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My adventure in reading continues, this time with another book by perhaps my favorite author: Haruki Murakami.  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was first published in early 2013 for the Japanese market, while the English version I read came out in mid-2014.  Going in I had read just about every piece of Murakami’s fiction available in English, so this one had been high on my reading list since it was released.

This book was the story of Tsukuru Tazaki, an engineer in his late-30s living in roughly present day Tokyo.  Through conversations with his girlfriend Sara and a series of flashbacks, we learn that he has spent a large part of his life struggling with feelings of emptiness and depression as a result of an incident that occurred some 16 years ago.  Growing up in Nagoya, Tazaki and four of his classmates comprised a close-knit, inseparable unit of friends that came together early in their highschool years.  Some time later, during his second year away at university in Tokyo, Tazaki was informed out of nowhere that the other four group members were severing all communication with him, no reasons or explanations provided.  With Sara’s urging Tazaki feels he is ready to seek out and confront his former friends about the past and get the closure he needs to move on with his life.

I really enjoyed this reading experience, but man was this a heavy book.  The overall tone was rather dark, as Tazaki’s moods don’t vary far outside the range of passively suicidal lows to “highs” of mild acceptance of, and resignation to, life.  It was never overly dramatic, but the mood simultaneously weighs the reader down and pushes them forward.  While the book did do a good job of getting the reader hooked from the beginning, I found that I got more and more engaged as the story went on.  By the middle, it had built up a lot of momentum and went by very quickly as it neared the end.  As I approached the final pages, I started to get very anxious about what the outcome might be and what sort of closure the reader would get.  The story had slowly built up to such an intensity, that I didn’t fully realize it until I finished the last page and would have done anything to have gotten more.  

This sense of involvement was developed by Murakami’s fantastic ability to tell a story and the strength of Tazaki as a character.  True to his form, Murakami fully engaged the reader’s senses as well.  Colors play a big role in the story and hint at tensions between the characters.  In Tazaki’s original group of friends, the two boys were “Red” and “Blue,” while the two girls were “White” and “Black.”  Unique among his group, Tazaki was the only one who did not have a family name that signified a color and instead saw himself a colorless vessel into which the others expressed themselves.  Music also featured prominently in the story, in particular Franz Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage.  Of course a record player was involved, as was a mysterious traveling pianist.  As for Tazaki, himself, despite not being the most charismatic or engaging person, he was none-the-less a fascinatingly likeable and approachable character whom the reader wants to follow along on his journey.

Another thing that stood out to me while I was reading was that for all of its stylistic familiarity, the book had something of a different feel to it than most of the other works I had read by Murakami.  Now that I think about it, there were two key elements that contributed to this feeling.  The first was that there was less of the author’s usual mysticism present in this story.  That’s not to suggest it wasn’t there, but unlike in some of his other works, most of the story and conflicts played out either physically or psychologically in the real world.  I think this was a good choice, as it made the story that much more foreboding.  The other thing that felt different was that this book took place closer to present day than any of the other Murakami novels I have read thus far.  Characters having access to things like email and cell phones seemed almost out of sorts with the types of worlds I’d grown accustomed to in these works.  I always think of his characters inhabiting a mysterious otherworld of 1980s apartments and smoke-filled jazz bars, but again, it just seemed to feel right having these characters occupy a more modern world.

I am really happy I took the time to read this book, and would readily recommend it to others as seasoned Murakami fans and newcomers alike can enjoy it.  Just don’t go in expecting something lighthearted.