Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

30th September 2014

Tsukuru Tazaki was the fifth member of a close-knit group of high school friends.  Each person in the group had a colour within their last name, except for Tsuruku, and for that reason he always felt a little detached from the group, doubting his own worth within the quintet, and referring to himself as colourless.

Out of the blue (!), his friends decide they never want to see him or communicate with him again.  Instead of questioning the reasons, Tsukuru reluctantly accepts this, never seeking the reasons for his brutal ejection from the group.  The years pass by, and Tsukuru is a bit of a loner, unable to form real attachments to people through a fear of rejection again. 

This is perhaps exacerbated further when a close friendship with a fellow swimmer called Haida whilst at college, was ended when Haida vanishes never to be seen again.  It is another close relationship in which Tsukuru has been cut adrift for no reason at all.

In spite of it all, Tsukuru manages to maintain a successful career as an engineer for a company who build railway stations in Tokyo, and when he meets Sara, he begins to develop a real affection for her.  The feeling is mutual however Sara senses that Tsukuru has some demons to exorcise from his past, which affects his ability to focus on loving her. 

As she begins to try to understand Tsukuru, she finds out about his painful expulsion from his group of friends and urges him to find out what happened, in order that he can move on with his life.  Tsukuru realises he needs to seek closure on this part of his life, and makes plans to return to his hometown Nagoya.

“You can hide memories, but you can't erase the history that produced them.”

I loved this novel, for all its quirks, for the wonderful language and the themes it contained.  There is a great sense of melancholy throughout the novel, from Tsukuru’s surreal dreams to the piece of music he continually drawn back to, reminding him of his past.  I totally connected with Tsukuru, as I too have felt this type of exclusion (perhaps not to the same degree!) from peers in my teenage years. The same feelings that nothing matters, that you are worthless and despite people telling you good things about you, never believing them to be true.

What stops this novel from receiving a 5-star rating, is that there are some loose ends which are unfortunately not tied up.  They don’t detract too much from the overall reading experience, but you feel that they are just about significant enough to the shaping of Tsukuru’s character to merit a resolution.  A fairly minor gripe perhaps and probably wholly subjective.

I had heard of Haruki Murakami before I read him, more from the somewhat amusing Murakami bingo meme which did the rounds online than his novels themselves.  It is because of reading this novel and seeing these intriguing themes though that I will undoubtedly read more Murakami novels.  Recurring themes seem to be viewed by some online reviewers as a negative however I find that such motifs can really help a reader connect with a writer across multiple novels. 

From discussing this book with a Goodreads reading group, I realise his loyal fans agree with this concept.  The themes featured in this novel, if they repeat in his others I have yet to read, are no bad thing.

Rating: 4/5 stars