BOOK REVIEW: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

Haruki Murakami’s quest to honour his literary hero Franz Kafka has resulted in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, one of his most moving and accessible novels in years.

While Franz Kafka remains best known for his genre-bending novella The Metamorphosis, most will point to his 1925 novel The Trial as his opus, a deeply personal meditation on sex, society and isolation.

Murakami’s latest offering navigates similar waters. A young male protagonist slowly driven to breaking point by, what he perceives to be, an unjust judgement handed down upon him by the people he most cares about.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is as down to earth as Murakami has been for a long time. Talking cats, and vanishing elephants give way to musings on Arnold Wesker, The Pet Shop Boys and Barry Manilow.

When Tsukuru Tazaki is cut off without reason by his circle of high school friends during his sophomore year in college, his world spirals out of control, craving no human interaction and little appetite for food or life, pure hopelessness.

Fast forward twenty years and, despite halting his downward spiral, he is still haunted by those inexplicable events. At his girlfriend’s urging, he tracks down his former friends to get the answer for himself. The journeys he takes turn out to be as much inward as out of town. And as is often the case in Murakami’s fiction, his characters are all about introspection.

murakamiMurakami’s prose has always enthralled me, and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is no exception. His overall tone remains one of the most difficult to pin down in literature, with gorgeous flourishes routinely intercepted by the sort of stark language that belongs in an IKEA catalogue. That, however, is his gift. His words pull you this way and that, tenderising you to feel the full weight of a knockout blow.

One passage in particular took my eye, “The branches of a nearby willow tree were laden with lush foliage and drooping heavily, almost to the ground, though they were still, as if lost in deep thought. Occasionally a small bird landed unsteadily on a branch, but soon gave up and fluttered away. Like a distraught mind, the branch quivered slightly, then returned to stillness.”

Is it beautiful, concise simplicity, or simple, concise beauty? That question is itself an allegory for much of Murakami’s body of work.

Taking his devotion for Kafka further in the final pages, Murakami prefers to leave some of the novel’s biggest questions unanswered, a rarity for a writer who so often neglects characters and prose in preference for themes and plot. Perhaps these are questions he can’t answer, or maybe these are questions that should stay with us, lingering, until we journey towards discovery as Tsukuru does.

Many of the questions in The Trial were never answered as Kafka died before the final edits of the book. It still remains a masterpiece, one which Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage will constantly be compared to, in itself the highest of praise.

It has become tradition that, on the eve of the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Japanese bookstores burst at the seams, champagne on ice, fans hoping that Murakami finally gets the nod. The big question is will Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, having already sold millions of copies worldwide, be enough to tip him over the edge?

Another question that, for the moment anyway, remains unanswered.

Grab a copy of Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage here

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was recently shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

New Murakami Publishing Date and Cover Revealed!

Random House Australia has announced the release date of Haruki Murakami’s latest book Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage, along with a beautiful cover reveal! We’ll let them tell you more about it…

Readers around the world have been eagerly anticipating Murakami’s next book since the English-language publication of his bestselling epic, 1Q84, in 2011. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage was published to great acclaim in Japan in April 2013, selling one million copies in the first week. Newly released in Germany, Spain and Holland, it has topped the bestsellers lists in all three countries.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage will be available in hardback and ebook on 12th August 2014, translated into English from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel.

‘Stage one of the cover reveals an elegant abstract design, representing the five main characters and close childhood friends Mr. Red, Mr Blue, Miss White, Miss Black and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. Tsukuru means to make or build, and this is an integral part of the second stage of our cover to be revealed at a later date.’

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (The welcome return of the big, fat literary novel)

Those who think there is no room in the current market for lengthy literary novels will feel pretty silly when Murakami’s new novel 1Q84 breaks all sales records. This book has already sold a million copies in Japan. A million copies, people.

Even so, I bet there are some pretty nervous publishing types awaiting the launch date of the English language edition. Murakami has been offering up trendy little literary novels for years now. He has a great following among hip nerds and nerdy hipsters. But this new book looks to be as big as all of the others put together.

We all know that publishers are doing it tough. The intellectual and emotional needs of society are being met by the tiny grabs of information offered by TV, film, the Internet, newspapers and radio. But then the vast majority of literate people have never been regular readers of books. Books just can’t say what they have to say quickly enough to satisfy the needs of the majority. In this climate, publishing a fat literary book, like 1Q84, looks like suicide.

It’s easy to forget that publishing has always been an industry perched on the edge of oblivion. Traditionally, no publisher has ever felt secure. They have only ever been one or Continue reading

Jane Sullivan, author of Little People, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Jane Sullivan

author of Little People

Ten Terrifying Questions

———————————-

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

In London. I went to George Eliot primary school, North London Collegiate School and Oxford University, where I studied English literature and attempted to learn Anglo-Saxon irregular verbs. I did an inspirational report on George Eliot at primary school complete with my own drawings of the great novelist, so I knew she was a lady with a long nose, but I never actually read any of her books until the last 10 years or so.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve: a novelist. At eighteen: a writer of some sort who could make a living, because by then I suspected most novelists were very poor. At thirty: a top journalist who travelled a lot and made lots of money.  It sounded dashing and glamorous and scary and I’d just come to Australia to work on The Age. I did get to make a living out of Continue reading

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