I must admit that I find finishing a Murakami novel requires a bit of effort. I have started and given up on a couple of them in the past year, but had no such trouble with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. This is a translation to English by Philip Gabriel. In the novel, Tazaki was part of a group of five close friends and this friendship was at the core of his formative years in Nagoya. But one day after Tazaki moved to Tokyo for college, the group completely rejected him without providing any reason. It took many years for Tazaki to tide over the grief of this separation. When he finally found a like-minded partner Sara, she convinces him to visit his friends once again and find out why they banished him.
Unlike The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, there is very little of his fantasy or magic realism here. I mean it is Murakami, so there are still some weird dreams here and there, but the main plot sticks to the real world. I loved the telling of memorable days in school and struggles to find oneself in adult years. The reading experience quite reminded me of The Sense of an Ending. Tazaki and his friends are fleshed out skillfully and that makes it very easy to connect to one's childhood years and friends. Old crushes, unexplored affections, diverging interests in our adult years, everything makes a beautiful and poignant appearance.
Murakami is known to be a huge classical music fan and much like his other novels, he and his characters refer to a lot of classical music here. Even the book's title is a reference to a classical music suite. Since Tazaki designs train stations, I was hoping there would be a lot of references to Japanese train stations and train systems. Here I was left wanting because we are only thrown a tiny bone about the JR Shinjuku Station, and that too at the end. If you are looking to start on a Murakami, this novel might be easy to read and straightforward to enjoy.
Rating: 4/4 (★★★★)
"It's the first thing I always say at our new employee training seminars. I gaze around the room, pick one person, and have him stand up. And this is what I say: I have some good news for you, and some bad news. The bad news first. We're going to have to rip off either your fingernails or your toenails with pliers. I'm sorry, but it's already decided. It can't be changed. I pull out a huge, scary pair of pliers from my briefcase and show them to everybody. Slowly, making sure everybody gets a good look. And then I say: Here's the good news. You have the freedom to choose which it's going to be -- your fingernails, or your toenails. So, which will it be? You have ten seconds to make up your mind. If you're unable to decide, we'll rip off both your fingernails and your toenails. I start the count. At about eight seconds most people say, 'The toes.' Okay, I say, toenails it is. I'll use these pliers to rip them off. But before I do, I'd like you to tell me something. Why did you choose your toes and not your fingers? The person usually says, 'I don't know. I think they probably hurt the same. But since I had to choose one, I went with the toes.' I turn to him and warmly applaud him. And I say, Welcome to the real world."
Tsukuru wondered how much time people spend simply commuting to work every day. Say the average commute was between an hour and an hour and a half. That sounded about right. If your typical office worker, working in Tokyo, married with a child or two, wanted to own his own house, the only choice was to live in the suburbs and spend that much time getting to work and back. So two to three hours out of every twenty-four would be spent simply in the act of commuting. If you were lucky, you might be able to read the newspaper or a paperback in the train. Maybe you could listen to your iPod, to a Haydn symphony or a conversational Spanish lesson. Some people might even close their eyes, lost in deep metaphysical speculation. Still, it would be hard to call these two or three hours rewarding, quality time. How much of one’s life was snatched away to simply vanish as a result of this (most likely) pointless movement from point A to point B? And how much did this effort exhaust people, and wear them down?