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BOUND TO PLEASE / Murakami’s ‘act of greatness’

The Japan News

By Heather Howard / Japan News Staff WriterColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

By Haruki Murakami

Knopf, 400 pages

Jane Austen may not be the Western writer Haruki Murakami is most often compared with, but reading his latest novel, “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage,” brings her repeatedly to mind. Virginia Woolf's comment on the author of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Persuasion” seems especially apt: “Of all great writers, she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness.”

Woolf can’t have been referring to Austen’s turns of phrase, which have been justly famous for generations, but her ability to pull the reader deep into her stories, to make us care so much about what happens to the people in them.

So too does Murakami, magnificently. Even readers who are new to his work will find themselves drawn into his world, almost before they realize it's happened.

To try to echo Murakami and Austen’s deceptive simplicity, they put life on the page. Aching life, with our fates pushed in one direction or another for the most ridiculous reasons. Life that so many travel so much of with blinkers on, pushing through endless routine day after day while reaching toward something better.

Such is the tale of Tsukuru Tazaki, a 36-year-old man from Nagoya who works at a Tokyo railroad company. Tazaki used to return regularly to see his four best friends from high school, but one day they suddenly cut him off completely. Don’t ever contact us again, Tazaki is told, with no more explanation than “Think about it, and you’ll figure it out” as to the reason why.

About 15 years later, the wound is covered but not healed. At the urging of a new girlfriend who’s reluctant to get seriously involved unless he confronts his past, Tazaki travels to meet with each of his former friends.

He learns some surprising information, but the true impact of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki” comes from Murakami’s remarkable descriptions of human emotion. Is there anyone, for example, who hasn’t felt exactly like this at some point: “Anxiety raised its head, like a jagged, ominous rock exposed by the receding tide, the fear that he would be separated from the group and end up entirely alone.”

The English translation by University of Arizona Prof. Philip Gabriel is superb. A comparison of some particularly striking English passages with the original Japanese shows the two texts align very closely.

One slight alteration does stand out in the passage about anxiety, but it is an excellent adjustment: “a jagged, ominous rock” as opposed to the literal meaning of “dark, ominous rock” in the original. Murakami uses “fukitsu” (ominous) in the original, and replacing “dark” with “jagged” ensures that the threat contained in “fukitsu,” the nuance of being ill-omened, comes through strong and clear to the reader.

When to Read

On a lazy Sunday in a coffee shop, so you can glance up at the other patrons and wonder if the dramas they’re wrestling with are anything like your own.

Maruzen price: ¥2,780 plus tax (as of Sept. 4, 2014)

   

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