I was messaging with a buddy from my JET days yesterday who was proud to have just finished slogging through the English translation of 1Q84. He lives over on the West Coast and teaches Japanese (or at least he did…and I think he still does), so I figured he may have had access to the new Murakami book before me. Grumbling, I asked him if he had a copy: I was prepared to be very jealous. He wrote, “just looked at Amazon.co.jp to see if they had a kindle version out, but surprise surprise :-/”
Kindle! I hadn’t even thought of looking on the Japanese Kindle store when I preordered my copy of 色彩を持たない田崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年 (Shikisai wo motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, kare no junrei no toshi; hereafter referred to as Tasaki Tsukuru or TT) on 22 March. Like a good fanboy, I just loaded in my credit card and said TAKE MY MONEYS FOR YOUR INTERNATIONAL EXPRESS SHIPPINGS. I will be glad to have a paper copy when it arrives later today (hopefully; taking notes is good), but it’s too bad that the Japanese Fear of the Internet prevented me from celebrating instantaneously along with everyone else: Wouldn’t that have been fun?! There are some books on the Japanese Kindle store, but perhaps not surprisingly, no Murakami books other than his translations.
No matter. 2013 is a year of deadlines, a year of unpredictability, a year of friends in Japan with scanners who may or may not have sent me things via email, a year in which the San Antonio Spurs have too many injuries to make a proper playoff run, and a year in which I will (if everything goes smoothly) be conferred with an MFA in fiction from the University of New Orleans for writing stories about pirates; so, like a good pirate, I begin my liveblog of this newest Murakami novel at 4:37am CST because I woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep, checked my email, and saw that I had received a very nice message indeed.
This liveblog will continue helter skelter over the next few days. I teach and have class and a few things I need to take care of, but I’ll hopefully be able to get in a few hours of reading here and there. I predict I’ll get in a good long stretch in the middle of the day today and another Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. Join me! I’ll be celebrating; you should too.
4:42: Interesting! The second title page (there are two for some reason) gives an English translation of the title as “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.” Another reminder that Japanese nouns can always be singular or plural on their own; this is difficult to remember when translating.
4:48: As usual, I will give my own translation of the first sentence, which is a damn good one and has me pumped up for MURAKAMI回復: “From July of his second year in college until January of the following year, Tsukuru Tazaki lived his life thinking almost entirely about death.”
BOOM! He’s back! He’s writing about college guys and death. Maybe I should cut my losses now and stop reading. Although as long as we stay away from the Little People, I think we’ll be safe.
A good thing to note is that we’re being told this in wide angle summary; it feels already like this book will cover more ground than 1Q84 (which took place over a claustrophobic six months) because time has passed quickly. Maybe we won’t get as bogged down with scenes.
5:06 *scrambles to get Nintendo DS dictionary working* My Japanese is shit! Also tough to read this scan—er, I mean, legal copy of this novel.
5:13 Okay, safely through the first page. Some dense thoughts about death, but Murakami’s metaphors simplified things for me a bit. I think I’m getting everything. This is fun.
5:16 Cool kanji – 魅惑 (みわく) fascination, fascinated
5:19 In my defense, some of these are hard words. Not sure I would’ve known then even back in 2010. Gotta use the dictionary sometimes, yo.
5:23 Protagonist feels “consumed by death like Jonah was in the whale.” Cool comparison.
Also, another cool word that I didn’t know or had forgotten for some reason: 夢遊病 (むゆうびょう) – sleepwalking.
5:29 Finished page two! It sped up there a little at the end. We’re still in the middle of some major narrative summary to establish exactly who this Tazaki Tsukuru fellow is. All I know so far is that he’s a pretty glum dude.
This calls for a celebration. I’m going to take a shower and get dressed so I can be ready to leave for work and teach at 7:30 – student conferences today.
5:50 Not only did I take a shower, I launched a Kickstarter project – Storyville – Voices from the University of New Orleans. Talk about added degree of difficulty. I’d love your support.
