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In Japan, a major literary work originally published in the hard-cover format is usually republished a few years later in the “bunko” form (a cheaper, smaller and suppler version of a book that one carries so that one can read while riding on a train or bus – in Japan where most people use mass transportation systems to commute to work or study the portability of books is important). Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, “Shikisai wo motanai tazaki tsukuru to, kare no junrei no toshi” literally translated as “Tsukuru Tazaki Who Does Not have Colors and His Year of Pilgrimage” in English, came out in a “bunko” version this December, and thus I finally decided to read the novel.

Though Murakami is one of my favorite authors, I hesitated to read “Colorless Tazaki Tsukuru” when it first came out 2 years ago partially due to some negative reviews and partially due to my preference for Japanese “bunko” forms. (Had I actually read these negative “reviews” that were prominently presented on the Japanese Amazon site as “most helpful” I would have noticed that many of these negative reviews were rather personal and showed intense jealousy toward Murakami himself or for his main characters who seem to have easy ways with girls (!) Obviously many Japanese readers or consumers of popular culture cannot tolerate main characters that were not going through abject miseries in one way or another.) I could have read the book in its English translation, but, I decided against it because I wanted to read Murakami’s book in Japanese first. (By the way, as far as I remember Japanese books are never discounted in Japan. I think Japanese publishers have extensive control over their products’ pricing – or perhaps the bookstores are allowed “price-fixing” books.)

What I can say now after having read the book is that I really enjoyed reading “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki.” Even the title, which initially struck me as rather gimmicky, turned out to be persuasive as Murakami’s usual somewhat ironic metaphor. For instance, the so-called “colorful” characters in this novel are the characters that do not have much depth or complexities because they are somewhat absurdly defined by the colors in their names, whereas Tsukuru Tazaki, which means “the maker of many corners,” has potential to develop into a fully actualized character. Like many of Murakami’s fictions, “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki” manifests Murakami’s signature styles: it has elements of mystery (one can even read this as a “Who Done It” sort of mystery); an existing musical piece is used as a major signifier;, impossibility of understanding human beings including oneself, and thus the inherent difficulties of human relationships; one strangely uncertain episode of graphic sex which is both hetero- and homo-sexual; and a supernatural story within a story within a story. Perhaps “Colorless Tazaki Tsukuru” may not be as well structured as “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” or as ambitious as “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.” But, it engaged me both emotionally and intellectually.

To begin, my interest in the novel was piqued when I read the first paragraph.

“From July of his college sophomore year until the following January, Tsukuru Tazaki lived while mostly thinking about dying. During this period he turned twenty, but this life marker meant nothing special to him. In those days, taking his own life seemed to him the most natural and logical thing to do. Even now he does not know why he had not taken this final step – because, crossing the threshold between life and death would have been easier for him than swallowing down a raw egg in those days.”(my translation)

What made a young man, such as Tsukuru Tazaki, feel in such a negative and suicidal way for more than 6 months. Obviously, he survived this dark period; but it was terrible that a young person had to feel this way. Since Tsukuru is a young person, his situation reminded me of Camus’ rumination about the absurdity of life in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.” And like Sisyphus, and perhaps most of humans, Tsukuru lives life mechanically and repetitively. And of course, Murakami presents a narrative that answers the reader’s initial question “what made Tsukuru feel suicidal when he was barely 20.” Since this is Murakami’s fiction, the narrative is set up to call forth more mysteries as one mystery gets solved. But, just like life and other Murakami fictions, somethings are always left unresolved. Nevertheless, “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” was a satisfying read to me.

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