Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

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4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 386 pages.
Read from December 24, 2014 to January 04, 2015.

This is now the second book I’ve read by Murakami and he is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. Murakami has a way of reaching into his readers souls, in a sometimes abstract, but also profound and wonderful way.

Tsukuru is complete in his group of four friends, two girls and two boys. The five of them have an other worldly connection, however Tsukuru has always felt a little bit different from his friends. All of his friend’s last names relate to a color in the Japanese language, whereas Tsukuru’s means “to build”. Tsukuru and his friends use these colors as nicknames: Aka (red), Ao (blue), Shiro (white), Kuru (black) and they occasionally. but harmlessly, tease Tsukuru by calling him Colorless Tsukuru. After high school, Tsukuru moves to Tokyo, away from his dear friends in order to go to university so that he can learn to build trains, one of his passions. Tsukuru goes back and visits his friends as often as he can but during one of his visits his friends suddenly stop returning his calls and just like that, Colorless Tsukuru loses the people he cares about the most. He doesn’t ask or pursue why for nearly 15 years as the loss was just too devastating. The event changes his life forever and Tsukuru has to learn to define himself without the connections of his friends. Over the years Tsukuru struggles to maintain relationships and his happiness until he meets a young woman named Sara. This intriguing young woman, ignites something in Tsukuru and she pushes him to to look into his past and close some of the emotional wounds that are still weeping after his friends abandoned him.

Tsukuru story is about the journey we take to learn and define ourselves and the necessary sacrifices and risks that come with it, especially in terms of love.  The book also deeply touches on regret and reflects the situations where should have taken action. For Tsukuru, some of his regrets take form in his dreams. The book is also about change, mostly positive change, and how our personal growth  shapes and changes us based on the scenarios we go through and how we suffer.

I read this book over the Christmas holidays, which is always a busy time, but I wanted nothing more than to just sit down and devour this book. The book just spoke to me, which I believe it’s meant to, on a very generic scale, but I mean that in a good way. There are qualities and emotions that Murakami’s characters exude that almost any reader can relate to, a quality which,  many writer’s have, but I think Murakami’s characters go further than that. Readers start to look inward while examining Murakami’s characters. Like with Tsukuru,  his regrets and anguish make a reader look inward and examine their remaining scars, wounds and regrets that they’re still dealing with and through Tsukuru’s story, the reader feels a bit braver to deal with their own situation or perhaps a bit calmer after coming to terms with their own regrets.

Additionally, the writing is amazing. Even thought Murakami writes in Japanese, nothing gets lost in translation and every sentence is just as essential and potent in English.

Honestly, I would like to recommend this book to everyone and I’d be surprised if this book doesn’t remain one of my favourite reads of 2015. Great read!

Stones by Timothy Findley

4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 221 pages.
Read from December 08 to 13, 2014.

There were a lot of mixed reviews on this collaboration of short stories, especially from Findley fans, but as this is my first collaboration by Findley, I stand impressed. Stones is a novel about relationships and how the effect our lives, especially some of the harder aspects in life like death and loss. One thing I particularly enjoyed about this novel was how Findley wrote a few different stories on the same characters. What one short story lacked, the next one would pick up on, whether that was a plot detail or elaborating on a part of the character’s personality or relationships.

This book has depth. I found myself thinking about the characters long after I put the book down. The book blurb on Goodreads mentions something about relationships and urban settings in the 1980’s but I don’t feel that any of these stories relate to a specific time frame but rather it’s more about the context of relationships and how they change our lives.

“Bragg and Minna” is the name of the first story in the book and of the two main characters. Their story is one of the most potent. The story opens with how Minna has died and Bragg is going to pick up her ashes. Bragg is bisexual, potentially a homosexual, but he loves Minna The two of them have their own quirks but that is what brought them together. The couple splits up shortly after they had children, one with severe mental disabilities. Bragg never wanted children but Minna came to a breaking point with the matter. After the birth of their mentally disabled daughter, Minna took the children and moved away Australia, which is where, years later, she dies . The story is filled with nostalgia and regret as Bragg makes the long trip over to claim her ashes.

