“That amazing time in our lives is gone, and will never return. All the beautiful possibilities we had then have been swallowed up in the flow of time.”Nate got me into Haruki Murakami so picking this for Pen Pal Book Club was a no brainer. We actually read it right around its release date (about two years ago now??) but I only got back into documenting stuff recently. :) Tsukuru is an engineer in his mid-30s who, as a teen, belonged to a tight-knit group of five friends. Four of the group have names containing a color – red, blue, black and white – while Tsukuru is ‘colorless.’ One day, he is rejected by his friends without warning or explanation. The pain of this rejection is carried into adulthood until Tsukuru starts dating a woman, Sara, who urges him to find out what happened to his friends. Our thoughts below. Spoilers aplenty!
No surprise, I loved this book and finished reading it in three sittings (record time for a slow poke like myself). It’s definitely one of Murakami’s more realistic stories but the surreal moments are the ones that really hit me – particularly the story Haida tells about his father meeting the dying pianist who sees vivid colors that people give off. I thought that was haunting as hell and tied back nicely to Tsukuru’s pain in losing his colorful friends. Except, I guess, in reverse since the pianist gains a special ability to see extra color while Tsukuru must adjust to a ‘flat’ and ‘spiritless’ world view after his colorful friends cast him out. Similarly, there’s a hint of the supernatural when Kuro says she knew something evil was after Shiro. I’m still not sure what to make of that but the rape and eventual murder is a very disturbing mystery. Um, it’s also kinda random and interesting that Shiro’s mental unravelling resulted in Kuro moving all the way to Finland, right?
There’s been some discussion on repeated elements in Murakami’s books which doesn’t bother me since I like his style. However, the one theme that’s pretty central here and in previous works is how harsh it is to transition into adulthood. To a degree, I find it relatable but, HOLY SHIT. Dude really knows how to spin a living misery for his characters. Between this and Norwegian Wood, you’d think ages 19 and 20 were the most wretched years to be alive. The descriptions of Tsukuru’s weight loss and physical change is super drastic. Anyway, I liked how he ended up talking with three of the four friends as an adult. It made me curious about what they could’ve possibly talked about during their bonded teen years since their personalities are so different they’re uncomplimentary. I interpreted the ending of the book as optimistic for Tsukuru even though his future is uncertain. My only complaint is that there wasn’t more about Sara since she was the catalyst for so much of the story. I loved that she’s a confident woman, older than Tsukuru, and with an appetite for desserts. Oh yeah. As the recurring piece of music, I listened to “Le mal du pays.” It’s sad and pretty… and funny to imagine a college guy shelving it next to his Pet Shop Boys record.
I’m sure I missed a lot of talking points. Looking forward to your thoughts!
I think I loved this as much as you. This is a real return to form after the ambitious but very flawed 1Q84. I’ve said before that Murakami isn’t a writer who benefits from writing long. It’s very tight and extremely well paced. It’s also one of his more grounded books. Not a whole lot of surreal/magical-realism stuff going on in this one. I think it’s his best book since Kafka on the Shore.
It’s true that Murakami does recycle themes/characters in his books, but I think a lot of great writers and artists do this. Almost all of his books deal with alienation or purposelessness in modern Japan but each one takes a different approach. He is kind of like Wong Kar-Wai in that there is almost always that feeling of beautiful sadness in all of his stuff. This one I feel is going to hit pretty close to home for a lot of readers because I’m sure everyone at some point in their lives has experienced rejection from somebody very close. It’s a very compelling read, almost like a mystery as the pieces slowly fit into place even though the answers don’t exactly provide a close (but Murakami has never followed traditional narrative structure so that isn’t unexpected). We never find out what happened to Shiro or why she lied. But I also interpreted the ending as optimistic.
I think I need to revisit this one in the not too distant future. Shouldn’t be too hard since, like you, I finished this in just a few sittings. In fact, there’s a few of his books I need to re-read. I have read his entire (translated) bibliography with the exception of his non-fiction which are sitting on my shelf (his book on the Tokyo subway gas attacks and his thoughts on running). He also, apparently, has another collection of short fiction out this year in Japan but no news or dates regarding an English translation on that one.
In Conclusion: 10 (million) stars!
Recommended to: All of us who have been rejected and have learned that growing up is the pits.
PS: I can’t believe there’s more Murakami to discuss since this!