Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the latest novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, was released yesterday.
I first read Murakami in the early 2000’s, the last time I decided I was reading too much old fiction and solicited suggestions for good, recent books (I believe I specified books written after 1950, that time). There was probably a list somewhere I could have consulted, but I was part of a big active web community then, and I wanted to know what the people I looked up to liked. A Wild Sheep Chase, Murakami’s third novel, was suggested to me by a 17-year old girl from Oregon, and of all of the novels I read that year, it resonated with me the strongest. I dove into all of his novels that I could get my hands on (there are two tricky ones that it took me a few years and the money a real job brings to track down. Now of course you can torrent digital copies of Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 trivially, but I first read them in little paperback editions shipped over from Japan for an enormous sum), and he quickly took pride of place as my favorite author.
Since that binge, four novels of his have come out in English: Kafka on the Shore, After Dark, 1Q84, and now Colorless…. It’s tempting to divide these four into parallel categories: Kafka and 1Q84 are long, sweeping, excellent works; After Dark and Colorless are short, limited, somehow lesser works. With a kindle download, of course, I never really bother to work out the length ahead of time, so when I picked up Colorless yesterday, I made big plans to clear my life. I have an opera Saturday night and a birthday dinner Sunday for my Aunt, but my plan was to disappear into this new treasure as soon as I got home from work Tuesday and re-emerge god-knows-when. Obviously, that didn’t happen, or I wouldn’t be writing this now.
I got home at around 6 and started reading, and I took an hour to do some chores and get groceries in there, and maybe half an hour to shower before bed, but I finished the book at Midnight, and turned out the lights. And had trouble getting to sleep.
At first I felt like I was disappointed with the book. It ends mysteriously, or at least with a number of mysteries unsolved, and it would be easy to think of it as half-finished or half-written. But a day on, I think it finished where it needed to. I want to know what else happened because I care about the characters, but you don’t always get to know everything about everyone.
Now I think i was unsettled because I anticipated, during the four or five hours I read it, a certain kind of criticism that would be leveled against the story. Some characters express unenlightened and insensitive opinions, and what’s more, they don’t ever get corrected. There’s no wink from the author that says we’re all sharing the knowledge that these people are wrong and bad. So of course, if you read the negative reviews of the book, people get angry, and assume that this means Murakami espouses these troubling ideas. And maybe he does. He’s a generation older than I am, and he comes from a very different culture, why would he hold trendy American beliefs in 2014? But I think what made me uneasy was the feeling that I was going to have to defend him, since everyone who knows me well knows that Murakami is my favorite author.
And I suppose I will defend him to this extent: if you want to read a book where every character is a mouthpiece for the author’s ideology, Ayn Rand wrote a lot of books. Of course, her politics might not be your politics, so you may still hate it, but if what you want to read is some writers version of “the way it is and the way it should be,” you can start there. I hope you enjoy it, though the writing is pretty poor and she doesn’t trust her audience, and bludgeons you with her philosophy. Let’s allow the rest of the world to write without having to also pass judgement on their characters, so we know they’re on the good side.
(I find it very hard to write about this without spoiling plot elements.)
In the end, I got out of this what I expected to: for the time it took me to read it, I didn’t want to do anything else. I was absorbed into the Japan of Murakami’s creation and felt things at his whim. Not every book reaches me that way, but his universally do.
Of course I am recommending it