Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami – Book

 

“Beware the double metaphors”, our artist, our main character, our guy in an early mid-life crisis is told by the Commendatore. Haruki Murakami bends our brains in fiction once again and his readers, and I, enjoy every minute.

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami does something several books have done recently. It begins at the end and then fills us in. Of course by the time I immerse myself in this story I forget that it is all a flashback. The end of the story we get in the beginning is hardly definitive. But we do meet the artist, acting like a true artist in that little scene.

In present time (in the novel) he is feeling that his life has robbed him of the excitement and ambitions he once had as an artist. He, in a way, blames his wife. He rationalizes that he has had to be practical since he is a family man. He earns his living painting portraits and as his wife works away from home and he is often working at home, he does most of the housework. He feels he has “sold out” by painting portraits, which he considers a lesser form of art. He is feeling dead inside. Just when he is most dissatisfied with life and his art his wife asks for a divorce, says she is sleeping with another man and will not sleep with two men at once.

Yuzu’s husband (the artist) grabs a few clothes (very few) and begins a long journey in his car along the northern coast of Japan. Until he begins naming roads he could be living anywhere. He could be any modern man in any modern nation. He ends his journey months later when he has a very strange and concerning sexual encounter with a young woman and meets the possibly evil man in the white Subaru Forester.

His old college friend and fellow student Masahiko offers him the small mountain house where his father, the famous artist Tomahiko Amada, who is now in a nursing home with dementia, had his studio. Masahiko cannot care for the home as he works and lives in Tokyo.

Up to now. I must say, our artist (unnamed) seems more like an engineer. He has a very pragmatic approach to his wife’s confessions and his road trip. But Haruki Murakami paints his portrait with words. Our guy cannot have a boring identity crisis or get to know himself without going through an ordeal.

From the time he enters that mountain home his inner journey begins and it is a doozy. Temple bells ring in the dead of night with no temple nearby, a deep and magical pit is uncovered with meticulous and unusual stonework walls. There is a secret painting Tomahiko Amada has hidden in the attic with the pretty little owl, there is a collection of opera and classical music on vinyl, and there is a millionaire neighbor with a purring silver Jaguar (car) and many secrets. Then there is the young girl, Mariye, he meets in his children’s art class (about the same age as his beloved sister, Komi, who died as a young teen) and the older, married woman from his adult art class who we get to observe, along with the Commendatore, having satisfying illicit sexual relations with her teacher. Who is the Commendatore and how does he get killed? That I cannot tell you.

There is no blatant spirituality and our artist seems far too self-absorbed and modern to accommodate a deeply religious life, but, even so, in this novel the symbolism (the temple bell, the little shrine, the pit) and a certain sparseness in the prose give a religious tone to the artist’s inward journey. Whether it strikes you as spiritual or not, you can at least enjoy the novel as one great big entertaining Haruki Murakami double metaphor.

 

 

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – Book

Haruki Murakami is a people person. His novels are generally
character-driven but his world view and his philosophies are informed by his
Japanese culture which may put those of us who are not Japanese at a slight
disadvantage. However, Murakami is steeped in Western literature, as we saw in
his puzzling and beautiful novel Kafka
on the Shore
, which also gives those of us who did not grow up in Japanese
culture a ticket to the show. Even after finishing Murakami’s latest book Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of
Pilgrimage
, 1Q84, (a variation
on 1984) is still my favorite novel
of his so far.
In 1Q84 Murakami
speaks against those who abuse women. In fact he creates a main female character
whose job is to assassinate people (mostly men) who abuse women. In his most
recent novel Murakami speaks of rape as a real deal breaker when it comes to
acceptance in human society, a point of view it is difficult to disagree with.
Colorless Tsukuru meets a warm and enveloping group of high
school friends when he is completing some community volunteer work. These five
friends become inseparable and Tsukuru loves belonging to this group, but he
also feels outside the group and unworthy of their acceptance. The two boys in
the group, besides Tsukuru, have names that contain colors, one has red in his
name, and one has blue. The girls, who have white and black in their names fit
into this “colorful” group. Tsukuru has no color in his name; his name means “builder”.
When Tsukuru graduates from high school he passes an exam
which allows him to train as an engineer with a specialty in designing,
building, renovating, and making additions to the railroad stations which have
been a passion of his throughout his childhood and adolescence. As he is the
only one of the group to leave their home town at first he goes home from this
college on school holidays and he sees his good friends. On a holiday in his
second year at school his friends will not meet with him or even speak with
him. He is shunned and cast out with no explanation. Tsukuru is so devastated
that he falls into a deep depression and fights against committing suicide.
When he shakes off the depression even his looks have changed.
Tsukuru has always felt colorless compared to his friends
with such colorful names. His friends’ abandonment intensifies his belief that
he may be a person who observes life but does not have enough passion and
personality to enter into a long term relationship and that perhaps intimacy is
not possible for him.
A pilgrimage is often a journey with a spiritual purpose.
When Tsukuru meets someone who he believes he will be able to love, she, Sara,
sends him off to unravel what happened with his old friends. Why did they drop
Tsukuru so abruptly and completely and why was no explanation ever offered? Will
this pilgrimage be the key that will open up Tsukuru’s interior life enough to
make him an engaging and suitable partner? Well, I can’t tell you that. You
will have to get the book and follow along on that pilgrimage.

Although this book may reveal deeper meanings if your
cultural background happens to be Japanese, Tsukuru’s feelings about himself are
perfectly human and recognizable regardless of your culture. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Year of
Pilgrimage
may also feel to you like Murakami’s most minimalist novel in
literary terms, but the depth may reveal itself further with time and
reflection, which often occurs in the case of Haruki Murakami’s work and,
indeed, is the case with the novels of many talented fiction writers. Haruki
Murakami is one of my favorite authors.
By Nancy Brisson