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Haruki Murakami authored What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, my favorite running book. I found it one day set out on a stoop, loved it and passed it on to other reading runners. At some point someone forgot to give it back, which is fine because it’s not the kind of book I’d read again any time soon. Since losing it though I seemed to have stoop radar for Murakami books. We have five of his novels on our shelf, all street finds, and I haven’t read one of them. I dot know why.

When I saw Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki on a library shelf I couldn’t resist. Its slightly stout size drew me in. As an object it’s physically adorable and it feels good to hold, but don’t be fooled. This is not a cuddly story.

colorless_murakami

Tsukuru Tazaki is between semesters of his sophomore year at college in Tokyo. He returns to his home city of Nagoya to see his four best friends only to receive the shock of his life. He calls, leaves messages, finally they tell him they don’t want to see or speak to him. Ever. They’re not his friends anymore. It sounds so petty. As I read this I didn’t understand why this would be such a big deal to a person. Why not close that chapter and move on? But Tsukuru cannot. With this phone call all warmth leaves his life. He falls into a deep depression. For six months he has no purpose, barely eats.

I worried this was going to be  it, that the whole book would be him longing to get his horrible friends back. Murakami keeps the reader in this dark place just long enough to understand that it’s the real thing. Tsukuru pulls out of it and we spend most of the story with him in his adult life. He graduates and gets his dream job as an engineer building railroad stations. He has enough money and a nice apartment in the city, but his life is colorless. The loss of his closest friends and their refusal to explain why has changed him forever.

As we go through life we gradually discover who we are, but the more we discover, the more we lose ourselves.

At 36 he’s still living in Tokyo and doing the job he loves. He’s told no one of his lost friendships until he meets a lady and starts to like her quite a bit. He wants to open up to her, wants her to really know him. This makes him realize that he doesn’t fully know himself. If their relationship is going to become something, he needs to find closure. It has to happen.

Being alone in two sense of the word was maybe like a double negation of isolation.

This story is a personal pilgrimage, as the rest of the title states. Tsukuru tracks down each of his former friends to confront the pain of his past. At this point they’ve been out of his life longer than they were in it, but the pain of their abandonment is profound. Tsukuru isn’t exactly living in the past – if he could stop hurting on his own he would. He’s a smart guy. The plain truth is that he’s still bleeding inside from this and now he has work to do to heal this wound.

His journey teaches him more about himself than the people who left him, and that it’s time he stop thinking so harshly about himself. The somber tone breaks at surprising moments to touch on something meaningful. In dwelling on this loss, Murakami drives home this notion that closure matters because lack of closure harms people in significant ways.

It’s kind of a dreary book, but well written. His writing has this quality to it because he assumes his readers are smart and paying attention. I think this is a deceptively inventive story about friendship, the loss of friendship and the torture of not knowing. It’s also a portrait of a character told from the inside out as Tsukuru finally asks “Why?”.

Plot-wise, this isn’t exactly exciting, but that doesn’t matter because this is a character driven story. I liked this book. I didn’t love it because it’s kind of a downer. Maybe I read it at the wrong time. I appreciated that it gets you thinking about friendship and how for some reason some of the people who change you the most are the ones who pass through your life too quickly.

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