5:57 We’ve got a walker! When Tsukuru isn’t thinking about death, he goes on walks around the neighborhood and watches the trains come and go at the station. Man, this could really be read as Murakami parody. Do think he realizes that?
6:30 Thankfully things have gotten easier to understand. I’ve read 3.5 pages while I’ve gotten ready for work, but I have to head out. I should be back around noon or so and have a chance to read a little more. Check back later.
2:27 I started reading a few minutes ago. I’m on pages 6-7 and am going through more, deeper back story that explains why Tsukuru is such a miserable dude. Not sure how much spoiler to do. It’s an interesting read so far, has me captured by how quickly it’s moving over material. I think I can safely say that it may involve bullying as a theme, which would be interesting because it’s such an important issue in Japan.
2:37 An interesting kanji that I hesitate to call “cool”: 不登校 (ふとうこう). Lots of really good practice here. A pronoun 不 that negates the verb compound. 登 is the verb here, and 校 is the destination: go to school. This whole word was used to modify 児童 (じどう); in other words, kids who don’t go to school. This is a big problem in Japan. I saw a lot of drop offs between 6th grade and the first year of junior high for whatever reason.
This isn’t really part of the story at all. Just a small detail.
3:20 Wow, really interesting decision by Murakami, one that will complicate things slightly in translation. MINOR SPOILER ALERT: This will be partly a spoiler, I imagine, but not all that much I don’t think – I’m not reavealing and plot details, just background info about the main character, and not even much of that.
On page 8, the reason for the title becomes clear: Tsukuru is part of a group of five close friends, but he’s the only one without a “color” in his name: the others’ names all include Chinese characters that represent a color. Those names are: 赤松 (あかまつ; Red pine), 青海 (おうみ; Blue/green sea), 白根 (しらね; white root?), and 黒埜 (くろの; black field?). So 田崎つくる is literally “colorless” – he has no color.
No idea how someone will translate that without adding text that wasn’t there in Japanese as Rubin did with the main character in 1Q84 – What was her name? I’ve forgotten, to be honest.
3:34 Ah, Murakami has given translators an easy out: The group refers to the colorful four by their colors as nicknames: Aka, Ao, Shiro, and Kuro. Tsukuru is just Tsukuru, however.
4:05 Okay, I’m heading back to campus for class. I probably won’t be able to read again until tomorrow midday or so. Check back in then or later tonight to see if I’m able to squeeze in any insight.
2:04 Tsukuru is a 鉄ちゃん!
4:37 Or more like a 駅ちゃん.
4:57 I just finished the first chapter and then spent a few minutes thinking over everything while I folded my laundry. It took me long enough. I read real slow and have had a lot going on in the past couple of days. I think I’m just going to be spoiling left and right, so if you’re looking for an unspoiled read of the translation, you should probably move on.
First chapter finally got into some scene: Tsukuru out on a fourth date with a woman named Sara whom he met at a party at his boss’s apartment. We get there after a good chunk of exposition about his group of friends, and then on the date, she wants to know more about his high school life, which gets Tsukuru to fill in the rest of the details: after leaving his “colorful” friends (I’m sure there are going to be a lot of instances of カラフル in this book), he moves to Tokyo to study with a professor who specializes in the construction of station buildings; TT (what I’ve been calling Tsukuru in my notes) loves station buildings, you see. I thought this was an interesting personality detail. The first chapter ends in the middle of the conversation right when TT notes that he no longer has a “place to return,” and that he lost that place when he was in college.
The narration in this chapter feels pretty authoritative for third person, and after the initial exposition, Murakami does an old trick: he switches between dialogue and narration to tell a story. This he practiced a lot in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, but in first person. I’ll be curious to see what the rest of the narration is like.
Lots of similar vocabulary as 1Q84, notably 惹かれる and 具わっている (or いない in this case). I noted these in my liveblog and the review on Neojaponisme. To me, these are the way that Murakami defines how personalities work: people come equipped with certain traits and are affected (pushed and pulled) by interactions with others. While TT notably is unequipped (so far), especially compared with Aomame and Tengo, he seems very aware of what attracts him. Going to be interesting to see what Murakami does with this.
