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Arts & Culture

Review: ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki,’ the newest novel by Haruki Murakami

The globally revered author’s latest novel doesn’t disappoint

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A


by Haruki Murakami; translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel | Knopf | 400 pages

In 2012, the New York Times published an illustration by Grant Snider called “Haruki Murakami Bingo.” Each square was filled with one of Murakami’s well-documented leitmotifs: “something vanishing,” “old jazz record,” “unexpected phone call,” “train station,” et cetera. As light satire goes, it was pretty accurate; anyone who’s read more than a few of Murakami’s books is familiar with these recurring subjects. And few people have read just one of Murakami’s books. The Japanese author inspires global fandom; when one of his books hits stores, the lines that form up at bookstores are akin only to the queues for Harry Potter releases. The process repeats itself in countries around the world as the various translations are published.

Here we are at another such moment: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is released in the U.S. Tuesday, Aug. 12, and American Murakami fans are in an anticipatory lather. (More than a million copies were sold in Japan in the first week after it was released, and the long lines were echoed in other countries as Korean, Catalan, Spanish, Dutch, French, Hungarian and German translations were released.) Having read the book, I can confirm that, indeed, a game of Murakami Bingo could be played with the contents – but only with a very forgiving bingo monitor. The thing that vanishes is a friendship; the old jazz record is, here, a certain recording of the Liszt piano suite “Le Mal du Pays”; the unexpected phone call is made, rather than received, by the protagonist. But fear not: There are most certainly train stations.

Discovering the plot is part of the joy of reading any book, and since this is one of Murakami’s shorter ones – no Wind-up Bird Chronicle or 1Q84 doorstop – I’ll reveal as little as possible. (I’ve never understood the appeal of a review that gives a detailed synopsis; once you start turning the pages, doesn’t it all seem pre-chewed?) Tsukuru Tazaki, our “colorless” narrator, is a lonely engineer in his late 30s who designs train stations. In his youth, he and four friends were inseparable, “like five fingers” of a hand. And then, for no apparent reason that Tsukuru is able to discern, during his sophomore year in college they froze him out. Just like that, he no longer has friends, and having never developed the ability to make friends (as well as being more than a little traumatized) Tsukuru becomes a high-functioning hermit. He goes to work, eats, sleeps, showers, exercises, all alone, lacking any real human connection. The action begins when Tsukuru is prodded into discovering what, exactly, happened 16 years before, a journey that takes him from Tokyo to Nagoya to Finland.

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