I might have skipped this Murakami novel, underwhelmed by the past few, but then Patti Smith reviewed it for The New York Times, sparking some interest with this description:
This is a book for both the new and experienced reader. It has a strange casualness, as if it unfolded as Murakami wrote it; at times, it seems like a prequel to a whole other narrative. The feel is uneven, the dialogue somewhat stilted, either by design or ﬂawed in translation. Yet there are moments of epiphany gracefully expressed, especially in regard to how people aﬀect one another. “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone,” Tsukuru comes to understand. “They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss.”
Common Murakami themes abound — it doesn’t quite win Murakami bingo (but it could with a slightly rearranged board) — including a narrator who lives a rather simple life, related in extensive, banal detail. Tsukuru has aimlessly wandered his way into a successful career designing train stations but has few friends after being abandoned by his close-knit circle from high school. He has rationalized his ostracization with the reasoning that his friends all had names involving colors and uniquely deﬁned talents, but he didn’t. He comes to believe he is a truly unremarkable person: colorless. Eventually, ﬁfteen years after the schism, he meets two people who help open him up again, leading him on a journey to discover what happened all those years ago.
It’s a quiet, contemplative novel, and I breezed through it, glossing over the weird sex dreams (bingo chip) and that stilted dialogue. It has some evocative things to say about loneliness and trauma. “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”