In Tsukuru Tazaki, “A Calm Sadness”

Like his name-making novel Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (translated by Philip Gabriel) looks inside a man living with a profound but outwardly invisible emptiness. In this case, that man is Tsukuru Tazaki, a 36-year-old railway engineer who lives comfortably in Tokyo but is still numb from being cut off by his childhood friends, suddenly and without apparent reason, sixteen years prior.

Tsukuru is, by his own admission, the least notable of his childhood friends. “Sometimes, when he looked at his face in the mirror,” Murakami writes, “he detected an incurable boredom.” When a promising new girlfriend tells him he has “unresolved emotional issues” from his youthful estrangement, he sets out at her encouragement to visit his old friends.

Murakami’s prose is alternately blunt and lush, but always elegant. His descriptions of feelings are often to-the-point: “This surge of overpowering emotion that had struck him had his heart and body trembling.” His metaphors and similes are rich but never ramble along at the story’s expense. A dreamlike passage describing his isolation immediately after the estrangement—“He set up a tiny place to dwell, all by himself, on the rim of a dark abyss.”—is particularly beautiful.

While portraying Tsukuru’s inner desolation, Murakami pays keen attention to sources of beauty and pleasure, like women’s dress, food and drink, and the arts, especially classical music. This novel can be described as Tsukuru describes Franz Liszt’s “Le mal du pays:” “It had a calm sadness, but wasn’t sentimental.”

–Available 8/12 from Knopf.


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