Mr. Murakami’s tale of redemption

Mr. Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage,” his first since the publication of “1Q84″ about three years ago, sold a million copies in seven days after it hit the stands.

The publisher, Bungei Shunju, printed 500,000 copies in advance of the April 12 publication date in anticipation of huge demand — an unprecedented move for a novel. On April 12, it decided to print 100,000 more copies — another unprecedented move. On April 30, during Golden Week, it decided to print another 50,000.

The publisher had not disclosed the content and the design of the new book cover in advance during its pre-publication PR campaign, but it did release the title and a comment by the author to get people’s attention. While such efforts helped to boost sales, there were already many people looking forward to reading Mr. Murakami’s new book — many more than the publisher had expected — and this was the fundamental reason for its record-breaking sales.

The protagonist is a 36-year-old man by the name of Tsukuru Tazaki. Four close friends from his high school days declare that they will break off their friendship with him without saying why. This trauma leads the protagonist to consider suicide at age 20. In the novel, the traumatized protagonist searches for the truth behind his friends’ rejection of him so that he can fully live his life.

The novel is the first that Mr. Murakami has written since the 3/11 disasters. It does not include a direct reference to the disasters. There is a scene in which the protagonist, who is on the verge of death after being rejected by his friends, looks at his almost dead body. The scene includes the phrase: He looked at the body “like a person riveted to a TV screen showing a cruel scene in a remote place hit by a massive earthquake or a terrible flood.”

Franz Liszt’s piano suites “Annees de pelerinage” (Years of Pilgrimage) — the phrase used in the novel’s title — plays an important role in the novel. There is a scene in which the piano music is played while the protagonist realizes the importance of continuing to live.

Sixteen years after he contemplated suicide, he decides to once again live his life to the fullest. There is a view that the 16 years are the same span between the 1995 great earthquake that hit the Kobe area and the 3/11 tsunami and nuclear disaster that devastated the Pacific coastal areas of the Tohoku region and Fukushima Prefecture.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” is said to have fewer riddles than Mr. Murakami’s other works and thus is easier to read. A story of a resuscitation in which the protagonist takes back his life, the novel encourages people to live and is likely to attract even more readers.

  • Roan Suda

    Having been skeptical to cynical, esp. after all the hype, I am grateful for this. One comment: The title when first announced in Japanese immediately made me think of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, and that work is ulimately the source of Liszt’s French title. Murakami is quite popular in Germany, and this work is bound to be translated into German and widely read.