I once read an essay by Haruki Murakami in which he confessed to starting his novels by first typing out his sentences in English. (This is worth noting because he is a native Japanese speaker.) As a result of his limited dexterity with the English language, he found himself producing simple and concise prose that provided him a contextual foundation on which to build out his novels. I’d learned this about Murakami while in the midst of reading his fantastic and otherworldly novel 1Q84. Being made aware of this writing tactic helped me understand just how I had been so unknowingly convinced of parallel realities and mysterious “Little People” born out of communes in mountainous villages in Japan. His simplistic writing style serves to make the extraordinarily unbelievable entirely plausible.
This week, without objection, Murakami pulled me into another simple-yet-complex work of fiction in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. The simplicity is found just on the surface of the narrative; which can be generally identified as the evolution of friendship and the unreliable nature of memory. But the complexity is found in the many-layered interpretations people impose on the relationships around them.
In the story, you follow a lonely railroad station engineer, Tsukuru, into an exploration of a past season of life that had been filled with friendship, support, and camaraderie. Eventually this season ended, however, leaving Tsukuru ostracized by his dearest friends without explanation. What followed were years of Tsukuru incessantly dwelling on death in an isolating anonymity provided by the city of Tokyo.
As Tsukuru ventures to understand why his friends cut him out of their lives, you are made more aware of a surprising, and sexual, darkness engulfing his subconscious. And though you are led to sympathize with Tsukuru, you may also begin to think of him as someone to keep at arm's length. While his inner life could be presented in an unattainably meta way, Murakami’s ability to make the esoteric sensible allows for these narrative sequences to be entirely accessible, even relatable.
Upon finishing the book, my partner and I predicted what must have happened next in Tsukuru’s life beyond the pages. We ended up surprising each other by our differences in belief about Tsukuru and of the stories told by the friends who had left him behind. Ultimately, we surmised vastly different interpretations of Tsukuru’s integrity, stability, and grasp on reality, which called my understanding of the narrative into question. And though I read just one book, I find myself still sifting through the plots and stories it didn’t follow, yet subtly called to mind.
If you read it, I am curious to learn your interpretation of it.
“You can hide memories, but you can't erase the history that produced them.”
“No matter how quiet and conformist a person’s life seems, there’s always a time in the past when they reached an impasse. A time when they went a little crazy. I guess people need that sort of stage in their lives.”
“We live in a pretty apathetic age, yet we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather that information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people.”
“Force yourself to explain it and you create lies.”
- Insipid: lacking vigor or interest
- Taciturn: reserved or uncommunicative in speech; saying little