may be the answer . . . . Murakami is like Edward Hopper or Arvo Pärt, his simplicities earned, his exactingly artful techniques permitting him a higher kind of artlessness. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru is a] sincere, soft-spoken story. . . . There is an intoxicating mood of nostalgia. . . . Tsukuru's pilgrimage will never end, because he is moving constantly away from his destination, which is his old self. This is a narrow poignancy, but a powerful one, and Murakami is its master. Perhaps that's why he has come to speak not just for his thwarted nation, but for so many of us who love art—since it's only there, alas, in novels such as this one, that we're allowed to live twice.” —Charles Finch, Chicago Tribune
“In Japan, and increasingly abroad, Murakami has become a publishing sensation. . . .Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is one of his most coherent [novels] and, in its tight and tidy way, one of the most satisfying. . . . The relative ordinariness of the plot notwithstanding, the story has pace and suspense. We want to find out what happened and what is going on in Tsukuru’s head. Dreams figure prominently as the protagonist tramps through the Freudian undergrowth. . . . Murakami can find mystery in the mundane and conjure it in sparse, Raymond Carveresque prose. . . . Those who miss the goat-heads and the demons and the parallel worlds in which anything can happen shouldn’t worry. There’s enough unresolved human mystery in this novel to suggest that they’ll be back.” —David Pilling, Financial Times
“Hypnotic. . . . Colorless Tsukuru spins a weave of . . . vivid images around a great mystery. . . . In the past decade, James Wood has convincingly argued that what the novel does best is show us what consciousness feels like. Murakami, in his own oblique way, has sharpened that objective to a mystical cognitive science: This, so many of what of his books tell us, is what perception feels like. . . . [He] elegantly describes how emotional trauma can lead us to disassociate. . . . The story flows along smoothly, wrapping around details like objects in a stream.” —John Freeman, The Boston Globe
“A reader opens a Murakami book with the expectation that anything can happen and that a story begun in realism will soon take off toward dreamlike realms. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki alights in some mysterious places but doesn’t settle there. . . . [It] is replete with emotionally frank, philosophical discussions. It’s a gentle ride, without the depictions of violence that sometimes occur in Murakami, and any traumas are recounted in retrospect, now covered with the tempering blanket of time. . . . Reflective.” —Jenny Shank, The Dallas Morning News
“[Colorless Tsukuru is] beautiful, rich with moving images and lush yet exquisitely controlled language, reverberating, like that piano music Tsukuru cannot forget, with elusive emotion. . . . Murakami's last novel, 1Q84, was a gripping, complex, surrealistic thriller that weighed in at over 900 pages. This one is less than half that length, far more streamlined in structure and essentially realistic, but no less compelling. . . . Fans of elegant, intelligent fiction will welcome this book.” —Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times
“So taut and approachable—though it still retains [Murakami’s] cool fabulism—that it may expand the Japanese lit icon’s fan base even further.” —Boris Kachka, Vulture
“Moving. . . . Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki may be Murakami’s most human novel yet. . . . [When it] was released in his native country of Japan, it sold a million copies in its first week. That number is astronomical, especially here in the states, where Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices had a ‘strong’ opening week with only about 100,000 books sold. Calling Murakami a ‘universally respected author’ or even a ‘paragon of literature’ is no longer apt. The man is a cultural force unto himself. . . . [In Colorless Tsukuru] the staples of his work (stories within stories, sexual perversity, mysteries without real answers) all come together to form a beautiful whole. . . . It’s quiet in the same way Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is, leaving the reader with that nostalgic feeling one gets when putting down a truly captivating story.” — Noah Cruickshank, A.V. Club
“Colorless Tsukuru had me hooked from the start. . . . A piercing and surprisingly compact story about friendship and loneliness. . . . Murakami skillfully explores the depths of Tsukuru’s isolation and pain. His nervousness when he begins to suspect that friends have shunned him—and his anguish when it is confirmed—are chilling. No mysticism needed.” —Jeremy Kohler, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Questions beget questions in this brilliant new novel by Haruki Murakami. . . . The premise is simple enough, but in the works of Murakami, nothing is simple. The endpapers for [Colorless Tsukuru] make this clear. A partial map of the huge, complex Tokyo subway system surrounds the text. Thousands of travelers pass through central stations on these heavily traveled lines. People intersect without ever meeting. Perfect for Tsukuru. . . . [It is] the gray area[s] Murakami explores so brilliantly. His characters’ lives spin out in the shadow of accidents and natural disasters that have plagued Japan in the decades since Hiroshima. . . . Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki has a strong storyline and sharply drawn characters whose motives are ambiguous: a perfect introduction to Murakami’s world, where questions of guilt and motivation abound, and the future is an open question.” —Kit Reed, The Miami Herald
