April 23, 2013

Haruki Murakami’s new novel breaks records, causes literary daze


Copies of the new novel.

Though we are still shifting our copy of 1Q84 around the apartment, moving it from the “I’ll never read this” shelf to the “I really want to read this, but maybe this summer” shelf to the “It’s going to be embarrassing if I haven’t read this sooner rather than later” shelf, Haruki Murakami has not been waiting around for us to catch up.

He’s got a new novel out, Shikisai wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to Kare no Junrei no Toshi (“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”), and it’s climbing the charts in Japan in ways even unprecedented for Murakami novels. There were record numbers of pre-orders for the book, leading his publishers, Bungeishunju Ltd., to print a million copies. The Japan Daily Press reported that the book sold 350,000 copies in the first three days after its official publication date.

The novel, which was published on April 12th, is the story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a lonely engineer who, as a teenager, had a circle of friends with a kanji character which represented a color in their names. Inexplicably, in his early twenties, his friends all drop him at once, an event so traumatic that Tsukuru is launched into a state of profound anomie, which is only disrupted when he mets a woman who helps him confront the past and discover the secret his friends had kept from him. Early reviews have highlighted Tsukuru’s sense of his own “colorlessness,” since he is the only one of the group not to have a color in his name, as well as references to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown of March 2011.

Because of the book’s remarkable popularity, its release has been met with an array of responses, with commenters running the gamut from people who have just finished reading a 370-page book very quickly, the opinions of people midway through a book, and the opinions of people who have only looked at the jacket. There’s a palpable daze in news reports with quotations from the public like:

 “The book has strong messages and many encouraging words.” –Michiko Mamuro, bookstore clerk

“It was different from what I was expecting, in a good way. I want to read a sequel.” —Miwako Kitamura, photojournalist

“His newest book has an impressive beginning.” —Chiaki Yoshimura, senior staff writer at Asahi Shimbun

“The title says ‘colourless’. What does this illustration mean? I cannot wait to read it.” —Ryosuke Kawai, eager reader

Bookstores around Japan had midnight launch parties with fans lining up by the hundreds. In an unexpected coincidence, sales of a recording that plays a part in the novel, Russian pianist Lazar Berman’s recording of Liszt’s “Years of Pilgrimage” suites,  have also gone through the roof. All of which suggests that a significant proportion of the Japanese population is, at this very moment, sleep-deprived, Liszt-addled, and musing in a melancholy, overdetermined way about color. Romanticism has hit Japan!


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.