BOOK REVIEW: New Murakami novel story of man who tries to overcome his past

April 12, 2013

By CHIAKI YOSHIMURA/ Senior Staff Writer

Haruki Murakami’s new book is the tale of a man who tries to overcome his sense of loss and isolation, which has accumulated in the dark part of his heart.

It is the story of a man who looks back on his past and tries to rediscover the meaning of life.

“Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi” (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage), Murakami’s first long novel in three years, hit bookstores on April 12.

Like many of Murakami’s previous works, especially the three novels of his initial years as a novelist (“Hear the Wind Sing,” “Pinball, 1973,” “A Wild Sheep Chase”), his newest book has an impressive beginning.

“From July of his sophomore year at college to January next year, Tsukuru Tazaki was living while mostly thinking about dying,” reads the strong opening sentence of “Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi.”

The protagonist, Tsukuru Tazaki, had four close friends when he was a high school student. Their family names all had kanji characters for colors, such as “red,” “blue,” “white” and “black.” Tazaki’s family name had no kanji characters for colors. Because of that, he felt a “subtle sense of alienation” and anxiety.

Apart from the four, Tazaki left his hometown and enrolled in a university in Tokyo. Then, suddenly, he was told by the four that the friendships were over. Unable to find any reasons why his friends abandoned him, Tazaki suffered a powerful sense of loss and isolation. As a result, as the beginning of the novel reads, he got caught up in “longing for death.”

As he looks back on his life, the 36-year-old Tazaki works as an engineer, designing railway station buildings. His parents are wealthy. On the surface, he appears an affluent single man. However, the long ago rejection by his friends has left him emotionally scarred.

Tazaki develops feelings for a woman, and when he confronts her with his past feelings of loss, she tells him, “You must face your past straightforwardly.”

That leads him on a "pilgrimage" to search for the reasons for the rejection of 16 years earlier.

Tazaki feels as if he is an empty person who lacks color or personality--living as a fugitive from his own life.

In Murakami’s previous book, “1Q84,” the orchestra piece “Sinfonietta” of Czech composer Leos Janacek is cited many times. In his latest novel, the music that led Tazaki to start his pilgrimage is the "Years of Pilgrimage" piano pieces by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt.

“1Q84” featured characters with strong personalities, such as a killer and a guru. In “Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi,” however, no such people appear.

But I empathize with Tazaki, who tries to overcome the emotional trauma he suffered in the past while trying to take back his life.

By CHIAKI YOSHIMURA/ Senior Staff Writer
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Haruki Murakami’s new novel, “Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi” is now in bookstores. (Makiko Ikenaga)

Haruki Murakami’s new novel, “Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi” is now in bookstores. (Makiko Ikenaga)

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  • Haruki Murakami’s new novel, “Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi” is now in bookstores. (Makiko Ikenaga)
  • Haruki Murakami’s new novel is piled high like a tower in Sanseido bookstore in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on April 12. (Yosuke Fukudome)

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