“Murakami has a knack for swift, seamless storytelling. . . . Don’t be surprised if you devour Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage in the course of a night or two. Despite having an achromatic enigma as its protagonist, it’s shockingly seductive. . . . A quietly thought-provoking book, but some of its most charming and unexpected moments come in nicely observed nuggets that seem to be far removed from the main narrative, at least at first glance.” —Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Accessible and often moving. . . . One of Murakami’s most endearing and enduring traits as a writer is an almost reportorial attention to detail, the combined effect of which gives you a complete picture while still feeling a little ethereal. Because, like many of the award-winning novelist’s best books, Colorless also is rooted in dreams.Tsukuru relates dark fantasies involving the people in his past in such a matter-of-fact way that the character himself isn’t sure they’re not real. As always with Murakami, it doesn’t really matter if they are real: It’s the feelings they evoke that matter.” —Chris Foran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Spare and contained . . . so the few hints of emotional color stand out. . . . Because it’s clear that Tsukuru’s conscious and unconscious lives are almost totally separated, it’s impossible to trust his memories or his interpretations of events. That gives the novel an unsettled, unresolved quality that continues to hum after its disquieting conclusion. . . . Like many of Murakami’s books, this one has an implicit soundtrack. In this case, it’s Liszt’s suite for piano, Years of Pilgrimage, and particularly the ‘Mal du Pays (Homesickness)’ section of the suite. . . . Quiet, with disturbing depths.” —Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
“Murakami confronts big themes (friendship, forgiveness, the betrayal of loyalties) with a sombre eye. His gift as a novelist is to locate the moment of crisis when a character loses faith, religious or otherwise, and life is exposed in all its drab wonder. Colorless Tsukuru, a work of lapidary and suspenseful mystery, goes to the heart of questions about human solitude and yearning to connect. Admirers of Murakami’s previous novels—Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle—will not be disappointed.” —Ian Thomson, Evening Standard (London)
“Almost without precedent in modern times, [Murakami] has combined giddy popularity—in Japan, his novels can sell 1m copies in the week of publication—with the literary prestige of admiring reviews from giants such as Updike. . . . One reason for Murakami's huge readership is that, unlike many serious novelists, he is as interested in plot as prose. . . . All the author's signature flourishes are here, including a significant piece of music (Liszt's ‘Le mal du pays’ underscores this novel), an impressive range of cultural reference (name-checks include Arnold Wesker, Pet Shop Boys, Barry Manilow and Thomas Harris) and a deep interest in sex. . . . [Kafka] haunts Murakami's fiction as both an explicit presence . . . and a general tutelary influence. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru is] as adept as ever at setting up Kafkaesque ambiguity and atmosphere.” —Mark Lawson, The Guardian (UK)
“Murakami is one of those rare novelists who can turn our ordinary lives, whether conducted in Tokyo or Duluth, into something wondrous. . . . Few authors can endow the ordinary with so much enticing oddity. . . . It is a testament to Murakami’s power as a novelist that he can moderate the ebb and flow of reality with such singular confidence.” —Alexander Nazaryan, Newsweek
“Spell-binding. . . . Strangely beautiful . . . intensely moving.” —Eithne Farry, The Independent (UK)
“The joy of [this] novels lies in taking another wander through Murakami-land where everything is suffused with an air of mystery and many questions are left unanswered. . . . Let [Colorless Tsukuru’s] peculiar beauty wash over you.” —Jake Kerridge, Sunday Express (UK)
“Oddly satisfying. . . . This kind of Murakami novel is like life, then, but less so yet somehow more so.” —Sean O’Hagan, The Observer (UK)
“A meditation on language and reference.” —Leo Robson, The Telegraph (UK)
“Hypnotically fascinating. . . . A journey of immense magnitude, both physically. . . and, of course, metaphysically, as Tazaki attempts to make sense of his own inner world and the dreams that shape his other dimension. There are always other dimensions in Murakami’s novels, and while they can seem impenetrable, they eventually feed into and help vivify the powerful personal dramas taking place on a purely human level. In the end, Murakami writes love stories, all the more tender and often tragic for their exploration of the multiple realities in which is lovers live.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Murakami devotees will sigh with relief at finding his usual memes – the moon, Cutty Sark, a musical theme, ringing telephones, a surreal story-within-a story (this time about passing on death and possibly six fingers). That the novel sold over one million copies its first week in Japan guarantees – absolutely, deservedly so – instant best-seller status stateside as well.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“One of Murakami’s more memorable protagonists . . . a testament to the mystery, magic, and mastery of this much-revered Japanese writer’s imaginative powers. Murakami’s moxie is characterized by a brilliant detective-story-like blend of intuition, hard-nosed logic, impeccable pacing, and poetic revelations. . . . [He] reveals Tazaki’s pilgrimage through stunning psychologically and philosophically charged passages that are alternately all too real and almost hallucinatory. . . Tazaki’s quest restores him to the cycle of love, loss, and resurrection that is time’s eternal flow in surprising, delightful, and sometimes frightening ways, none of which will be lost on lucky readers of this new masterpiece.” —Elle
“A return to the mood and subject matter of the acclaimed writer’s earlier work. . . . A vintage Murakami struggle of coming to terms with buried emotions and missed opportunities, in which intentions and pent up desires can seemingly transcend time and space to bring both solace and desolation.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Another tour de force from Japan’s greatest living novelist. . . . Murakami writes with the same murky sense of time that characterized 1Q84, but this book, short and haunting, is really of a piece with older work such as Norwegian Wood and, yes, Kafka on the Shore. The reader will enjoy watching Murakami play with color symbolism down to the very last line of the story, even as Tsukuru sinks deeper into a dangerous enigma. . . . A trademark story that blends the commonplace with the nightmarish in a Japan full of hollow men.” —Kirkus (starred review)
About the Author
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into more than fifty languages. The most recent of his many international honors is the Jerusalem Prize, whose previous recipients include J. M. Coetzee, Milan Kundera, and V. S. Naipaul. Translated by Philip Gabriel.
