ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It's not every author who can draw fans to bookstores around the globe for midnight releases. But Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is one of them. He's written everything from a nonfiction account of running marathons to a thousand-page story of assassins in parallel worlds. His newest novel that's just been published - it's the story of a lonely, young man and his search for meaning. Here is reviewer Meg Wolitzer.
MEG WOLITZER, BYLINE: Somehow over the course of his long career, Haruki Murakami has managed to be both popular and weird, creating a specific house-blend of fantasy and reality. His new book, "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage" takes place in contemporary Japan, but it really exists in the writer's interior world - a cerebral one that often veers down unexpected corridors. When we meet colorless Tsukuru, we're told he lacked the striking personality or any qualities that made him stand out. But colorless also has a literal meaning. In high school, Tsukuru and a group of four friends are inseparable. The two boys' last names translate to red pine and blue sea. The girls' family names mean white root and black field. Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a color in its meeting. From the very beginning, this fact made him feel a little left out. Then, dramatically compounding his loneliness, this group of friends ditches Tsukuru. They don't return his calls, and they announced that they did not want to see him ever again. It was a sudden, decisive declaration, Murakami tells us. They gave no explanations - not a word for this harsh pronouncement. And Tsukuru didn't dare ask. What kind of person doesn't ask? He's so modest and reluctant that it's infuriating and also identifiably human. He waits years and falls into a state of despair and flatness before he goes off on his pilgrimage to find each of the old friends and the reason for their rejection. Along the way are moments of gorgeous, contemplative prose. Murakami writes, a nearby willow tree was like a distraught mind. The branch quivered slightly, then returned to stillness. At other times, though, I wished I could edit out some boring descriptions of dreams and stilted language like (reading) the tension of suppressed sexual feelings began to take on greater significance than Tsukuru could imagine. And there is surprising moments too, like a story within the story about a piano player who has accepted deaf in exchange for a supernaturally enhanced sight. This tale informs the tone of the book. It takes spirits and ghosts and the devil at face value. It puts the ordinary and the fantastical in close proximity. You get the sense that for Murakami the wall between the two is flimsy and might easily be knocked down if the author chooses, but he never does. Still, the simplicity and depth of this book make it irresistible. It's easy to read and not so easy to understand, but I didn't mind. I like Murakami's brand of originality made up of sex, music, ghosts, auras and a yearning for connection. This is an imperfect novel that feels like a riddle, a puzzle, or maybe like a haiku full of beauty, strangeness and color thousands of syllables long.
SIEGEL: The book is "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage" by Haruki Murakami. Our reviewer is Meg Wolitzer.
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