Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami

Subtly and patiently delving into the troubled mind of his title character, Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, The Colorless Tsukuru and his Years of Pilgrimage, beautifully explores isolation, abandonment and confusion.

Tsukuru Tazaki was twenty when his four closest friends inexplicably abandon him.

In school, Tsukuru and his friends “were a perfect combination.” They felt complete together and formed deep emotional connections.

However, Tsukuru did sometimes feel left out, as he experienced an undercurrent of worthlessness. Tsukuru was the only one without a colour in his name. His friends’ strong personalities all matched their colourful names: Aka, red, boldly exuberant. Ao, blue, quietly brilliant. Shiro, white, beautifully elegant. And Kuro, black, who always made the group laugh.

When Tsukuru is the only member of the group to attend university in a different city, he assured himself that his group was so close, they would not crumble as a result. But, returning to his hometown, Tsukuru is inexplicably ostracised from the group. He barely seeks an explanation; instead, he slips into darkness:

“From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying…Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution.”

“Something must be blocking the normal flow of motions, warping my personality. But Tsukuru couldn’t tell whether this blockage came about when he was rejected by his four friends, or whether it was something innate, a structural issue unrelated to the trauma he’d gone through.”

In his late thirties, he begins dating Sara, who notices an emotional deficit in him. Although he is convinced that the intervening years have resolved him of torment, Sara notices that this pain is still present:

“Maybe inside the wound, under the scab, the blood is still silently flowing.”

The novel details Tsukuru’s “pilgrimage.” Sara encourages him to meet each of his old friends, who reveal the shocking truth about the soul-wrenching abandonment in their youth.

Regular Murakami readers would recognise the themes; everything Murakami writes seems to be tinged with isolation, abandonment and confusion. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994) and Kafka on the Shore (2002), the protagonists are deeply affected by their abandonment, which acts as an impetus for the novels’ plots.

But while Wind-Up Bird and Kafka are tinged with Murakami’s typical science fiction style, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage relies far less on the fantastical. Tsukuru’s encounters with old friends were sincere and emotional. In the absence of the staples of Murakami’s literary canon (talking cats and parallel universes, as slightly absurd examples), the characters’ raw emotions are revealed without much pretence.

My favourite scene involves Tsukuru’s visit to Kuro’s home in Finland. Surrounded by white birch trees and a mustard-coloured fishing boat, Kuro’s secluded lakehouse home exudes a patient and reassuring silence. Here, Kuro explains the past, slowly and delicately touching on naivety, fear and mental instability.

Tsukuru’s visit to Finland is a perfect juxtaposition of past and present, with the uncertainty of old propelled into a comforting and safe family life. In the present, Kuro regrets her actions. Like Tsukuru, she still has pain coursing through her, though she is years removed from the source. Meeting Tsukuru again allowed her to begin resolution.

Of course some unresolved plot lines were irritating: an unsolved murder, questions of sexuality and unanswered questions about a relationship. To me, though, the novel is simply a slice of the protagonist’s life. By leaving questions left unanswered, it mirrors the uncertainty in all of life and the questions that remain unanswered in real life.

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Feminism Essays

We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Essay Review

With deft humour weaving in between her passionate contention, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful essay We Should All Be Feminists implores us that we need feminism. Despite all appearances to the contrary, the genders are not equal. Adichie works to break down the barriers and to dissolve the negativity we place onto the term ‘feminism,’ putting the onus on men and women to rectify the inequality.
Adichie writes about stories from her home country of Nigeria, but her stories could be transposed to other countries as well; the language of gender inequality is universal, and engrained. She mentions tipping a valet with her own money, only to have the valet thank her friend Louis, not her. “The man believed,” she says, “that whatever money I had ultimately came from Louis. Because Louis is a man.”
At first I thought that I would not be able to relate to her experiences; although I knew I would connect with them emotionally, I predicted that my situation in Australia was far removed from Adichie’s Nigerian experience. But I noticed themes from Adichie’s essay transcended national borders. Although, perhaps, I have never experienced such overt inequality as she describes, the fundamentals of the experiences are the same. As such, Adichie’s essay was reassuringly fresh and vibrant. It was a pleasure to be reminded of the fundamental knowledge, to help me grapple with questions in my own head.
According to Adichie, the perpetual problem is that repetition leads to normalcy: “If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal.” When behaviours or social hierarchies are repeated without question, they are naturalised and, when they are naturalised they become a social norm. I have experienced bothering issues, but I have struggled to vocalise why they bother me, to explain why something that seems natural is not in fact right. For me, the power of Adichie’s essay lies in its fluent ability to both expose hidden norms, and provide us the language with which to rectify them.
Some people argue against feminism ignores humans plights, by just focusing on women; instead of advocating for women rights, we should instead encourage universal human rights. Adichie’s argument follows that feminism does not exclude human rights, rather incorporates them into the debate. When we encourage progress on women rights, we are doing human rights a huge favour as well. Adichie argues that we need to include women’s viewpoints and include the feminist stance. Ignoring it is problematic and ignorant: “for centuries the world divided human beings into two groups, and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.” She also acknowledges that speaking about women is necessary: “of course I am a human being, but there are particular thing that happen to me because I am a woman.”
The solution, according to Adichie, involves rethinking the way we construct gender. “We define masculinity in a very narrow way” (italics in original). To reconstruct gender identity, to remove gender biases and stereotypes from our vocabulary, to teach children that there are many ways in which they can perform their gender.
She does not point out how to do this exactly. It would not be easy, given that the gender inequality is so engrained. We internalise gendered norms and, even when we are consciously aware that something is not right, we can’t shake the hidden feeling that traditional gender patterns are safer. It is refreshing to read Adichie’s views on the matter, as she gives a face to the problems I experience: “I am trying to unlearn many lessons of gender I internalised while growing up. But I sometimes still feel vulnerable in the face of gender expectations.”
I believe beginning a dialogue such as Adichie’s, using the power of our speech and conversation is the best way to rectify this, and this is what Adichie is trying to achieve. The more people we speak to, the more awareness there is, and the less the problem is hidden. This is Adichie’s message: everyone should be able to speak about gender inequality. Everyone should be feminist.
Adichie’s essay We Should All Be Feminists helped me to debate my own opinions, reminding me that feminism and femininity can peacefully coexist. Adichie ends her essay by invoking our responsibility to change the culture we live in, and not just live under culture’s power. We think too often that, because something is naturalised, it is natural and so do not make an effort to change it. Adichie’s essay adds to the much-needed dialogue around reclaiming feminism, and offers a fresh and inspiring perspective.