Desire by Haruki Murakami (A review, and give-away, for the Japanese Literature Challenge 12)

image

Desire is a collection of short stories which focus on our longing, “whether it takes the form of hunger, lust, sudden infatuation or the secret longings of the heart.” (Vintage Mini cover)

The first story in this small volume is entitled The Second Bakery Attack, in which a young couple wakes in the middle of the night with a hunger so intense they wonder how it can ever be satiated. While consuming a few cans of beer, which is all that is left in their refrigerator besides some butter and a few shriveled onions, the husband tells his wife of a time when he was so poor that he and a friend attacked a bakery for its bread. They were asked by the baker to listen to an album of Wagner overtures in return for all the bread they wanted, and he feels that he has subsequently lived under a curse. His wife feels the same.

”Why do you think we’re both so hungry? I never, ever, once in my life felt a hunger like this until I married you. Don’t you think it’s abnormal? Your curse is working on me, too.”

And so, they decide they must stage a second bakery attack to break the curse. They hold up a McDonald’s, which is all they can find open in Tokyo in the middle of the night, and they demand 30 Big Macs, not all of which they can eat. The hunger which was insatiable, is now strangely sated.

The second story is On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One April Morning. It is one of my favorite stories in this collection, perhaps in part because I feel that I understand it perfectly. It makes sense to me that a girl who is not exactly pretty, and a boy who is not particularly handsome, can find one another and know that they are exactly the ones who are meant for each other. And on some tiny, tiny idea that it’s wrong, they pass each other up. I fully believe in sad, unfulfilled love stories, and never once take them as a figment of one’s imagination such as I do with much of Murakami’s writing.

The third story is Birthday Girl, which I wrote about here.

The fourth story is Samsa in Love. The narrator has been transformed into Gregor Samsa, and is completely startled by becoming human (with an unprotected belly!). He, too, is starving and when he makes his way down seventeen stairs so that he can eat the prepared feast on the dining table, he discovers it has been quite suddenly abandoned. When the doorbell rings, he finds a hunchback woman who has come to fix a lock in the home. Samsa is attracted to her, yet knows not what to do with his human form and how it has changed when he desires her. She mistakes his attraction as being of a purely physical nature, while Samsa insists that he wants to know her. There is terror and destruction in the city surrounding his new home, but within it we sense an element of mysterious hope.

The fifth and final story in this collection is entitled A Folklore For My Generation: A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism. Haruki Murakami is only 12 years older than I am, and when he writes of the 60s it is as though I have a big brother who is telling me of what is just ahead of me. I can catch what he is saying as it slips through my hand, holding enough of it to grasp the essence.

“Back in Our Age, nobody slapped down three-volume indecipherable owner’s manuals in front of you. Whatever it was we just clutched it in our hands and took it straight home – like taking a baby chick home from one of the night-time stands. Everything was simple and direct. Cause and effect were good friends back then; thesis and reality hugged each other as if it were the most natural thing in the world. And my guess is that the sixties were the last time that will ever happen.

A Prehistory of Late-Stage Capitalism – that’s my own personal name for that age.”

After this preface, the story evolves into a love story told to him by an old school classmate, someone who was good at math, and sports, and a natural leader. (“Personally, I’m not too fond of the type. For whatever reason we just don’t click. I much prefer imperfect, more memorable types of people.”) And this love story is once again a story that leaves you with an ache, a sorrow for what is lost when it could have been so much different. How is it that we come to fail each other, and yet never stop loving one another? I am crazy about Murakami’s writing for exploring these themes, yet never suggesting that he has the answer.

I have this slim volume, a truly special collection of Murakami’s work, to give away. Should you desire it, please leave a comment with the title of the story which sounds most appealing to you and why that is so. I will draw a name a week on Sunday, March 3, 2019.

Japanese Literature Challenge 12 (State of the Challenge #2)

15460976539741909298943.jpg

Find reading plans from Juliana at the [blank] garden, Nadia at A Bookish Way of Life, and Gnoe at Graasland.

Bee Honey by Banana Yoshimoto, Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, and The Master Key by Masako Togawa are reviewed by Mel U of The Reading Life.

Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami is reviewed by me.

Reminder to read The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon in February with Frances and I, if you would like to do so.

Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami (a short story translated by Jay Rubin)

 

One rainy Tokyo night, a waitress’s uneventful twentieth birthday takes a strange and fateful turn when she’s asked to deliver dinner to the restaurant’s reclusive owner. Birthday Girl is a beguiling, exquisitely satisfying taste of master storytelling, published to celebrate Murakami’s 70th birthday. (from Penguin)

I cannot stop thinking about Haruki Murakami’s short story, Birthday Girl. 

The setting begins in an Italian restaurant, and then it moves to room 604 of the same building. The room overlooks the steel skeleton of the Tokyo Tower, while outside the wind whips the raindrops which tap unevenly at the windowpane. The waitress who twentieth birthday it is has been asked to bring dinner to the owner of the restaurant, a job usually reserved for the manager who has suddenly been taken ill. After she lays his meal out for him on the plastic laminate coffee table, the owner asks her to stay a moment for he has something to say to her.

‘Happy birthday,” he said. “May you live a rich and fruitful life, and may there be nothing to cast dark shadows on it.”

They clinked glasses.

May there be nothing to cast dark shadows on it: she silently repeated his remark to herself. Why had he chosen such unusual words for her birthday wish?

Perhaps it is because the girl is so young, only twenty; perhaps she can make wishes which will not darken the years ahead of her. Yet, which of us can escape the consequences of our wishes, not having the ability to see what they will bring?

He then makes it clear that he wants to give her a present, although this makes her uncomfortable.

“The kind of ‘present’ I have in mind is not something tangible, not something with a price tag. To put it simply”—he placed his hands on the desk and took one long, slow breath—”what I would like to do for a lovely young fairy such as you is to grant a wish you might have, to make your wish come true. Anything. Anything at all that you wish for—assuming that you do have such a wish.”

This girl has not had anything special happen all day, and no one had even wished her a happy birthday, so she makes a wish. While we are not told what her wish is, we are told that it is not what an ordinary girl might wish for. She did not wish to become prettier or smarter or rich.

Whatever it is that she wished for, she later tells an unnamed narrator that it did, and didn’t, come true. “I still have a lot of living left to do, probably. I haven’t seen how things are going to work out to the end.”

When this narrator asks her if she regrets what she wished for, she replies that she is married now, with two children, an Irish Setter and an Audi with a dented bumper. Is this an answer of a fulfilled wish? It could be. Or, perhaps wishes cannot be fulfilled after all.

“What I’m trying to tell you is this,” she said more softly, scratching an earlobe. It was a beautifully shaped earlobe. “No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. That’s all.”

So as you can see, this story of merely seven pages has a myriad of meanings. Once again, Murakami leaves us wide open to possibilities. But, I like thinking about the mysterious mood he portrayed, the idea that a fastidious man can grant one wish, and overriding all of that, we can never be anything but ourselves.

Since my birthday is at the end of the month, I had to read his short story, Birthday Girl. (It is available to read online here.)

My Top Ten Books for 2018

 

It is no surprise that when I review the list of approximately fifty books I read in 2018, the ones which are my favorite are all (but one) in translation. But, that does not make them inaccessible for readers who do not normally pick up translated literature. In fact, if you are tired of the same boring mysteries, the same boring love affairs, the same boring story told over and over again, I can’t recommend each one of these enough.

My Top Ten for the Year 2018:

  1. Flights by Olga Tokarczuk: Because it deserved to win the Man Booker International Prize this year for its breathtaking writing and memorable recounting of our lives.
  2. From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan: Because I have never seen three disparate stories woven together so seamlessly, or with such power.
  3. The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti: Because it won both the Strega Award and the Prix Médicis étranger, and faultlessly told the story of two boys’ friendship, as well as their relationship with one’s father.
  4. Fever and Spear by Javier Marias: Because Javier Marias is my favorite Spanish author; everything he writes is downright lyrical.
  5. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata: Because I was enchanted by this quirky character who loved convenience stores, the reason for which I could completely understand when I was in Japan this October.
  6. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami: Because it is an accessible, brilliant novel by my favorite Japanese author whom I never pretend to fully understand.
  7. Chess Story by Stefan Zweig: Because the tension mounted with every move, and the author wrote it in less than 100 pages.
  8. Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck: Because of the compelling side she shows for the immigrants who have no home.
  9. Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz: Because it was the most startling and upsetting book I read this year (ever?) and I will never forget it.
  10. Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard: Because Mattias Enard captured Michelangelo in a fresh, new way when I thought I knew him already.

And now, I wish you a Happy New Year, and many joyous reads ahead in 2019!

Japanese Literature Challenge 12

Several dear blog friends have inquired about hosting another Japanese Literature Challenge, which touches me as it is an interest for which my heart never wants to let go. In the previous eleven years, I have run it from June to January, but now I am beginning with January and ending in March. I think we should have at least three months in which to indulge this passion, especially as I believe that Frances and I spoke of reading The Pillow Book in February.

There will be give-aways during the challenge, which I will send internationally. One of them is the advanced reading copy I have of Mishima’s book Star which will be published by New Directions Publishing April 30, 2019. Another is a book I have from nyrb entitled The Gate by Natsume Soseki. I will also give away a copy of The Emissary by Yoko Tawada which recently won the 2018 National Book Award for Translated Literature. Of course, what would a Japanese Literature Challenge by without Haruki Murakami? I will give away a Vintage Mini copy of his book, Desire, in which the “five weird and wonderful tales collected here each unlock the many-tongued language of desire, whether it takes the form of hunger, lust, sudden infatuation or the secret longings of the heart.” (back cover)

Since blogging has expanded into other social platforms, let’s use #JLC12 on Twitter or Instagram. And if you’ll leave a comment here, on this post, I will publish a weekly update including the book(s) you read and a link to your post if you wrote one.

So please, join The Reading Life, Graasland, Reading The World, Terri Talks Books, Tredynas Days, and me in this year’s Japanese Literature Challenge 12. I am eager to begin.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World by Haruki Murakami (And, Here’s To Beginning The Japanese Literature Challenge 9!)

image

“Well, it’s like this. Deep in your consciousness there’s this core that is imperceptible to yourself. In my case, the core is a town. A town with a river flowing through it and a high brick wall surrounding it. None of the people in the town can leave. Only unicorns can go in and out. The unicorn absorbs the egos of the townpeople like blotter paper and carry them outside the wall. So the people in the town have no ego, no self. I live in the town – or so the story goes. I don’t know any more than that, since I haven’t actually seen any of this with my own eyes.” (p. 359)

And that, from the first person point of view of our narrator, is about as succinct a description of this bizarre book as I can record. Bizarre, but of course wonderful at same time.

When the novel opens we are in an elevator, an elevator as big as an office, which travels so smoothly it is hard to tell if it is moving at all. It opens to reveal a chubby, lovely seventeen year old girl dressed entirely in pink, who takes him to a dark abyss into which he must jump in order to meet an old man in “a secret laboratory behind a subterranean waterfall just to escape inquisitive eyes.”

The old man is the girl’s grandfather, a biologist who says he is researching the mammalian palate. Apparently he has hired our nameless narrator, later called a Dreamreader, to launder and shuffle numbers by converting them in his brain.

Two entities are at war with each other over data; one is the Calcutecs who protect information, the other is the Semiotecs who steal information. Here, in part, lies the hard-boiled detective stuff, for when our narrator is given a skull from the old man as a present, it is the Semiotecs who break into his apartment to steal it. Apparently, this skull has value for reasons not entirely clear to us. (Only later do we discover that this is where the minds are kept.)

Alternating chapters with the grandfather, dark slimy tunnels, a seventeen year old girl and our narrator, are parallel chapters in which he dwells in the Town. The Town has a Wall, and a River, a Gatekeeper and a Pond. But, it doesn’t have anyone’s shadow. Those who dwell in the town must be severed from their shadows, which are sent to exile. “As the Gatekeeper warned you,” the old officer continues, “one of the conditions of this Town is that you cannot possess a shadow. Another is that you cannot leave. Not as long as the Wall surrounds the Town.”

The Town resembles Stepford to me, or the land where It dwells in A  Wrinkle in Time. It does next seem that its inhabitants (such as the Colonel, the Gatekeeper, the Librarian) are allowed personal choice, or freedom to be themselves. In fact, it seems as if they have been robbed of emotions which make life less than orderly. The Librarian, in fact, is unfulfilled. No matter how much she consumes for dinner, she is never satiated. She claims it is because she has a gastric disorder, but I think the emptiness reflects her heart, rather than her stomach.

Our narrator’s shadow tells him:

“Just now, you spoke of the Town’s perfections. Sure, the people here-the Gatekeeper aside-don’t hurt anyone. No one hurts each other, no one has wants. All are contented and at peace. Why is that? It’s because they have no mind.”

“That much I know too well,” I say.

“It is by relinquishing their mind that the Townfolk lose time; their awareness becomes a clean slate of eternity. As I said, no one grows old or dies. All that’s required is that you strip away the shadow that is the grounding of the self and watch it die. Once your shadow dies, you haven’t a problem in the world. You need only to skim off the discharges of the mind that rise each day.”

We read this novel to look at parallel universes which Haruki Murakami presents to us. We read it to dwell in the fantastic, and finally, to ponder the mystery of it all. The Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of The World won the Tanizaki Prize in 1985. Part science fiction, part fantasy, part “hard-boiled” detective (influenced by Murakami’s admiration for Raymond Chandler), this novel is all Murakami.

Some favorite quotes from this book:

They who never wanted family are now lonely old men.

Maybe no one finds it, or even misses it, but fairness is like love. What is given has nothing to do with what we seek.

~o0o~

With this novel begins the Japanese Literature Challenge 9. It runs from June, 2015 through January, 2016, and for the challenge you “must” read only one piece of Japanese literature. I have listed the people who indicated interest, or said they would jump in with both feet, below the button. I hope that anyone else who desires to read Japanese literature will join us in our discoveries. How excited I am to begin! Welcome! Please find the review site here.

JLC9

Participants:

Gary at Pomes All Sizes
MarinaSofia at findingtimetowrite
Carol at Brilliant Years
Jacqui at Jacqui Wine’s Journal
Sakura at Chasing Bawa
Claire at Word by Word
TJ at My Book Strings
Jackie at Farmlane Books
JoV at JoV’s Book Pyramid
Suko at Suko’s Notebook
Iliana at Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Nadia at A Bookish Way of Life
Kelly at Orange Pekoe Reviews
Ally at Snow Feathers
Terri at Terri Talks Books
Rare Bird at a murder of crows
Cathy at 746 Books
Akylina at The Literary Sisters
Edgar at Simple Images 2
Brona at Brona’s Books
James at James Reads Books
Mee of Bookie Mee
Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza

I’ve Been Missing Japanese Literature So Much of Late…Coming Soon: Japanese Literature Challenge 9

As June approaches, so my thoughts turn to Japanese literature. For that is when I typically begin the Japanese Literature Challenge which runs through January. I wondered how I would make it fresh this year, but my friend Parrish Lantern felt that it needs no added incentive; reading Japanese Literature is its own reward. For those of us who love it, that is surely so.

But, I’ve been reading Jacqui‘s, and MarinaSofia‘s, posts concerning their #TBR20 (stack of twenty books waiting to be read), and I realized I’d like to do the same with my own stack of Japanese literature. It has accumulated to double stacked shelves, since the first Japanese Literature Challenge begun in 2006, and now I plan to read these books for the ninth Japanese Literature Challenge this year:

image

I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying For Awhile by Taichi Yamada (purchased because I loved Strangers so much);

image

Evil and The Mask and Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura (because I loved The Thief so much);

image

The Tattoo Murder Case and Honeymoon to NoWhere (because I’ve not read anything by Akimitsu Takagi before);

image

Asleep and The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (because a dear friend bought me Asleep when she heard how much I enjoyed Kitchen, and I was sent a first edition of The Lake years ago);

image

South of the Border, West of The Sun, After the Quake,and Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (because those are the only three books left that I haven’t read of all he’s written);

image

Spring Snow and Runaway Horses by Yukio Mashima (because they are books 1 and 2 of his Sea of Fertility series);

image

The Decay of the Angel and The Temple of Dawn by Yukio Mishima (because they are books 3 and 4 of the Sea of Fertility series);

image

Nocturnes and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, as well as:

image

A Pale View of Hills and The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (because the only book I’ve read by him is The Remains of The Day)

image

Naomi and Seven Japanese Tales by Junichiro Tanizaki (because I’ve not yet read anything by him, and the Tanizaki Prize is one of the most sought-after writing awards in Japan).

~o0o~

Soon the Japanese Literature Challenge 9 will begin. The review site is here, where those who wish to participate can leave links to their reviews. As a reminder, the challenge runs from June, 2015 until January, 2016, and all you “have” to do is read at least one work of Japanese Literature.

The review site has a page called Suggested Reading in case you’re looking for further titles. However, if anyone wishes to read any of the books I have listed above, I would love to have a shared read together. Just let me know.

JLC9

I hope you are as eager to begin as I, and remember these famous words from Haruki Murakami: “Whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.”

We will hold ourselves wide open to possibility.

What’s The Strangest Thing In Your Library?

Here is an upside down picture of the box I folded:

image

beside the heart-shaped rock that I found:

image

which reside on my desk all the year round:

image

But, Random House asks, “What’s the strangest thing on your desk that you’ve found?”

image

Find the strange things on Haruki Murakami’s desk, and a plethora of information about this most wonderful author, here.

 

Oh, and Happy New Year!

Discussion for Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami (1949- )

As promised, I am posting the questions Random House gave us for the purpose of discussing Haruki Murakami’s latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. So many questions seem rather a lot, so I’m going to choose to address only a few. Feel free to choose any you like, and respond here in the comment section or on your own blog. May the discussion commence!

1.   What is the significance of the name of the novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage? Why is Tsukuru branded “colorless”? Would you say that this an accurate description of him? Is this how Tsukuru sees himself or is it how he is seen by others? What kind of pilgrimage does Tsukuru embark upon and how does he change as a result of this pilgrimage? What causes these changes?

I think that before Tsukuru went on his pilgrimage, he was colorless. Consider this quote from early in the novel, “Tsukuru Tazaki was the only one in the group without anything special about him. His grades were slightly above average. He wasn’t especially interested in academics, though he did pay close attention during class and always made sure to do the minimum amount of practice and review needed to get by…He didn’t mind sports but was never interested enough to join a team…He had no deep interest in the arts, no hobby or special skill. He was, if anything, a bit taciturn; he blushed easily, wasn’t especially outgoing, and could never relax around people he’d just met. Everything about him was middling, pallid, lacking in color.”  In comparison to his friends, in comparison to a life he could be living boldly, Tsukuru is indeed colorless.

2.   Why does Tsukuru wait so many years before attempting to find out why he was banished from the group? How does he handle the deep depression he feels as a result of this rejection and how is he changed by this period of suffering? Is Tsukuru the only character who suffers in this way? If not, who else suffers at what is the cause? Do you believe that their distress could have been avoided? If so, how?

I think that Tsukuru lacks the courage to attempt to find out the particulars about his banishment. He was wounded so deeply, he simply could not face the rejection; in the face of that wound it must not have really mattered why his friends rejected him, as much as the fact that they did.

How can only one person be affected when relationships fail? All suffered, even if not quite as acutely as Tsukuru did. In his rejection, their bond of unity was broken.

3.   Do you consider Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki a realistic work of fiction? Why or why not? What fantastical or surreal elements does Murakami employ in the novel and what purpose do they serve? What do these elements reveal that strictly realistic elements might not? Kuro says, “I do think that sometimes a certain kind of dream can be even stronger than reality” (310). In considering genre, do you believe that this is true?

To me, the dreams in this novel were not real; they did not really happen. I think they were Tsukuru’s subconscious at work, that many times we suppress ways we really feel, or thoughts we really think, and they come back to us in dreams until we sort them out. The dreams very power perhaps make them “stronger than reality”, but only because of the hold they have on our emotions.

4.   Tsukuru reveals that his father chose his name, which means “to make things.” Is this an apt name for Tsukuru? Why or why not? How does Tsukuru’s understanding of his own name affect the way that he sees himself? Where else in the story does the author address making things? Are they portrayed as positive or useful activities?

5.   Why is Tsukuru’s friendship with Haida so important? What is the outcome of this relationship? How does the relationship ultimately affect Tsukuru’s perception of himself? Does it alter Tsukuru’s response to the rejection he was subjected to years earlier in any way?

6.   Why does Haida share with Tsukuru the story about his father and the strange piano player who speaks of death? What might this teach us about the purpose of storytelling? How does Tsukuru react to this story? Is he persuaded by Haida’s tale? What does the story teach us about belief and the power of persuasion?

7.   Sara says that we live in an age where “we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather than information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people” (148). Do the characters in the story know each other very well? Do you believe that technology in today’s world has helped or hindered us in knowing each other better?

8.   When Tsukuru finally sees three of his friends again, how have each of them changed? How do they react to seeing one another after all this time? Are their reactions strange and unexpected or predictable? What unexpected changes have taken place over the years, and why are they surprising to Tsukuru? Has anything remained consistent?

9.   When Tsukuru visits the pizzeria in Finland, how does he react after realizing he is the only one there who is alone? How is this different from his usual response to isolation throughout the story? Discuss what this might indicate about the role that setting plays in determining Tsukuru’s emotional state.

10.   Does Tsukuru’s self-image and understanding of his role within the group align with how they saw Tsukuru and perceived his role in their group? If not, what causes differences in their perceptions? Do Tsukuru’s thoughts about his rejection from the group align with his friends’ understanding of why he was banished? How did Tsukuru’s banishment affect the other members of the group?

11.   Why do Tsukuru and Kuro say that they may be partly responsible for Shiro’s murder? Do you believe that the group did the right thing by protecting Shiro? Why or why not?

12.   The Franz Liszt song “Le mal du pays” is a recurring motif in the novel. Shiro plays the song on the piano; Haida leaves a recording of it behind; Tsukuru listens to it again and again; Kuro also has a recording. Why might the author have chosen to include this song in particular in the story? What effect does its repetition have on the reader—and the characters in the novel?

“Le mal du pays” is a song with a haunting melody. And, any song that we hear during a particular time in our lives never really leaves us. Don’t you have the experience, when you listen to such a song, that you’re back in that moment? You can almost physically feel the time, the memory, the people you were with. I think this song carried such meaning for Tsukuru not only because of its beauty, but because of the import it had in his life from the people who meant something to him.

Also, Haida tells him, ” ‘Le mal du pays.’ It’s French. Usually it’s translated as ‘homesickness,’ or ‘melancholy.’ If you put a finer point on it, it’s more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’ It’s a hard expression to translate accurately.” What better piece of music to accompany Murakami’s themes of sadness and alienation?

(I was so moved by what Haida says later, about Lazar Berman playing Franz Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage suite ‘Year 1: Switzerland’ that I bought a copy for myself, and I’ve been listening to it ever since. “A Russian, Lazar Berman. When he plays Liszt it’s like he’s painting a delicately imagined landscape. Most people see Liszt’s piano music as more superficial, and technical. Of course, he has some tricky pieces, but if you listen very carefully to his music you discover a depth to it that you don’t notice at first. Most of the time it’s hidden behind all the embellishments. This is particularly true of the Years of Pilgrimage suites. There aren’t many living pianists who can play it accurately and with such beauty. Among more contemporary pianists, Berman gets it right, and with the older pianists I’d have to go with Claudio Arrau.”)

13.   Sara tells Tsukuru: “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them” (44). What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her statement?

I highlighted this quote every time that it appeared in the novel, and I’ve counted at least three. This quote has particular significance to me because when my first husband left his son and I in 1997, I could not bear any memory of our life together. I threw out whole photo albums, and boxes of letters he’d written to me. I was foolish enough to think that in discarding the memory, I could erase the time.

It is not that simple, and even the memories don’t stay hidden for long.

I don’t believe we can erase either the memories, or the history, of our lives.

14. Kuro says that she believes an evil spirit had inhabited Shiro, and as Tsukuru is leaving her home, Kuro tells him not to let the bad elves get him. Elsewhere in the story, the piano player asks Haida’s father whether he believes in a devil. Does the novel seem to indicate whether there is such a thing as evil—existing apart from mankind, or is darkness characterized as an innate part of man’s psyche?

15.   While visiting Kuro, Tsukuru comes to the realization “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds” (322). This, he says, “is what lies at the root of true harmony.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with his statement?

16.   Why does Tsukuru seem to be so interested in railroad stations? How does his interest in these stations affect his relationship with his high school friends? Later in his life, how does this interest affect his understanding of friendship and relationships? The author revisits Tsukuru’s interest in railroad stations at the end of the book and refers to the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways in 1995 great disaster of 3/11 in Japan. Why do you think that Murakami makes mention of this incident? Does this reference change your interpretation of the story?

I have read Murakami’s book Underground which tells of the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo. I think the reference to that incident applies to Tsukuru because innocent people are often the victim of someone else’s cruelty. The question becomes not, “Why did I suffer this way?” but “How can I get through it with courage and grace?”  Tsukuru was as innocent as those who were gassed, yet he suffered terribly at the hands of others who care mostly about their own agenda.

17.   Is Tsukuru’s decision with respect to Sara at the end of the story indicative of some kind of personal progress? What is significant about his gesture? How has Tsukuru changed by the story’s end? Do you believe that the final scene provides sufficient resolution of the issues raised at the start of the story? Does it matter that readers are not ultimately privy to Sara’s response to Tsukuru’s gesture?

18.   Tsukuru wishes that he had told Kuro, “Not everything was lost in the flow of time” (385). What does he believe was preserved although time has gone by? What did the members of the group ultimately gain through their friendship despite their split?

19. How does Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki compare to Haruki Murakami’s earlier novels? What themes do the works share? What elements of Murakami’s latest novel are different or unexpected?

I find that this novel has many themes that are prevalent in Haruki’s writing: loneliness, depression, and alienation are all present here as well as in Kafka on The Shore, Hear The Wind Sing, Pinball, 1973, and especially Norwegian Wood. For me, this book had many parallels to Norwegian Wood. In particular, I found a quote I’d copied from that book, “No body likes being alone that much. I don’t go out of my way to make friends, that’s all. It just leads to disappointment.”  This quote alone seems to sum up so much of the way Tzukuru felt before he went on his pilgrimage. Thank goodness Sara told him, “You need to come face-to-face with the past, not as some naive, easily wounded boy, but as a grown-up, independent professional. not to see what you want to see, but what you must see. Otherwise you’ll carry around that baggage for the rest of your life.”

As for you, do you agree with any of these thoughts? Do you have something you’d like to add or address which I’ve left out? I’d be so glad to read what you have to say.

 

(Buy this here for free shipping worldwide.)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: Initial ThoughtsAfter My First Time Through

Colorless Tzukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgramage

The first sentence is rather shocking. “From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.” It’s not exactly a hopeful beginning, and yet right from the beginning we are in touch with a familiar theme of Murakami’s: despair.

Tsukuru Tazaki’s despair is born of loneliness, a legitimate feeling since his four closest friends have abandoned him with no explanation. He is left wondering what he could have done to be rejected so completely, and having not even the strength to ask for explanations, he retreats to Tokyo.

As Tsukuru reflects on his four friends, he feels empty and isolated by comparison. One of the reasons is that each of the four had a name containing a color. The two boys’ last names were Akamatsu-which means “red pine”- and Oumi-“blue sea”; the girls’ family names where Shirane- “white root”-and Kurono-“black field.” Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a color in its meaning. From the very beginning this fact made him feel a little bit left out.” Even though Tsukuru’s name does not have a color, it does have significance; tuskuru means “to make or build.” It is a name which perfectly fits a character who is able to build train stations, and more importantly, who must build meaning into his life again.

While Tsukuru Tazaki swims laps at a pool in Tokyo, he meets a new friend, Haida (whose name means literally, “gray field”. And he also meets Sara, who is the impetus behind his pilgrimage. She knows that he cannot carry on without knowing the reason for his expulsion from the group, and it is she who encourages him to meet each one of the friends sixteen years later. Three times, by Chapter 11, this quote is given, “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”

Tsukuru’s pilgrimage is to find out why he was rejected. But more importantly than that, in my opinion, it is to find the strength to carry on regardless of the past. His pilgrimage is to put the past to rest, while bravely embracing the future with a confidence which has been dormant for far too long.

(I plan on rereading this book before September 12, on which I will post the discussion questions put forth by Random House. From there, those who have read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage are welcome to answer any of the questions they choose. Please know now much I enjoy the discussion we began with the book cover yesterday. I look forward to more insight from your comments and reviews in the weeks to come.)