The long title of the book throws me off at first but after reading the book, I realise that the title actually gives a good summary of the story.
Tsukuru Tazaki is the protagonist of the book. As a teenager in high school in Nagoya, he was part of a close-knit five-member clique who volunteered in a primary school, consisting of friends who names have the colour character in them, all except him – Aka (Red), Ao (Blue), Kuro (Black) and Shiro (White). His name does not have a colour and thus he feels deficient in a way – colourless. The second part of the title is taken from Franz Liszt’s “Le mal du pays” from his Years of Pilgrimage suite, which the protagonist refers to in the story often. (‘Le mal du pays‘ is translated as “homecoming or melancholy, or more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’)
You might be interested to know that someone even made a YouTube video of this piano recital and this book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0n3S1xCVLvk
Tsukuru (which means create in Japanese) Tazaki is a 36-year-old engineer who knew he wanted to build railway station from young. The group dynamic in his 5-member gang was so precious that the three males and two females tried not to destabilize it by not getting romantic with each other, even when Tsukuru went away to Tokyo to pursue his study, leaving his friends behind in Nagoya. They continued to remain close, until one day, Tsukuru found himself ostracized by the group for no apparent reason. He became suicidal but recovered and became a changed man. Sixteen years later, he is urged by his girlfriend Sara to seek the answer from his four friends, to heal an emotional blockage which is hindering him from forming a lasting relationship.
Murakami makes full use of the colour metaphors to describe his characters. Like how Sara describes a friend she once knew: ‘I’m not sure how to put it, but she seemed faded. Like something that’s been exposed to strong sunlight for a long time and the colour fades. She looked much the same as before. Still beautiful, still with a nice figure…but she seemed paler, fainter than before. It made me feel like I should grab the TV remote to ramp up the colour intensity.’
His prose is filled with metaphors and some are really nice, like these examples:
Jealousy was the most helpless prison in the world – not a place he was forced into by someone else, but a jail in which the inmate entered voluntarily locked the door, and threw away the key.
A distinct half moon hung above, like a battered piece of pumice stone that had been tossed by someone and gotten stuck in the sky.
During rush hour, that (JR Shinjuku Station) maze transforms into a sea of humanity, a sea that foams up, rages, and roars as it surges toward the entrances and exits. Streams of people changing trains become entangled, giving rise to dangerous, swirling whirlpools. No prophets, no matter how righteous, could part that fierce, turbulent sea.
Other than educating readers about Franz Liszt’s “Le mal du pays”, Marakumi also shows off his knowledge of the workings of train stations and a glimpse of Finland in the book. What I find interesting though is that the diet of the protagonist is mainly sandwiches and coffee. I would have thought ramen and bento. (I so love Japanese food.)
And I also find dissatisfying about this story is that although readers are reminded of how another character outside the group of five, Haida (Gray field- another character with colour, so noted Tsukuru), who made an impact in his life, also left Tsukuru suddenly, there is no resolution for us.