Friday, October 31, 2014

Borders: Colorless Tsukuru and his Years of Pilgrimage, a novel by Haruki Murakami

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is a story about borders: conscious/unconscious, reality/wish fulfillment, perception/insight, logic/intuition, work/freedom, sex/love, making/creating, and action/existence. Tsukuru lives a comfortable, uneventful, and somewhat lonely bordered life in Tokyo. He works in a profession related to his boyhood fascination with trains and railroad systems. He enjoys his work for a company that builds well-structured train stations, and he is competent, conscientious, and dedicated in his work. He is a good law abiding man who likes his pleasures in moderation, eating out frequently and enjoying a glass of wine or spirits, most of the time by himself. He takes care of his body by swimming laps at a public pool and tension relief by having sex with women he meets without much effort and with no expectations of long term commitments. Tsukuru’s inner voice continuously evalutes himself and his environment in terms of his ideas about his contours of experience. 

Tsukuru’s focus for self-evaluation is his memory of a time in high school teenage life when he was part of a 5 person group. In his recollections, this period was a high point of his life because of the unique relationship each member of the informal group had with every other member. Tsukuru played his role as the steady purposeful student with long term goals related to an interest in trains. The others, 2 girls and 2 boys, did not look as much to the future as Tsukuru and seemed more free to enjoy the moments of youthful existence that all realized were so fleeting. Even at the time, Tsukuru understood that he had the unique staid status and accepted it without question. Each member of the group had a nickname related to a color suggested by their last names: “red pine” and “blue sea” for the boys and “white root” and “black field” for the girls. Only Tsukuru’s last name did not suggest a color and so he was “colorless.” 

An unspoken rule of the group was that no personal relationships were allowed independent of the group interaction. Tsukuru experienced severe anxiety and depression when he was rejected from the group after high school graduation. The other 4 members would not discuss why he was being shunned. Now comfortably moving along on his life path in his 30’s, Tsukuru realizes his current problem of finding an acceptable meaning of life requires that he revisits the time of the group’s existence. Then, all thoughts and emotions were enclosed in logical borders determined by the almost magical experiences of the group, and life had immediate meaning. Tsukuru discovers he must challenge the logic of the borders in order to reduce the anxiety and depression that has floated freely over his head without explanation for 15 years. He did not realize that his retrospective exploration of the group would include a deadly mystery, secret love, resentment, regret, and redemption. 

Murakami writes with simple declarative sentences creating a direct realism of Tsukuru’s daily life activities and continuous thoughts. As a result, the novel is a good story that appeals to readers of all levels of reading ability and age (teen and older). The complexity of Tsukuru’s “Pilgrimage” to view and challenge the hidden borders of his life is skillfully built upon Murakami’s careful, realistic descriptions of plot and narrative. I enjoyed the book as much as I did my past reading of two Murakami novels: 1Q84 and Norwegian Wood.

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