If you want to know how cool author Haruki Murakami is, just know that Patti Smith decided to write a review of this book in the New York Times. That is how cool he is.
The novel centers on Tsukuru Tazaki. He’s a train station designer in his mid-30s. Tsukuru lives alone in Tokyo, although he was raised in Nagoya. He has a quiet life that, by objective standards, is going quite well. He got into a difficult engineering program (mission accomplished). He is fulfilling a childhood dream of building train stations (mission accomplished). He is good health (check). He doesn’t have trouble getting girlfriends (check). What’s wrong, then? Why is he “colorless”?
Back in Nagoya, Tsukuru grew up in a tightly-knit group of five friends. His four friends had names with colors in them, yet Tsukuru did not. In his mind, he was always a little apart from the rest. They called him “Colorless Tsukuru” as an in-joke, but he felt it pointed towards a larger character flaw that would follow him the rest of his life. He wasn’t interesting, or enough to be worthy of others’ time and attention. The plot of the book revolves around Colorless Tsukuru figuring out what kind of man he actually is.
In my mind, Murakami is exploring how we make ourselves and our meaning in life. He’s playing with our notions of reality (How does time work? How do dreams work? How tight are the mind and body really?) He’s asking how you can know yourself and others, and, as a result, how close can you truly be to others? How do you connect? Maybe the biggest question – why bother going on?
It’s a quiet, existential dreamworld of a book. I don’t know what to describe it as except Murakami. For a quiet guy like me who can get too comfortable in my own inner world, this was absolute ambrosia.
I’ll end with a great quote from Patti Smith in the NYT:
This is a book for both the new and experienced reader. It has a strange casualness, as if it unfolded as Murakami wrote it; at times, it seems like a prequel to a whole other narrative. The feel is uneven, the dialogue somewhat stilted, either by design or flawed in translation. Yet there are moments of epiphany gracefully expressed, especially in regard to how people affect one another…
The writer sits at his desk and makes us a story. A story not knowing where it is going, not knowing itself to be magic. Closure is an illusion, the winking of the eye of a storm. Nothing is completely resolved in life, nothing is perfect. The important thing is to keep living because only by living can you see what happens next.