John’s personal reading for September 2014

Colorless-Tsukuru-Tazaki-and   Review Cover

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage

By Haruki Murakami


 The artwork above is the cover of this book and the cover page of the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times which reviewed it.

This novel is Murakami’s latest and has been received in Japan with little short of rapture (1,000,000 copies in the first week of publication). He is not always an easy author – the combination of Japanese culture, Japanese language and translation is not helped by the author’s admiration for Kafka. However, on occasion he is much more accessible as in “Norwegian Wood’ (see the movie and previous book group discussion) and in the present case. As usual, for this author, there is a range of western music and literary references, the music especially ranging from from pop and jazz through to classic Romanticism. The book sent this writer off to listen to Liszt’s ‘Le mal du pays’ to absorb the tones that coloured many of the different storylines contained within.

And colour and tones are a lot of what this book is about. There certainly is storytelling especially focussing on the young group of high schoolers who are suddenly torn apart with their later tales which will be unearthed and examined as the book progresses and also the odd tale of Haida which includes homosexual resonances along with colour, swimming, music and the notion of personal auras. As usual for Murukami there is no avoidance of sexual themes or sexual patterns of behaviour

Colorless’ Tsukuru Tazaki bonds with his four school friends – two male/female pairs (non-relational) whose names incorporate a colour: red, blue, white and black while Tazaki linguistically is seen a colorless, isolated, sexless, unattached individual who, in turn, sees himself as uninteresting and perhaps as a ‘work in progress’ – which does reflect the tone of his name, his education and career-making (his name means ‘to build’ which becomes his career in the form of designing railway stations and what they represent as foci of human activity. This youthful bonding is suddenly and inexplicably broken as Tsukuru is made aware that he has been cast out by the four and he rather glumly and passively accepts his fate. However, this is not the end for him and he, as a 36 year old adult, eventually tries to rebuild his sense of well-being and undertakes a pilgrimage that takes him back into the lives (and one death) of the colourful four, journeying even to Finland in his quest.

A key turning point is his emerging girl-friend Sara who I found a little less than convincing perhaps because psycho-babble is too often in the air when she is involved. Nevertheless, she functions well as a promoter of his pilgrimage while she remains unresolved business at the conclusion. The story when set in Finland is probably at its most satisfying. The mood and locations are beautifully sketched. The character he has come to meet with shines beautifully as does the lifestyle and accompanying music and pottery. If there is an indication of how life can be lived and its matching values, this is it.

Do not expect a series of plot realizations and conclusions rather there are explorations and some understandings developed. Even the final condition the reader is left with could hardly be described as a resolution – the pilgrimage continues as do the final notes of ‘Le mal du pays’.

Egyptomania Egyptomania

By Bob Brier


What a lot of fun while being QI (Quite interesting) and Bob Brier is just the right man for this job with his mix of professional Egyptology and his love affair with ‘Egyptotrash’. I cannot say I have acquired much of this (unlike Philip Adams) but I do regard my acquisitions with great fondness and even mourn my losses (that alabaster bowl destroyed in transit in Jordan).

Brier capably traces the history of Western fascination with things Egyptian from Herodotus’ easy acceptance of wives tales through Alexander, the Romans, the renaissance and the gradual exploration and exploitation of Egypt from Napoleonic times onwards – all reasonably well-known by many readers along with the Tutankham(u)en discoveries and the interest they generated.

For me, the material on the stories of the removal of obelisks, their transport and re-erection in Rome, Paris, London and New York was both emblematic of time and place and QI. I had not read of this in detail before and found the magazine-like mix of factual description, personalities involved and the resultant public interest enjoyable and occasionally insightful.

There is a deal of space devoted to the flummeries of Ancient Egyptian influences in everything from modern poetry, movies, painting, and all aspects of advertising that is enjoyable and revealing especially when the authors/ advertisers understandings have clearly been hilariously paper thin. My all time favourite has got to be the 1920s flappers whose beautifully decorated cigarette cases carried images from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.


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