Murakami (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, 2014, etc.) returns with a sprawling epic of art, dislocation, and secrets.
As usual with Murakami, the protagonist of his latest, a long and looping yarn, does not bear a name, at least one that we know. As usual, he is an artist at loose ends, here because his wife has decided to move on. And for good reason, for, as he confesses, he has never been able to tell her “that her eyes reminded me so much of my sister who’d died at twelve, and that that was the main reason I’d been attracted to her.” A girl of about the same age haunts these pages, one who is obsessed with the smallness of her breasts and worries that she will never grow to womanhood—and for good reason, too, since she’s happened into an otherworld that may remind some readers of the labyrinthine depths of Murakami’s 1Q84. Dejected artist meets disappeared girl in a hinterland populated by an elusive tech entrepreneur, an ancient painter, a mysterious pit, and a work of art whose figures come to life, one of them “a little old man no more than two feet tall” who “wore white garments from a bygone age and carried a tiny sword at his waist.” That figure, we learn, is the Commendatore of the title, a character from the Italian Renaissance translated into samurai-era Japan as an Idea, with a capital I, whose metaphorical status does not prevent him from coming to a bad end. The story requires its players to work their ways through mazes and moments of history that some would rather forget—including, here, the destruction of Nanjing during World War II. Art, ideas, and history are one thing, but impregnation via metempsychosis is quite another; even by Murakami’s standards, that part of this constantly challenging storyline requires heroic suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part.
Altogether bizarre—and pleasingly beguiling, if demanding. Not the book for readers new to Murakami but likely to satisfy longtime fans.