Sunday, April 29, 2018

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Haruki Murakami, 2014.

I resisted this book from the start.  Partly because of Murakami’s fame, I must confess.  And also a long time ago I read a short of his in The New Yorker which, although set in Japan and with a Japanese protagonist, was such a “New Yorker” story - clever, hip, ironic, unabashed in direct, almost coarse, male phallic references and imagery.  I came to the conclusion that Murakami isn't a Japanese writer at all, he is a Western writer, or at least an international writer heavily brainwashed with Western hegemony. In other words, he inhabits the high-brow international airport travel lounges of the peripatetic global jet set, as perhaps Pico Iyer might put it.  There was nothing of Japanese roots that I could find in his story, nothing that gave me any insight into the uniqueness and depth of Japanese culture, just the universal post-modern malaises of affluent humanity. In other words, he struck me as being a Salman Rushdie, not an R. K. Narayan.

But I was about to take another trip to Japan, and so bought this at San Francisco airport.  It took a while to get into it. But gradually the story worked its way into me, until I was identifying with the protagonist, even the specifics of his loss and his pilgrimage, and the strange emotional and mental quirks that made up his lonely existence.  The final scenes, where he visits an old friend from his teenage years, are beautiful and elegeic without sentimentality, and his emergence from his self-imprisonment seems plausible, real and even inevitable.

So yes, there is little of Japan here, at least that I could discern as a foreigner and with an untrained eye.  The anonymity and alienation of Tsukuru’s life could indeed be of anyone in countless cities worldwide. The book is technically flawless; I read it in translation, obviously, but even so it seemed exquisitely well wrought.  However technical skill was what I expected and it alone would not have sufficed. But the mastery of the complex, subtle emotions, the intimate knowledge of the dark, subterranean passages that run through all of us, was powerful and ultimately what made the story so compelling.  

I get a sense from the jacket that this book differs from his usual fare -- but now I will have to read more to find out.


April 2018