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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki has a compelling mix of the "old" and the "new" Murakami. For the first time since Murakami started to alter his style, the story is told entirely from the perspective of the familiar "Boku" character ... mid-30s, lonely, detached, insecure (in this case, about whether he is "colorless"--this will make sense when you read the book), on an unusual quest to reconcile a past trauma and lost relationships. The book is strikingly free of the "magical realism" present in some of his iconic works such as Wind-Up Bird and Hard-Boiled Wonderland, and tells a much more "realistic" tale more similar in concept to Norwegian Wood, South of the Border, or even his debut novel, Hear the Wind Sing ... but with considerably more maturity and psychological depth, I'd argue. Unlike the "old" Murakami protagonist, however, Tsukuru is not passive ... cool, but not dispassionate. It takes some time and some prodding, but eventually he sets out to discover truths and right wrongs. His name is telling: "tsukuru" means "to make", and what Tsukuru makes is train stations ... places characterized by both order and chaos, where the ebb and flow of humanity is unceasing, full of people going to where they belong and returning to where they were meant to be. Similar to Murakami's more recent works, this tale is told entirely in the 3rd person; unlike his recent works, however, this tale is not told from multiple perspectives. Personally, I found this singular focus on Tsukuru (rather than a split narrative) enhanced the tale and allowed the reader to feel what Tsukuru is feeling and empathize with his quest for understanding and belonging. Although not "magical"/mystical, the tale is still mysterious; I am often vexed by Murakami's tendency for unresolved plot lines, yet in this tale I was satisfied with the ending (although I imagine not everyone will be) ... Tsukuru hangs on a knife's edge, yet is at peace in his own way. While I would've loved to have seen the resolution of the remaining key plot line, as Tsukuru himself notes it is out of his hands ... he has completed his own internal journey, regardless of what happens next.
To me, personally, this felt like the most effortless and natural tale Murakami has told since he started experimenting with his style in Kafka on the Shore. As such, it seems appropriate that in many ways Murakami achieves the most successful version of his new style by returning to his roots. This is the first novel of his in quite some time that I found to be a gripping page turner that I genuinely enjoyed and left me hungry for my next visit to Murakami World rather than nostalgic for past visits. The reaction in Japan to this novel has been decidedly mixed, however, so I will be curious to see what the reaction is in the west. For me at least, for the first time in more than a decade, I had the pleasure of closing a Murakami novel with a smile on my face, moved, thoughtful, and looking forward to seeing where Murakami goes from here. I am reminded of an excellent quote by Ursula Le Guin: "Finally, when we're done with it, we may find - if it's a good novel - that we're a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it's very hard to say just what we learned, how we were changed." I think this statement applies well to Murakami's works ... it is often difficult to articulate why one likes (or dislikes) Murakami's writing as a whole, or specific works in particular ... it is the reason why reading Murakami is a very personal, and very subjective experience--one "feels" Murakami as much as one "thinks" Murakami; what moves one person will turn off another. Personally, I found Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki to be a success: like all Murakami novels that moved me, I feel a bit different from what I was before I read it.
This book is no exception. It begins with Tsukuru being troubled by something bad that has happened to him (very troubled, very troubled). The rest of the story is his evolution away from the idea that this thing simply happened to him. After many years he finally investigates what really happened and realizes that there were other perspectives. It turned out that the main issue wasn't all about him at all; it was really more about someone else who actually suffered more than he did. We all need to better realize that the world does not revolve around us. Things do not simply happen to us, we are part of a larger whole. This book is a great example of that.
The only thing I didn't like about the book was it was too short. When I finished, I thought, "is it done already?" After reading 1Q84, this one seemed like only half a book. I wanted to know more.
Fiction, in general, bores me to tears: mundane, scare mongering, trite etc, etc. The majesty and exquisiteness of this novel is the ability of the writer to draw you into the tale which subsequently draws YOU within yourself--- delving deep into the cavern of one's most painful and pivotal life experience, of seeing the mountain peaks of what could have been, of the angst, confusion and self-doubt that tears into defining the who and what one is.
To say the novel is remarkable is an understatement. Writing that is this alive, this relatable and deeply complicated in revealing the layers of human consciousness and emotions comes few and far between. I feel that, like those with a palate to be taste testers, those who do more of their own internal self journey would appreciate the work on scale much more than the average.
All in all, I finished it feeling as though I had a 7 course meal. It feed all parts of my being: spiritual, emotional, psychological and mental. Highly recommended.
Thank you, Mr. Murakami, for the pilgrimage.
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And Murakami's books are always good to read