Nestled into the title of Haruki Murakami’s new novel are the words “Years of Pilgrimage.” It’s a common enough catchphrase for a coming-of-age story, and easy enough to dismiss as mere packaging. But as we peel the onion of this remarkable novel — as it takes us on a spellbinding descent through the rings of hell in Tsukuru Tazaki’s young life — that spectral phrase takes on new meaning.
Soon it is clear that Tsukuru’s “years of pilgrimage” are an echo of Franz Liszt’s masterwork for the piano, “Années de pèlerinage,” especially its elegiac solo “Le mal du pays” (or “homesickness”), a melody that worms its way into the heart of our hero and suffuses his story with an exquisite sadness. Add to its haunting strains Liszt’s inspiration for that music — Goethe’s groundbreaking 19th-century novel about disillusionment, “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship” — and “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki” becomes a virtual symphony of literary and musical referents. Murakami’s wizardry lies in his ability to pack all that cultural and spiritual resonance into a book that is as tightly wound as a Dashiell Hammett mystery. Read more here.