Anyone who knows me, or has at least read the stories I’ve written, would not be shocked to hear me say that I am drawn to melancholy like a moth to a flame. It brings an honesty to humans that I appreciate, partly because we’ve been all but completely submerged by the sweet lies we tell each other on a day to day basis about ourselves and each other. The pieces of heartbreak and honest sadness that Haruki Murakami’s novels contain are refreshing. Combine that with his surrealism sprinkled in detailed depictions of his characters’ everyday life, you’ll get the escapism that reading provides while keeping a part of you firmly grounded in reality. To put it in a different way, if Murakami were to describe the fantasy situation of flying on a dragon’s back, he would speak of the wind in your hair, the view of the lands below, and then move on to the chafing of your thighs and the soreness spreading in your lower back. There could be two moons in the sky when there is normally just one, and Murakami would weave in that detail while walking you through how his character prepares their evening meal. After all, we all need to eat.
My first introduction to Murakami came from his novel “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”. It is the story of the titular character Tsukuru Tazaki and his journey to discover why he was severed from his friend group with no explanation. In high school, his friend group consisted of two boys, two girls, and himself. All his four best friends had a color as part of their surnames while he did not, leaving him the colorless one in their ‘community’. When his high school friends cut ties with him while he was in his second year of college, he began feeling like ‘an empty person, lacking in color and identity’. This is further driven into him, along with the message that he is meant to be alone, when his only college friend vanishes. Tsukuru remains this way until his mid thirties, lost and colorless, until his girlfriend pushes him to find out what happened so that he may heal and move on. I will allow you to read the book yourself to find out why Tsukuru was abandoned and if he did get the healing he needed to get.
The spoilers I will give you are that the surrealism Murakami is known for is still present in this story despite it being, at face value, an extremely normal plot: A man abandoned by the friends he loves. For example, Tsukuru’s college friend tells him about a pianist who could see the colors of auras surrounding every human. Alongside those moments of wondering if the characters are speaking the truth or in some strange metaphor, we are given descriptions of Tsukuru’s dreams and his love of train stations. Few writers can have the reader equally interested in the mundane details of a character’s pottery and the psychological ramifications of imposed loneliness.
I mentioned melancholy being a staple of Murakami’s work and how it serves to ground the reader in reality so allow me to draw attention to this: Tsukuru accepted his fate until his mid thirties. We are not given much details on his life in the interim between his second year of college and his decision to find out the truth. However, even the least empathetic of readers can imagine the consequences of holding on to confusion, guilt, and isolation for so long. The absence of details – the silence of years – is what delivers Tsukuru’s melancholy to us and it nearly brought me to tears. As Murakami put it “[Our hearts] are… linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.” The heartbreak I felt while reading this book reminded me that humanity’s hearts are not connected through peaceful harmony alone.
“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” hasn’t been my only foray into Murakami’s work. “IQ84” and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” are the other two books of his that I have read. But I chose to talk about Tsukuru because I feel that his story is the most accessible to those who have not read Murakami’s work while still giving the reader a good idea of what they’re in for if they continue to follow this author. Sadness, delightfully mundane details, and humans.