Arts & Culture
Review: ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki,’ the newest novel by Haruki Murakami
The globally revered author’s latest novel doesn’t disappoint
Published: August 13, 2014
Like most (or, arguably, all, even his nonfiction) of Murakami’s books, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is essentially a detective story, but here the MacGuffin is Tsukuru’s soul, and the violence is bloodless. The slightly flattened affect of Murakami’s prose is no doubt partly the effect of translation, but it works here to enhance rather than detract: Tsukuru is a PTSD victim, zombified by emotional trauma, still alive yet outside life. Each of his friends’ Japanese names contained a color – black, white, red and blue – whereas his name does not, leading him to feel that he is just a blank: “I’ve always seen myself as an empty person, lacking color and identity. Maybe that was my role in the group. To be empty.” The steps he takes to rejoin the world revive him, and cause the color to come back into his life.
The fundamental, indispensable Murakami Bingo item – present in every book – is his trademark mix of the mundane and the otherworldly. In the case of 1Q84 and Wind-up Bird or even the great early books, especially A Wild Sheep Chase and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, the fantastical is top-level. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is heavily weighted toward the everyday world, with overt eeriness confined to a single chapter, in a story told fourth-hand to Tsukuru. But even in this genuinely relatable human tale, dense with exquisite descriptions of pain, the eerie drifts in like wisps of mist at the margins. As he pursues an explanation for the past, “ever so slowly, Tsukuru felt reality drain from things around him.” Humdrum reality frosted over a cake of deep weirdness, and the pleasurable, flickering unknowability of whether that weirdness is simply foreignness or something else – this may be the key to Murakami’s popularity outside Japan.
Tsukuru’s name doesn’t contain a color – he may spend all his life feeling like a blank. But it does have an alternate meaning, like his friends’ colorful names: tsukuru means “build.” Murakami’s ending leaves many questions unresolved, except this one – clearly colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is in the process of building a life.
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