You can’t always judge a book by it’s cover, but you can judge a cover by it’s book. Until I finished reading it, I didn’t catch the significance of the cover of Haruki Murakami’s newest novel. The main character, Tsukuru, has four best friends in high school, all of whom have a color associated with his/her last name–except for him, whose name means “to make.” On the cover, a hand with four fingers–all in the color of the last names–are balanced with a thumb showing a map of a train station. Tsukuru, as an adult, works to redesign train stations–something he’s been fascinated with his entire life. At one point in the novel, a character explains how the five friends were like the digits on a hand. The background of this cover is gray–how Tsukuru often feels. All in all, it is possibly one of the most accurate book covers I’ve seen.
Beyond the cover, though, the story captivates the reader. I read it not knowing what it would be about, so it unfolded for me without expectation. I love Murakami’s writing, and whenever he has a new book out, I want to read it. This novel explores one man’s search for peace with his past so he can live in the present fully. We learn early on that Tsukuru and his five friends were inseparable until he went away to Tokyo for college, and inexplicably, they refuse to speak with him and drop all contact. When he asks why, they all just say “you know.” While he has no inkling of what he may have done, he stops contacting them and loses the most important relationships in his life. This sends him to a deep depression. He thinks to himself at one point: “If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he would’t have hesitated to push it open, without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life.”
However, he learns to live without his friends, meets a new one, and pursues his career. In his mid-thirties, he meets a woman he wants a relationship with, and she tells him he must go talk to his old friends and resolve the past issues. Otherwise she thinks he will not be available to her fully. The book follows his conversations with these former friends and also weaves in flashbacks from his college days.
Reading Murakami is like experiencing dreamy verisimilitude. I suppose you could call his writing magical realism, but the tone of it feels a little different than traditional magical realism. His prose is precise and some sentences ask to be re-read, or written down, or just ingested and understood. I’ll end the review with a few gems from the book.
- “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”
- “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. 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. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.”
- “Still, being able to feel pain was good, he thought. It’s when you can’t even feel pain anymore that you’re in real trouble.”
- “Everything has boundaries. The same holds true with thought. You shouldn’t fear boundaries, but you should not be afraid of destroying them. That’s what is most important if you want to be free: respect for and exasperation with boundaries.”
- “The human heart is like a night bird. Silently waiting for something, and when the time comes, it flies straight toward it.”