LITERARY LOOKING GLASS: 4 Murakami fans--4 perspectives on latest novel

April 23, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

A little more than a week since its arrival at bookstores in Japan, world-renowned writer Haruki Murakami’s first novel in three years has already sold more than 1 million copies.

The protagonist of "Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi" (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage), Tsukuru Tazaki, had four close friends when he was a high school student. But after high school, the four unexpectedly abandoned their friendships with Tazaki.

Years later, amid a successful career, a still-traumatized Tazaki was told by his girlfriend to face his past straightforwardly. He then set out on a journey to discover himself.

Different readers enjoy a novel in different ways. With that in mind, The Asahi Shimbun selected four discerning readers, who have long enjoyed Murakami’s works, to give their impressions on the new novel from their own unique perspectives.

YURI NAKAE, ACTOR-WRITER

The protagonist Tsukuru Tazaki is a designer of train stations, but his main work is to repair them rather than to create something. I feel there is a message there.

It's natural that things have faults and breakdowns. But when parts of things go wrong, people nowadays usually want to fix the problem in an unruly fashion; that is, they want to turn things upside down and discard them.

The same goes for education, politics and the way people live their lives. This trend reflects the attitude in a person's mind, in some way.

On the other hand, Tazaki’s work changes things while not denying the past. I think Murakami tries to make a protest against such situations through Tazaki’s job.

People today tend to discard what they cannot understand, saying they are boring. It is normal that there are many things one cannot understand, and if people could not refer to such things as incomprehensible, the world would become a scary place.

Murakami’s works, beginning with his first novel, in 1979, “Hear the Wind Sing,” leave behind many mysteries. It is not necessary to solve them. In fact, it's better not to solve them. That has partly contributed to the magnetic attraction of this novel.

NORIHIRO KATO, LITERARY CRITIC

After the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, Murakami made a step toward being more involved in society. As a result, a new deeper problem has emerged. The new problem appeared in his short story “A Shinagawa Monkey,” (2005) as well as in “1Q84,” his recent masterpiece, separated in three books (2009-2010), in the form of difficulties the protagonists are facing. In “A Shinagawa Monkey,” the protagonist has never been able to deeply, unconditionally love anybody else.

Tsukuru Tazaki also holds a similar feeling of incapability, but he told his girlfriend at the end of the story that he loves her with his soul and he thinks he wants her.

You can see the problem has shifted from whether one can gain someone’s love ... to whether one can love someone unconditionally with all of their heart. I think love affairs have recently become an issue of this nature.

The latest novel says the new problem is how people get rid of the insulating walls surrounding them.

Murakami has accepted the Great East Japan Earthquake as his own problem in such a manner. We can assume that made Murakami write this novel instead of a sequel to “1Q84.”

YUKIKO KONOSU, TRANSLATOR

Once a reader is drawn into Murakami’s world, he or she tends to like his works from that moment forward. Because the structure of his stories’ speaking style will not fully expose the protagonists to criticism from the external world, readers can feel that they are accepted softly as long as they can sympathize and assimilate with the protagonists.

The same is true for his latest work. The composition of the novel is similar to “Norwegian Wood,” (1987) but the protagonist of the latest story is a man around 40 years of age who is living in today’s society.

He lost his friends of the soul, but gained a flesh-and-blood girlfriend and moved toward a rebirth.

We can liken Tazaki and his four closest friends to codependent family members.

When a family member leaves home, harmony is often destroyed and remaining members can suffer psychologically. They attribute the destruction to the member who left home, and that person is disowned by the family.

A female member is forced to take care of the sick member. She is about to become ill herself under the heavy burden, but the male members shut their eyes to their suffering.

Quiet talkers are discarded, weak individuals disappear and kind people are forced to shoulder crushing burdens. I feel I saw a miniature version of real society through the novel. That may contribute to it selling in large numbers, I guess.

Murakami finished the story in a well-worn way. But it is salvation for the novel that the character who urged Tazaki to move forward to rebirth delivers a fatal blow at the end.

MAKOTO ICHIKAWA, LITERARY CRITIC

The most important feature of the latest novel is its writing style. Many of Haruki's past works often use unusual metaphors and repeat keywords to make his stories apparently readable, although some people actually do not like this style.

One of the few exceptions is "1Q84." Murakami said he intentionally loosened the text of the novel's book 1 and 2, prompting active debates among readers over its pros and cons.

On the other hand, the latest work suppresses the excessiveness of his characteristic style and is written in a simplified and careful manner compared to his other novels.

Murakami may intend to allow readers to easily understand his message of rebirth from a serious condition. His accumulated experiences as a translator may have enabled him to simplify his style.

Whichever it is, the modest style of the text is creating an excellent harmony with its protagonist’s job, train station designing, which requires an ability to safely direct the flow of people. If you replace “flow of people” with “flow of words,” you can see what Murakami intends to do in this novel.

(This article was edited by Chiaki Yoshimura, Senior Staff Writer.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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A tower made up of Haruki Murakami’s latest novel attracts readers at a bookstore. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A tower made up of Haruki Murakami’s latest novel attracts readers at a bookstore. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • A tower made up of Haruki Murakami’s latest novel attracts readers at a bookstore. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Actor and writer Yuri Nakae (Provided by Office Kureyon)
  • Literary critic Norihiro Kato (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Translator Yukiko Konosu (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Literary critic Makoto Ichikawa (Provided by Makoto Ichikawa)

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