8:19 Finished Chapter Two not long after dinner. Washed the dishes, did some promotion of ye ole Kickstarter project, and thought about the book. I think I’m kind of impressed with the story so far and very curious about the narration that Murakami is using. It feels far more authoritative than in his previous third-person outings. The narrator is somewhat apparent, more so than anywhere else except perhaps afterdark.
For example, take this final paragraph or so of the chapter:
She went up the escalator to the Yamanote Line, he went down the stairs to the Hibiya line, and they returned to their respective homes while becoming absorbed in their respective thoughts.
Tsukuru, of course, had no idea what Sara was thinking, and he could never tell Sara what he was thinking about at that moment. There are some things that can never be put outside of oneself under any circumstances. On the train ride home, those are the kinds of thoughts that filled the head of Tsukuru Tazaki.
Hmm. I’m sure someone (*cough* Phillip Gabriel *cough*) will come up with a better rendition of 耽る and 外には出せない, but that hopefully gives you an idea of some of the effects that Murakami is using in this novel.
I marked a use of はずだ that seemed authorial in the first chapter and a couple of other things. Interesting stuff. Maybe I’m thinking about it too much.
Other works this book brings to mind so far: “The Elephant Vanishes,” Raymond Carver short stories. Just in third person of course.
9:54 Morning wood means Tsukuru is back to normal.
10:19 Well, I’m all done with Chapter Three. It was a short one. More Murakami being Murakami. Dreams, character transformations, a strange woman in the dream. Hopefully Tsukuru is out of his funk.
The only bad news is that this is still back story. The present of the book has only progressed a single day – Tsukuru went on his date with Sara and then went home. I’ll be curious to see how Murakami handles the passage of time, and whether he can implement it as gracefully as he has with the back story, which does a pretty good job of not taking too long to get through long periods of time. We are about 50 pages in and have gone through about five years of back story of Tsukuru.
I’m off to bed – I teach early tomorrow morning – but I should be able to read some tomorrow midday or afternoon. I plan to read Thursday and Friday as well and then wrap up the liveblog before the weekend.
5:10 Still reading but slowly. Had to teach and then do some writing.
First knowledge/name drop by Murakami – Voltaire. Just a quick quote so far, one that I can’t track down in English translation because it involves the word “hair” and every hit ends up giving me Princess Diaries.
5:20 Ah, I misread 髭 for 髪. Kanji! The Voltaire quote is: “Ideas are like beards; men do not have them until they grow up.”
3:18 Finally finished Chapter Four after reading yesterday, a little this morning, and this afternoon. Too much end-of-term stuff going on right now for me to dedicate a full day to the book, but I have gotten through 72 pages so far, so I think I can probably average 20 pages a day if I push it today. That means the book will take me about three weeks. Maybe I can get a few longer reads in at some point.
Murakami’s done a pretty excellent job with his chapter endings in this book, although that might be his strength as a writer. Chapter Four ends on the verge of a very suspensefully introduced story from a secondary character – this is a technique we saw notably in Norwegian Wood with Reiko. Speaking of Norwegian Wood, this book is starting to feel a little like that. This chapter was a lot of Tsukuru hashing out life in conversation with a friend he makes in Tokyo. Murakami gives us some of his patented knowledge drops on classical music, this time on Liszt’s “Le Mal du Pays.” There’s also a long discussion about freedom and the freedom of thoughts. I guess it’s a relief to see characters hashing this out in conversation with a certain level of realism rather than Murakami trying to symbolize it through small people crawling out of goats.
I’ll be curious to see what this upcoming story is about. I’m also kind of itching to find out what happens in the present of the book. I cheated a little and fast forwarded to see if Tsukuru gets to meet Sara again, and it looks like he does. (I don’t really consider this cheating since I’m not jumping forward in narrative time. Technically, Chapter Four is just Tsukuru kind of huddled up in his own mind, thinking the thoughts that he “can’t put outside of himself.” We’re slowly moving toward the present and getting a fuller picture of who this guy is.)
