It is not often that authors are accorded that reverence and frenzied admiration that is generally reserved for a rock band. But Haruki Murakami is one of the few. On the day his new book is released, I envision long lines waited outside shops to grab his new book (at least in Japan). And I won’t deny that I too waited with bated breath for this new book. But this book left me a bit baffled – it was like a new Murakami, but with so many old clues that reminded of the old Murakami.
“You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them”
The story begins thus – Tsukuru Tazaki, the protagonist, lives alone in Tokyo and builds trains. He has the touching habit of sitting for hours at a platform, watching trains pass by. His love for trains is the one bright spot in this life, which otherwise is pale. He has been floating through life, unable to form any intimate connections with anyone.
This is related to one particular incident in his past. He had four best friends in school and each of his friends’ names contained a color. The two boys were called Akamatsu (‘red pine’) and Oumi (‘blue sea’) while the girls were Shirane (‘white root’) and Kurono (‘black field’). Strangely, and sadly Tsukuru’s name had no color in it. After school, Tsukuru leaves for college to Tokyo, only to get a bizarre call from his friends one day. They say that they want no contact with him anymore – in any way possible. And no explanation is given. This devastates him and since then, he has been a shell of the man he has been. This drop in to the murky abyss, belonging nowhere and to no one – it shatters him. But then, he meets Sara, who urges him unravel this mystery of what really happened. Thus begins Tsukuru’s quest.
Tsukuru’s unfathomable anguish is the major force of the book. It seems to contain every color of the rainbow. So deep is this sorrow that no method of suicide corresponds with his “pure and intense feelings” for death. His survives this terrible disaffection, but carries around the invisible scars. A strange fellow unto himself – tangled and colorless. Tsukuru means ‘to make’. The connection is clear. But so low is his self-regard that is fails to understand the beautiful link between the meaning of his name and his profession.
This book is both new and experienced. It has a strange casualness that unfolds as Murakami wrote it; at other times, it seems like a prequel to a whole other narrative. There is an abrupt character to the book, with uneven and stilted dialogue. And at some points, there are graceful moments of epiphany that only Murkami can manage,
“One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility.”
It is strange because the book is set in a period where the reader can perhaps connect – with the industrialization, the loss of character of towns losing their charms and becoming like places all over the world, the societal pressures of getting married and settling down, the disconnect one feels from family after a certain age. That is strikingly different from all the other Murakami books and perhaps makes this book more, human?
At the same time, all the famous Murakami markers are there – a musical piece to give pace to the book (Liszt’s “Le Mal du Pays” from Years of Pilgrimage), the casual curiosity about sex and hyper-sexualization, erotic and incomprehensible dreams and an impressive range of cultural references. But this time, Murakami goes into much deeper and darker territory – possibilities of dream rape, subconscious bisexuality and accidental mental necrophilia.
The one constant factor is that there are no finite answers. Will Tsukuru find the true reasons? Will love be able to fill the empty vessel? But there are no guaranteed happy endings and instead, a constant grappling to keep hope alive. It takes much stamina to go forth with optimism with a cold case of crime, death wishes and burdens that hover in the background.
This book is definitely not his best, but there is something new, something old and something blue in the book. It is as though Murakami has shed his skin, slowly, yet retaining the old footprints. Ultimately, this a story that knows not where it is going but yet sucks us in, and throws us with out with more questions than when we went in.
“As we go through life we gradually discover who we are, but the more we discover, the more we lose ourselves.”
If you find the book interesting, buy from Amazon or Flipkart here: