Japanese Literature

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura

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This book tells a story within a story within a story. There is, at the core of it, the relationship between Taro Azuma and Yoko, his childhood friend. These two are where the resemblance to Wuthering Heights is strongest, for they are obsessed with each other although Taro is an unwanted ruffian, and Yuko comes from an affluent family.

Her family is served faithfully by Fumiko, a character through whose point of view much of the story is told. After all, she was there when the children were small; she was there when they grew into their complicated adult lives. But, she does not tell everything, leaving certain parts of the narrative out until the very end, which were only revealed by Yuko’s aunt in the final few pages.

It was a novel I wanted to enjoy, and certainly there were parts which I did. But, I found much of it tedious and overwrought; I was unable to care about the characters who seemed increasingly dramatic and immature. I could not find  much emotional involvement of my own within its pages, not like that I have for Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, or even Jane Eyre.

This novel may by considered a Japanese rendering of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and indeed it resembles that classic. But the way A True Novel calls to mind the indelible relationships we form in our youth, or the pain we may have experienced in waiting for someone to perfectly love us, is a theme that involves many romantic novels, most of which I found more compelling than this one.

Find more reviews at Vishy’s Blog, A Bookish Way of Life, Tony’s Reading List, and Mirabile Dictu.

December Is…

img_3516I saw a post entitled “How to Survive Christmas”, and I thought it was the saddest title I’ve seen in a long time. Survive Christmas? What happened to celebrate Christmas? But, it is no wonder that if we are not careful we are reduced to a survival mode rather than a celebratory one.

The political climate has not enriched our sense of peace or hope. The inundation of advertisements do not contribute to satisfaction with what we have or what we’ll give. The pressure “to do” is perhaps greater now than it is at any other time of the year. If we are not careful, joy will escape us.

I thought of my goals for this season, goals which you may find helpful as well:

  1. Simplify. I wanted to put up one balsam fir, with white fairy lights, and the crèche my parents made for me when I was eight, and that’s all. We have a bit more than that in our home, including two little, felted snow girls with a reindeer, and a small collection of snowmen on the mantle. But simple is my favorite.
  2. Reduce my expectations. This used to be an enormous load for me to bear; my expectations for myself far exceeded what I was able to accomplish, let alone those I held for anyone else. Ridiculous. Instead of expect, I am now better able to accept, and it makes me so much happier.
  3. Focus on what matters. We might have different things upon which to focus. But, if those few things become the center, I will be less inclined to turn my attention to every other trivial thing demanding that I acquiesce. I will focus on Christ (advent, the church, the crèche), and I will focus on my family.

The End.

Except, not really.

img_3515Because I didn’t write anything about books, and that, after all, is why I’m here. This December I will be reading A True Novel by Minae Mizumura for the Japanese Literature Challenge 10 and for my own pleasure. Vishy and Nadia will be joining me I believe, and perhaps a few others. All are welcome, of course. Here is the blurb from the publishers:

A True Novel begins in New York in the 1960s, where we meet Taro, a relentlessly ambitious Japanese immigrant trying to make his fortune. Flashbacks and multilayered stories reveal his life: an impoverished upbringing as an orphan, his eventual rise to wealth and success—despite racial and class prejudice—and an obsession with a girl from an affluent family that has haunted him all his life. A True Novel then widens into an examination of Japan’s westernization and the emergence of a middle class.

The winner of Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Literature Prize, Mizumura has written a beautiful novel, with love at its core, that reveals, above all, the power of storytelling.

Storytelling. Love. Christmas. All the things I want December to be.

 

Death By Water by Kenzaburo Oe (Man Booker International Prize Long List)

“Death is going to find us all, no matter what, we still have to take active responsibility for what remains of our lives.”

This quote found early on in Death by Water is what I’m taking away from a novel with many themes. Kenzaburo Oe has written about parenting, aging, writing, and the future event we all will face, weaving them together in a novel which centers on a 74 year old author’s point of view.

Why the red leather suitcase in the photo above? Because it emerges again and again throughout the novel, though more acurately as a red leather trunk which Kogito’s mother bought at an antique store. It housed important papers and books and correspondence which Kogito’s father had taken with him the night he took a boat into the raging river and drowned.

But once Kogito is finally able to open it, he finds nothing of value to help him write “the drowning-novel”, the book he supposes will be his last. The book that he hopes will help answer the many questions he has about his father’s death. Why did he set out in his boat on such a perilous night? Was Kogito really with him, or did he dream the sequence of events while watching on the riverbank?

“I was looking for a way to express what a momentous occurrence my father’s drowning was for our family, but in a fit of cowardice I wrote the whole scene as if it were the recollection of a dream.”

The title of the novel, indeed its overarching theme, comes from these lines of poetry written by T. S. Eliot:

DEATH BY WATER

A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.”

~T. S. Eliot

But the lines of T. S. Eliot’s poem is echoed in the first two lines of a poem that Kogito’s mother wrote, and the last three written by Kogito in response:

“You didn’t get Kogii ready to go up into the forest
And like the river current, you won’t return home
In Tokyo during the dry season
I’m remembering everything backward
From old age to earliest childhood.”

The name Kogii has many meanings. It refers to Kogito’s nickname, but also to an imaginary friend, a supernatural alter-ego if you will. Kogito has come to figure out that his mother used the name to reference his mentally disabled son, Akari, as well.

The phrase “to go up into the forest” is a Japanese euphemism for death, and it seems that she is chiding her son, Kogito, for not taking care of his son, Akari. For indeed, their relationship is a troubled one.

Akari has a mental disability, but a great passion for music. He listens to classical CDs which make up the environment of their home, and is able to read the scores of music to compare sonatas between Beethoven and Hayden. But when he uses a pen to mark up a particularly special sheet of music, instead of the soft lead pencil his father has given him, his father says, “You’re an idiot!” It causes what seems to be irreparable damage between them.

When I wondered why his father did not apologize, it occurred to me that perhaps he couldn’t. Perhaps he wasn’t sorry about accusing his son of what he saw as truth, no matter how hurtful it might have been. Perhaps he wasn’t sorry about expressing his frustration at living with a son who in many ways is still a child.

I have read of Oe describing a father’s frustration over having a handicapped child before, in his novel A Personal Matter. It seems that the themes he uses are from his own experience, that his novels resonate with truths which he has experienced.

Near the end of the novel, a theater critic interviews Kogito in his study, and makes these observations while discussing his previously published books:

“Not to put too fine a point on it, but the author’s alter ego is nearly always the main character in his books. At some point doesn’t it become overkill? I mean, can these serial slices of thinly veiled memoir really be considered general novels? Generally speaking, books like this will never win over people who want to read a novel that’s actually novelistic: that is, an imaginative work of fiction. So at the risk of seeming rude, I really have to ask: Why do you choose to write about such a solipsistic and narrowly circumscribed world?

and the answer:

“I’ve often asked myself how I ended up following such a constricted path in my fiction, but I always seem to come back to the sobering realization that if I hadn’t used the quasi-autobiographical approach I wouldn’t have been able to write anything at all. In other words, I’ve had to maintain this narrow focus out of sheer necessity.”

We close with another line from T. S. Eliot’s poetry, a favorite of Kogito’s and therefore perhaps Oe’s as well:

These fragments I have shored against my ruins.

These words, uttered by Kogito, have made his friend Unaiko cry. Why? “She said it made her realize that even for an older author who has had a great deal of success, the struggle never ends; on the contrary, it goes on forever, until you die.”

As it does for all of us.

Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe
translated from Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm
424 pages

The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura (Japanese Literature Challenge 9)

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I wanted to experience every aspect of the gun thoroughly, and to abandon the firing of it that now loomed before me would mean there would be nothing left to do but to relinquish the fun. That was an impossible option, one that I couldn’t even fathom. Losing the gun would turn me into an empty shell of myself, and the prospect of carrying around that lifeless husk for the remaining years of my life seemed like an endless torture. I had often heard it said that humans lived to achieve what they chose to do, and I believed that.

The Gun tells what it is like to find a gun and become obsessed with it. When Nishikawa is wandering around late at night, he comes across the body of a fallen man beside whom is a gun. The young man picks up the gun and, as suddenly as that, is entranced. Through the subsequent pages of the novel, the gun becomes more than an acquired object for him; it is as though it has taken the place of a loved one.

Nishikawa buys special white cloth onto which he can lay the gun to show off its beautiful lustre; he polishes it and carresses it almost as if he would a woman.

It is fascinating to see the passion with which the gun takes hold of his life. As he fondles it, and daydreams about it, even in the company of his friends and lovers, the inevitable step for him to take next is to use it.

The reversible jacket, the leather gloves, the small flashlight, the gun – these four items constantly reminded me of the fact that I was a criminal. Sometimes I liked the way this made me feel, sometimes I didn’t. Yet these shifts in mood, this ambivalent consciousness that could be swayed by whatever vague reasons did not matter much to me. This was a simple process that I needed to follow, and what was important was whether I would succeed.

It is almost as though the gun has control of him rather than the other way around. Can it be that a gun holds the shooter “hostage”? At what point does the gunman lose his conscience: when he first picks up the gun, or before?

For a person who considers herself quite a pacifist, I was mesmerized by this novel. It created a plot which pushed relentlessly forward, while at the same time depicting psychological dilemmas for the central character which have no simple resolution. Just the kind of thing that makes me love Japanese literature so much.

Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki

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“…I was taken in by Miss Naomi, but the truth is, it was my own foolishness.”

I couldn’t help but think of Contempt by Alberto Moravia as I was reading Naomi. Although the first is written by an Italian author, and the later is Japanese, both novels address marriage and the disaster it can become.

When Joji meets Naomi at the Diamond Cafe she is a teenager whom he sees as “ingenuous and naive, shy and melancholy…” He determines to make an educated woman out of her, a women who is knowledgeable in music and English, a woman who is refined and genteel. He pays for lessons, and her extensive wardrobe, and everything she desires even though he quickly runs through the savings account he has been so diligent about building. What he doesn’t expect is that she will become a rough, extravagant, insolent woman who takes advantage of him at every turn.

Their marriage quickly dissolves into shambles. At first he is unaware of her deceptions, the way that she carries on with other young men behind his back. But even when it all comes to light, he is unable to let her go. In fact, he completely debases himself so that she will continue to live with him; there is nothing he won’t do for her presence in his life.

It his hard to understand such sacrifice. Joji himself admits his foolishness, his powerlessness in the face of his obsession. And so we are left wondering about the influence of our emotions, thinking about the effect they can have in a relationship when one has forsaken himself for the object of his obsession.

 

Find TJ’s review at My Book Strings, Naomi’s review at Consumed by Ink, and My Carved Words‘ review.

 

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:

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

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

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

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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);

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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);

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

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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);

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

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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)

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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.

The Sound of The Mountain

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Do mountains make a sound? I’m a Midwestern girl, and I know more about plains than I do about mountains. But when I consider Shingo telling us his story, I can see the allusion to the mountain he fancies he hears making a deep, low rumble.

A mountain is implacable. It doesn’t move, unless bits of it crumble away, or it combusts from within as a volcano. And Shingo seems very passive to me.

His daughter-in-law, Kikuko, who lives with him and his wife, is passive, too. She waits quietly for her husband to come home at night, drunken, and leaving his mistress behind. She serves her father-in-law with apparently effortless kindness. She watches her sister-in-law’s children with care and grace. It is no wonder that Shingo seems more attached to her than to anyone else in his home.

His blood kin were not as he would wish them to be, and if they were not able to live as they themselves wished to live, then the impact of the blood relation became leaden and oppressive. His daughter-in-law brought relief. p. 37

Kikuko, although a daughter-in-law, seems irresistibly attractive to Shingo. It could be because she is beautiful, or kind, or abandoned emotionally by her husband. But she serves her father-in-law tea every morning, and brings him gifts from her childhood home, and in every way ingratiates herself to him. Maybe she is relieved to find affection of any kind, since her husband is so caught up with his mistress.

This is a quiet sort of book, deceptively simple. It bears heavy themes, however, about a family whose members are ashamed of one another, themes of longing, disloyalty, and subsequent embarrassment.

When Shingo’s son makes his wife pregnant, she has an abortion because she cannot seem to bear being pregnant while her husband has another woman. When his mistress also becomes pregnant, and intends to keep the illegitimate child, Shingo is horrified, and angry for the way his son has treated Kikuko.

But what can he do? He is 62 years old, an old man in his own eyes, who is past the capability of having a young lover of his own, past the capability of easily remembering things, and wholly incapable of changing his life or anyone else’s life in his family. Happiness is elusive to him. Happiness seems to elude them all.

In a way I have come to expect from Japanese novels, there is no resolution at the last page. We come into his life in the middle of his 60’s, we leave many years later, not seeing anything change in Shingo’s family. We are left with the impression that life will carry on as it always has for them: troubled, ineffective, ungrounded.

I think the most distressing quote I came upon was one little line on the bottom of page 235. “He had contributed to no one’s happiness.” That’s all. If I was reading quickly, I may have missed it. But I think that’s the point of the whole novel, and for me that is the worst thing that can be said when looking back over one’s life.

I read this book for Tony’s January in Japan, as well as my own deplorably neglected Japanese Literature Challenge 8. Find other reviews here, here, and one from several years ago, here.

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

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“From a cup of coffee what dreams may bloom…”

I have just finished Keigo Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint, the first book of September to have caught my interest sufficiently to see it to the end. It is a fabulous mystery, exactly the kind of book which keeps you reading until you are done.

When Ayane’s husband is found dead on the floor of their home, with the contents of a cup of coffee spilled around him, we are immediately brought to the awareness that this cup of coffee was his demise.

But how? His wife, Ayane, was visiting her parents a train ride away. His new mistress had just left after a late night tryst. So who plotted such an ingenious plan which would kill a man from afar, through his own desire for a perfect cup of coffee? And most of all, why?

I was riveted to the exploration of the characters’ personalities and pasts; the things they held on to that made them act a certain way in the present. Discovering their flaws made discovering the intricacies of the mystery all the more fascinating.

I read this book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 8, and for Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe. It is the second book I’ve read by Keigo Higashino, an author who “is currently the most widely read author in Japan, with more than three dozen best sellers, hundreds of millions of copies of his books sold worldwide and nearly twenty films and television series based on his work. He won the Naoki Prize for The Devotion of Suspect X“…which is the next book of his I want to read.

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.

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.)