11:00 Motherfucking Murakami! How the hell does he do it? He walks such a fine line between sentimentality and melodrama and ennui and it ends up working out…most of the time. It’s so hard to tell sometimes, which is why I think he’s prone to easy parody.
Chapter Five is, as mentioned above, one of his patented long stories from a secondary character, and in it, there’s this stereotypical Murakami moment where an onsen employee takes a guest to the local junior high school so he can play the piano. The guest sits at the piano, takes out a small drawstring bag made of nice cloth, places it on the piano, and then begins to play. He plays a long version of Monk’s Round Midnight, sits at the piano for a moment with his eyes closed, and then says to the employee, “OK, that’s enough. Let’s go back.” The employee then asks about the bag, but the man says, “That’s a long story and I’m too tired to tell it.”
Gah! I feel like this could be really terrible writing or really great writing. It’s followed by this section afterward:
My quick and dirty translation:
At that point Haida paused his story and looked at the clock on the wall. Then he looked at Tsukuru. The person in front of Tsukuru was, of course, Haida the son. However, they would’ve been about the same age, so in Tsukuru’s mind, the father and son naturally overlapped. He had the strange sensation that two different time periods had blended together into one. Tsukuru was overcome by the illusion that
the one who had actually experienced those events was the son right here before him, and not the father. That he had temporarily taken on his father’s form and was telling his own experiences.
To eliminate confusion, the storyteller (Haida) is recounting to Tsukuru a story that his father (also named Haida) told him several times.
For any translation dweebs out there, what do you think of what I did with that last sentence? In English, I think it reads a lot more naturally if you introduce it before the two sentences that describe the 錯覚. And I think this is justifiable if you think of translation on the paragraph level and not just the sentence level.
I dunno…I loved that passage. Pretty cool stuff, and very classic Murakami.
2:08 Oh, damn. I was starting to get a little annoyed with this story-within-a-story, but then I realized there are some explicit similarities with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Interesting. I won’t spoil what these similarities are.
2:56 Abuse! I call abuse! Really enjoying this book now. That chapter was a nice relief from the focus on Tsukuru and his consciousness. Instead, we got to inhabit a different character – Haida’s dad – and now we’re pulled out of it, but in such a way that Murakami makes us want to stick with that storyline.
What does he do instead? He abuses us by jumping back to the present; it looks like Chapter Six starts with Tsukuru getting back in touch with Sara. Interesting.
Again, I think Murakami walks a really fine line between what could be considered “mysterious” and meaningful and what is hokey and shtick. I guess with shtick and gimmick you never really know if it’s going to work until the very end. I’m on page 97 now, so I’ve nearly read my 20 page quota for the day. I think I’m going to rest my eyeballs for a little bit and then try to do one last push before the weekend and call this liveblog over.
5:06 Done with Chapter Six! This book has fallen into a nice pattern. Murakami is alternating chapters between different things. First it was the present and back story and then back story and Haida’s story, and now he’s chosen to go back to the present and then more back story. The release of information feels relatively controlled, which is reflected in a variety of different chapter lengths and a far stronger sense of being “pulled” through the book than I had with 1Q84.I’ll be interested to see if it continues for the rest of the book.
Six ends on a very “A Poor-Aunt Story” note, quite literally – Sara says she can see his four friends “imprinted” on his back, and Tsukuru notes that she might be more correct than she realizes.
I think I’m going to go ahead and end the liveblog here! This is an exciting time. Murakami is back! He’s working with familiar character types and techniques, but the story feels very fresh and new to me. Of course he could always blow the ending, and there is one big question unanswered – why doesn’t Tsukuru just go and find the friends and ask them what happened and get it over with rather than remaining scared of the truth? – but it wouldn’t be Murakami if things were completely realistic and straightforward. Everything must be heightened about the stakes of reality, and that is definitely represented by Tsukuru’s insistence that he not ever see them again. But you never know. We’ll have to wait and see.
That’s all for now. I’m sure you’ll hear more from me about this book in the near future.