The following story, “Gifts of Mercy”, detail how Minna and Bragg met. This story makes the last one even more tragic.

From here, each story revolves around a new tragic character. From a professor inspecting a mask, a man suffering from PTSD as a result of WWII and the effects it has on his family, to a disturbing but fascinating read about a pair of married psychiatrists whose patient’s dreams start to become a horrifying reality for one of them.

The stories are so different in tone. Some are tragic, some border on horror and others are more nostalgic but all of them revolve around the intrinsic relationships that we make in our daily lives.  Overall a great compilation of short stories that I’d recommend to just about anyone.

Blindness by José Saramago

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 326 pages.
Read from October 12 to November 23, 2014

This book is like a sharp slap to the face; it startles and shocks you into coming to terms with whatever problem you’re currently dealing with as I cannot imagine a more horrifying scenario for the human race and condition than the one described in this book.

An epidemic of “white blindness” hits a city. For no reason at all, people become blind and all they can see is a gleaming whiteness. The first to go blind is a man in his car, and then the man who helps him home right after stealing his car. After the first man goes blind he goes to see an optometrist and from there, shortly after his arrival everyone in the reception area along with the doctor also go blind. It is the doctor who notifies authorities of the epidemic but his decision to do so will mean suffering for himself and those who follow him into quarantine. The only person who does not go blind, is the doctor’s wife. She pretends to be blind so that she can accompany her husband and help him while he is quarantined.

The horrors of this rushed quarantined life for all these unnamed characters is challenging to read. The military refuses to get near the area and assist with anything for fear of catching the blindness and their fear quickly leads to death when the amount of food is not enough for the people quarantined. The blind have to find a way to bury their own dead with limited resources to prevent stench and disease. They are given no medical supplies and so some characters succumb to completely curable conditions. The lack of empathy and fear from the military is so hard to fathom. I kept waiting for one of the men to step up and do the right thing for these suffering people in so many scenarios but it never happened. Soon these blind people, who are barely able to make it to the bathroom because they are unable to find it, quickly mess up the bathroom with their bodily functions and when the bathrooms are unbearable they go wherever they can. The smell and filth of quarantined area emanated from the pages of the book. It read so real and their discomfort was unbearable at times. After a fire breaks out in quarantine, the blind group of people realize that the military men are all gone and that their quarantine was for nothing as the blindness has grasped the city. While the main group of blind people work together the selfishness and down right cruelty of people are also shown in this book with some disgusting acts of sexual assault and starvation. These nasty scenes are often balanced with those of human compassion and resilience thankfully and I can say the book ends happily.

While the blind can smell and feel their filth and suffering, none bear it more than the only remaining character with sight, the doctor’s wife. She bears witness to these adults and children who have lost all dignity while they struggle to survive in and out of quarantine. The doctor’s wife becomes the group’s unofficial leader and for the majority of the book the only person that knows she isn’t blind is her husband. There is never an explanation as to why the epidemic occurs or as to why the doctor’s wife was spared when none one else was.

The writing itself is literally like nothing else I’ve ever read before. Saramago does not ever use quotations marks or new paragraphs when a character or a new character starts speaking. Additionally, there isn’t one character that is given a name. This style, was surprisingly not difficult to follow and I was almost always able to tell which character was speaking. I believe the reasoning behind this style is to show a sense of unity in that everyone is suffering the same and going through the same thing and that in a world of blindness names seem useless anyway.

This book isn’t easy to stomach so it may not for everyone, especially if you’d prefer to escape reality with reading rather than come to its harsh realities. I just think it’s important to read books like this once and a while to shock and shake you up in order to serve as a reminder that we are often stronger than we know and that we should be grateful for the many things we take for granted.