Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, A Lesson in Living

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Murakami has been a favorite author of mine since I first encountered him at 17 years old. The first book I read, which remains my favorite, is Dance Dance Dance. Over the years, I have read most of his books and have written two major college papers (despite being a psychology major) on his work. While the author himself dislikes interpretation of his work as more than what it is, one cannot help, as a reader, to see the common threads in his writing. It is these recurring themes—death, cats, subconscious, paranormal, emptiness, and mediocrity (or ordinariness)—that made him dear to me.

Dance Dance Dance left me with a sense of wonder and peculiarity. It was the first time I had encountered an author who made me completely believe in his world and yet tug my heart despite being cold in writing style. Since Dance Dance Dance, Murakami has written a lot of books, some less paranormal (aka Norwegian Wood) and some very weird (Hardboiled Wonderland). His writing has taken a few detours from usual route as of late. He had written a non-fiction. He had written a book focusing on a female character. He had written a book so big, and so huge it has taken me several months to read. While a fan, I felt there was something missing in his recent works, that something was a sense of closeness to his reader while remaining strange and cold.

I did not buy Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage as soon as it hit the shelves, unlike 1Q84. I waited and eventually a friend gave it to me for my birthday. It sat on my shelf for two months before I eventually read it. I do not normally read reviews of books I’m really interested in reading. However, once done reading I would look into the reviews and comments of critics and fellow readers.

Colorless Tsukuru has been part of a lot of the 2014 books to read. Some Murakami fans loved it others say its the same old thing. In reading, Colorless Tsukuru is not any different from Murakami’s recurring theme, particularly the thought of a person coming to terms with his/her childhood and growing up. Even the motifs of dreaming, sex, and loss are repeated in this book, however in closer reading one can see both the familiar (which we loved about Murakami’s novels) and the maturity in the resolution.

The moment I read Colorless Tsukuru’s first sentence, I have to admit, I was immediately swept away.

“From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.”

This was unusual tone for Murakami, majority of his books, with the exception of Sputnik Sweethearts, After Dark and 1Q84 he writes in the first person. Furthermore, the first sentence seems like a conclusion, as well as an introduction. The all knowing narrative voice allowed the first page to delve inwards as oppose to the usual outward looking voice Murakami uses. Here, we are not told a setting, a history of the character or even an event taking place. Here, in the first few sentences, we are told of the thoughts and feelings of Murakami’s protagonist.
The novel moves slow, but not dragging. It almost feels as if the reader is part of Tsukuru’s day. The narratives takes its time in unraveling the narrator’s questions and experiences. It had a very relaxed pace which allowed me to enjoy the book thoroughly.

This book’s nostalgic atmosphere felt as languid as the song it references in the title. As if, the very pace and atmosphere of the book captures the slowness by which Tsukuru finds resolution to an open-ended event in his adolescence, echoing a pilgrimage, where a journey of spiritual significance takes place.

Typical of Murakami’s almost Freudian take on life, Tsukuru has one event that shapes the person that he is. While the obvious impact of the event is clear to our hero, its lingering effects buried by a forced idea of moving on surfaces as he slowly develops a relationship with Sara.

It is Sara who asks our character about his past. It is Sara that leads him to mull over the life he once led. It is Sara’s questions that lead him to his pilgrimage. The journey begins with introspection. The reader follows Tsukuru as he replays events in his life and ponder over the emptiness that fills him. He is colorless and empty, this is how he fails in relationship. It is this conclusion that becomes the corner stone of all the ‘failed’ and ‘disappearing’ relationships he has.

Our hero, however, does not stop in introspection, prodded by Sara he is taken to a journey of closure. Confronting the cause of his emptiness, he goes revisits the past. He does it with the boldness he did not have as an adolescent. He approaches it with determination and ease. Strangely enough as he journey’s through, he discovers more of himself.

The question of emptiness is answered with the acceptance of desire. Tsukuru Tazaki finds these opposing ends as he ties lose ends and welcome new beginnings. It almost sounds cliche, one that perfectly fits into a coming of age story or a melodrama, but in the hands of Murakami it is treated with depth and wisdom. Emptiness, to be merely a shell, is to wake each morning as it was like every other morning. Everything is mechanically done and life accepted in its entirety with stoic resignation.

This is where I feel Murakami often ends, in a sort of resignation and incompleteness. Yet, for this particular novel, he tackles the same nuances in a person’s introspective journey and growth by promising a resolution–a believable true resolution– that is to wake up each morning and act towards a desire. With that desire comes the pain, the pain of living.

I have never met a Murakami book wiser than this one. Intentionally or unintentionally on the author’s part, the novel gives an almost zen-like scrutiny to life and the real choices it offers. We may choose to resign and live our lives empty or desire it and feel both is glory and pain.

#ReadHarder Task#7 A book that took place in Asia

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