I got the book out of the library on an impulse. It was one of those perfect accidents you might say. Almost like the alignment of a particular group of people that results in a chemical bonding of elements, the meeting of two minds, a once in a life time event like the Big Bang, that may never be reproduced. Kind of like these five friends.
Translated from the original Japanese novel by Philip Gabriel, I never once felt that I was missing out on anything but I do wonder if the words sound better in Japanese. If my limitations as a person have hindered me in absorbing their meaning. Tsukuru in Japanese means ‘to create’ but it can also have the simpler meaning ‘to make or build’. In choosing to give his son the simpler character, his father did not want him to feel like he had to strive to fulfil his name and buckle under the pressure of having to create something. He let him know that he was loved, regardless of what he did. It was only fitting that Tsukuru grew up with a love of train stations and went on to become an engineer and build train stations.
Despite the role they all played in their group of five, their cohesive unit – ‘an orderly harmonious community’ – Tsukuru always wondered if the others would miss him if he was gone, and if he was a valuable member of this unit or not. While the others all had colours in their names – Shiro, Kuru, Ao and Ake, he was the only one who did not. He was colourless Tsukuru Tazaki’.
The novel begins with Tsukuru on the brink of death, only hesitating to step through its door as he was unsure of the method he should choose. The language that Murakami uses is simple yet descriptive “Like Jonah into the belly of the whale, Tsukuru had fallen into the bowls of death, one untold day after another, lost in a dark, stagnant void”. Like the blurb on the back of the book promised, Murakami’s writing is extremely Kafkaesque in the way it points out the absurdity of our world and the way we relate to one another.
Tsukuru grew to depend on his friends group and although he was studying in Tokyo after high school they were still an invaluable part of his life and his only friends. When they ruthlessly cut him out of their lives and disowned him, this ostracising affected him deeply. It is only when his new girlfriend Sara hears about his past that she forces him to confront those demons and go back to meet his old friends and find out what happened. I identified deeply with Tsukuru particularly his ostracising and the not knowing. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything close to the chemistry that all five friends had together but I have certainly had deep friendships with people which I have lost, at times organically and at times abruptly. So it’s easy to understand what he must have gone through when those friends were the only thing he had.
What do you let yourself think and feel, how do you explain the last sixteen years of isolation to yourself, when you find out that one of your friends accused you of raping her, and although the others knew it to be untrue, they went along with it as they had to accept one person and reject the other. How do you rationalise the sixteen years of your life you spent alone – the metamorphosis your mind and body went under like a rock being crystalised under intense heat and pressure – how do you come to terms with the fact that that needn’t have happened if you had only asked – if you had only reasoned. And then to realise that perhaps it was the only alternative, perhaps it had to be either him or Shiro and that his friends accepting that he had in fact raped her was the only thing they could do to protect her fragile mental state.
The novel ends ambiguously and in a way this works best as one finishes with a feeling of catharsis, like the outcome does not in fact matter. Although his friends left him, and Haida left him, he is not an empty vessel. As a young man he had truly believed something, he was a person capable of believing something with his whole heart, a heart full of hope – and despite what will happen in the future he will keep on hoping. Sara may choose to be with him, or she may choose the other man – and tomorrow he will know and there is nothing he can do about it. But he has been through the worst, he has swum through the cold water, and at some point, Kuru had loved him. He is not just a colourless nothing, he – Tsukuru Tazaki – is full of colour.