Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Review of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki from Japanese Literature Publishing and Promotion Center

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On Haruki Murakami’s New Novel: Liszt’s “Years of Pilgrimage” Turned Extravaganza

It’s not unusual for the title of a Haruki Murakami work to refer to a piece of music. “Norwegian Wood,” for example, or “South of the Border, West of the Sun.” Even when the title makes no such overt reference, music may be featured memorably in the narrative itself, as with Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta in Murakami’s previous novel, 1Q84.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, his latest novel released on April 12, 2013, contains the following passage:
“As they’re listening to a piano recording, Tsukuru realizes he’s heard it a number of times before. He doesn’t know the title. Nor who the composer is. It’s a quiet, mournful piece. A leisurely opening theme of strong single notes. Then a softer variation. He looks up from his book and asks Haida, ‘What’s this music?’” (p. 62)
Tsukuru Tazaki’s friend Haida identifies it as “La Mal du Pays” from the first of Franz Liszt’s three suites known collectively as Years of Pilgrimage, played by the pianist Lazar Berman.
As a key part of its marketing strategy, Bungeishunju successfully maintained a strict veil of secrecy about the content of the story. The first newspaper ad for the book, which appeared on February 16, stated only that a new novel by Haruki Murakami would be released in April—without even naming the title. The title was subsequently revealed, along with a few quotes from an author interview, but otherwise everything about the book was kept under wraps, including its cover design. Following the example of Shinchosha with 1Q84, no bound galleys were sent out, nor were any book signings scheduled. As I write this on April 18, the full text of the author interview has yet to be released, nor have there been any articles or video footage about it in the media.
The obi band wrapped around the cover of the book offers the following quotation “from an interview with the author”:
“On something of an impulse one day, I sat down at my desk and wrote the first few lines of the story, not knowing what might develop, what kind of characters would appear, or how long it might become—basically not knowing anything about where the story would lead—and then I just kept on writing for the next six months. All I really understood at first was what the world looked like, from his limited perspective, to this one man named Tsukuru Tazaki. But it was fascinating to see that view change bit by bit from one day to the next, growing both deeper and broader, and in some senses it really touched my heart.”
“Since 1Q84 was such a roller-coaster of a story,” notes Murakami in a quote on the Bungeishuju website, “I wanted to write something that would be rather different from that.” Indeed, the structure of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, as well as its narrative style, contrast sharply with 1Q84, offering a more intimate feeling that seems reminiscent of Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart. We still encounter the erotic dreams, parallel worlds, dwarfs and such that are familiar from Murakami’s previous works, of course, even if what they signify is different. I would view the perfectly harmonious blend of mystery and fantasy that Murakami achieves here as a mark of his further maturation as an author.
Shikisai o motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, kare no junrei no toshi (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage) by Haruki Murakami Bungeishunju, 2013, 370 pp., ISBN 978-4163821108
Saku Masui (1967–) was born in Kobe and graduated from Kyoto University. In 1991 he joined The Nikkei, Japan’s leading economic daily, where he reported on business and stock market developments for a time before transferring to the cultural pages to take charge of book reviews and editorial duty for the serialized novels published in the paper. He left in 2004 to work for a publisher, and has since gone independent as a freelance writer and editor. He also teaches creative writing classes.
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