I had read IQ84 by Haruki Murakami, a strange, artfully crafted book, so when I saw his latest novel--and heard what a sensation it had caused within a week of publication, I was eager to check it out. But I could never remember the title: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.
I've had similar trouble with name in books before. I remember that when I read James Michener's Poland,I had the hardest time distinguishing between the characters because their names were--well--Polish. Lots of hard consonants, not so many vowels. I finally had to make a chart for myself in the back. But this was the title of the book, and since I was reading a eBook, I couldn't as easily flip to the cover.
Fortunately, this didn't keep me from enjoying this strange little novel, focused on a protagonist who had been part of a group of five friends--three boys, two girls--in high school, only to return home from college and to be told he was no longer welcome in the group. He was given no explanations.
He had always been unusually fascinated with trains and train stations, and he had ended up in a career designing stations--or actually remodeling them. Because of the rejection, he rarely returned to his hometown, making excuses to his family.
Eventually, during the early stages of a dating relationship, he reveals this story to the woman who tells him he must find out the answer to their rejection. She does a little internet search and locates all but one of the girls, and he seeks them out, going as far as Finland to seek out one of the girls. The explanation ends up being based on a false accusation, a story all of the surviving friends have long ago realized was not even true.
As quaint as the story may be, Murakami manages to reveal the interior of a man who, like most people perhaps, judges himself more severely than others do. Even the coincidence that his four friends have a color in their names, which he does not, has distorted significance to him--even though his own name refers to making or creating.
Like his earlier novel, this book saturates readers with a sense of place; it feels both foreign and familiar. I found myself more likely to empathize with Tzukuru than to become frustrated with the way a teenage disappointment has shaped his life. Maybe that's because I accept the idea that we are all shaped by those early experiences, as he was, and maybe we all need someone to prod us on to pilgrimages of our own.