Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
A new Haruki Murakami novel is difficult for me to resist. My first introduction to this master story teller was Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I read it in 2005 with my book group and the woman that led the discussion had studied the novel for her honours thesis. It’s a novel that is so strange that many honours theses could be written about it. Latin American authors had already introduced me to magic realism but I wasn’t prepared for a Japanese version!
I devoured Murakami’s strange and wonderful novels over the years and I noticed that he has a few styles that he follows. Some of his novels are quite straightforward stories that follow the lives of young men and show Murakami’s impressive sophistication in music, food and literature. The most famous of this type is Norwegian Wood which supposedly shot him to superstardom in Japan. The other main category that I’ve read extensively are the whacky, mind bending stories that defy logic and leave me wondering for days, weeks or months what exactly happened, e.g. A Wild Sheep Chase.
Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage falls into the more simple category. The novel follows Tazaki through his recollections of high school and his wonderful friendships, into a very dark and lonely time of early adulthood through to his mostly solitary 30s. Tazaki was mysteriously rejected by his super close group of 4 friends. It took a new girlfriend more than a decade later to get him to ask why his friends had shut him out.
It’s a fairly even novel that slowly moves through Tazaki’s reflections and his reconnections with 3 of his old school friends. It feels satisfactorily like real life, like a good French film, but with a Japanese twist. As always when reading Murakami I felt hopelessly unsophisticated as he mentioned pieces of music that I don’t know. This was the first of his novels that I’ve read since travelling to Japan and it was thrilling to read it with new insights.
As he listened to the music in… the mountains, as the sole audience for the performance, Haida felt all that was unclean inside him washed away. The straightforward beauty of the music overlapped with the fresh, oxygen-rich air and the cool, clear water of the stream, all of them acting in concert.
Also, by coincidence I’ve just been to Finland and Tazaki goes there to visit one of his school friends. It was fascinating to read Murakami’s reflections on Finland and compare them with my own. Now that we live in Norway we sometimes ponder seeming similarities between Japan and Scandinavia. After we fell in love with Finish pottery I was especially interested to read about it in the novel. As a small aside, when Tazaki asked his hotel clerk if there was a swimming pool in Helsinki that he could use he was told no. But, there is and I enjoyed swimming there at Easter. That tiny inconsistency made me wonder if Murakami had visited Finland at all and whether he’d researched it.
This novel also has strange aspects to it and I still find myself wondering some things that you may be able to help me with, like: