[Review] Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami’s latest

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, “Shikisai Wo Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru To, Kare No Junrei No Tabi” was released on April 12, 2013. I pre-ordered online and it was shipped to me as soon as it was available.
Underneath the book cover, it’s written “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” in English. So that is how the title translates.

I am sure I’m not the only one to be puzzled when the title was announced. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki? His yeas of Pilgrimage?
As you might know, the publisher was super secretive of the nature of this new book, just as mush as Murakami’s last novel, 1Q84. All it was revealed was the title, no synopsis, no nothing. But I ordered the book anyway.

I’ve written my review of this book in Japanese, and I don’t know when the English version will be out, but thought I’d write about it here. (EDIT: It will be released on Aug 12, 2014 from Knopf. You can preorder here)

I have been reading Murakami since I was 13 (“Norwegian Wood”) – so I’ve been reading for almost 25 years. And I’ve read every single novels he published.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” is a story of Tsukuru, who was a part of a group of five high school best friends. They were all in a high school in Nagoya, two girls and three boys. They were inseparable. Four kids out of five had a color in their names. Mr. Red, Mr. Blue, Miss White and Miss Black. Tsukuru’s last name is Tazaki – a relatively normal family name without any color in it -hence, he is “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki”.

Of the five kids in the group, Tsukuru is the only one who went to a college in Tokyo. The rest of the group ended up staying in Nagoya. They still kept in touch, and Tsukuru went to see them whenever he was back in his home town. That is, until Tsukuru’s second year in college…

One day, when Tsukuru was back in town, he was very suddenly cut off from his friends. They wouldn’t return his phone calls and they avoided him. Finally, Mr. Blue tells him over the phone, never to contact them ever again, and they never wanted to see him again.

If you have read a few Murakami novels, you probably are familiar with the way he mixes reality and non-reality. Sometimes it’s a dream, sometimes it’s the world “out there”, or the world “on the other side”. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the protagonist travels through walls and even time. Often, protagonists in Murakami novels don’t know whether he is in a dream or not.

Murakami novels are not quite science fiction. It’s a fiction with unexplainable experiences. I know quite a few people who don’t like Murakami books for that reason. “It’s just too weird.” they say.
I’m not too into sci-fi or occult novels myself, but I don’t mind Murakami books at all.

However, if you are one of those readers who don’t like “Just too weird” stories, “Colorless Tazaki Tsukuru” is probably a little easier to get into, I hope.
After Tsukuru was cut off suddenly from his friends, he goes back to Tokyo, obviously devastated. The friends never told him WHY they were cutting him off. They wouldn’t tell him.

Fast forward to present time. Tsukuru is 36, and he is an engineer building train stations. His girlfriend, Sara, asks him to tell her about his time in high school, and Tsukuru tells her about his best friends and how he was abruptly cut off from them. Then she asks why he never tried to find out the reason for it.
(Following is my translation of the conversation)

 “I’m not saying I don’t want to find out the truth. But now, I feel like I should just forget about it all. It happened so long ago, as if I had buried it down somewhere deep below.”
 Sara tightened her thin lips, and then said, “It’s probably a dangerous thing.”
“Dangerous thing.” Tsukuru said. “How so?”
“You might be able to hide your memory somewhere, somewhere deep down, but you won’t be able to erase the history it brought up.”

Sara suggests he goes to visit each friends and find out what had happened to them some good 16 years ago. Hence, his Pilgrimage. Once you read the book, the title is very straightforward. 

I don’t want to reveal too much from the book, but I re-read this few times already, and quite enjoyed it. The first half of the book is a good page turner as you will be focusing on the mystery on what happened to the group. As Tsukuru seeks his friends one by one, you will find more about what happened.

I mentioned earlier this is a more “real” story for Murakami, however I don’t think he will ever write a novel without some mysterious anecdotes. This book is no exception. There are stories of Mr. Gray and Mr. Green,(Clue, anyone?) which I didn’t quite understand…but appreciated nonetheless.

Another thing I noticed about this book is, for the first time in Murakami novel history, it mentions Facebook and Google. Wow. That was kind of unexpected, as his world is often has “ageless” feeling to it. This definitely reminded me the story is talking place in somewhere relatively recent.

Last half of the book is quite poignant as Tsukuru travels far to see the last friend of the group. He gets closer and closer to what happened to the friends. I think, the theme of the book is weakness in people, and how vulnerable we can be. This part reminded me a lot of Murakami’s past characters such as Reiko and Naoko from Norwegian Wood, or Kiki from Dance Dance Dance.

It might not make a lot of sense without context, but I thought the following was beautiful. (Again, translated by me)

Then finally he was able to accept everything. Tsukuru Tazaki understood it at the bottom of his soul. People’s hearts are not linked only by harmonies. Rather, they are connected deeply by scars and scars. Tied by pains, and by vulnerabilities.

In the final chapter Tsukuru reflects on his life. His calm narratives also made me reflect on my own life. It’s a quiet, poignant and beautiful book. I hope you will pick up a copy when the English version is out.


1Q84 and the two moons

Recently I finished reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami for the second time. It’s such a long and crazy story, I felt a strong need to re-read it again when I first finished it. I am so glad I did. (Note: I read in Japanese)

It’s a story of a man and a woman who are looking for each other, without knowing the other one is looking for you. Aomame, a fitness instructor and also an assassin, one day finds out she has slipped into a slightly different world from her ordinary year 1984. In this world, there are Little People,  Air Chrysalis, and two moons floating in the sky. She names this world “1Q84″….

It’s a love story (I think it’s safe to say that), but I was intrigued by one of the sub-themes of the story – the feeling of hopelessness. (in this case, caused by domestic violence). I don’t want to give away too much details of the story in case you haven’t read it yet, but some of the stories women tell in the book is utterly heartbreaking.

I have been Murakami fan for over 20 years. I still remember reading Norwegian Wood for the first time when I was 13. Yes, you might think some of the subject matter of the book (suicides, mental illness, sex, and of course, love) a little inappropriate for a 13-year-old, but I loved his writing. I have been a huge Murakami fan even before the word Harukist emerged in Japan. I used to send my questions and comments to his website (this was around ’98) and actually one of my submissions is in his collection of correspondences with his readers. Can I brag a bit more? When my first son was born, I named his Japanese name after the author, and emailed Mr. Murakami to let him know. He wrote me back, congratulating me with this message; “He will be a very healthy and a forgetful boy.”

It’s hard to pick a favourite Murakami, but for me it’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Parallel stories happening in two different world, inside and outside of a man), and Dance, Dance, Dance (Sequel to Wild Sheep Chase – Conversations the protagonist has with a stunningly beautiful 13-year-old Yuki are one of my most favourites) close second.

If you read enough of Murakamis, you will find some of recurring icons in his various works. Twins, library, sheep, numbers 208 and 209, just to name a few.  1Q84 was full of those little Murakami magic and puzzles – such as “Blind Goat”, which in Japanese it sounds a lot like “Blind Willow” (From Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman – one of his early work).

I can go on and on about Murakami world, so I better stop here.

Since I have been reading 1Q84, I have been somewhat fascinated with the moon. I’ve always liked looking up at the moon, but especially last few nights the moon was getting fuller and it was beautiful.

Last night, I was just putting my son to sleep, and I realized how bright the moonlight was. I have a small slylight in my bedroom, but it’s not directly above my bed. I felt the moonbeam on my face and looked up at the window. And for a moment, I gasped as I thought I had seen two moons. Just like the book.

I blinked, and almost did a double take. I had to jump off the bed to go to a different window to make sure. Have I slipped into 1Q84 too?

Of course, it was just a reflection on my skylight. There was only one almost-full moon up in the night sky.

I went back to bed, as my son asked “What were you doing, mommy?”

“Nothing, honey.” I said. “I thought I just saw two moons.” I didn’t tell him that I secretly wished I was in 1Q84.

Some days..

Have you ever done Myers-Briggs Personality Test?
According to the test, I am a type ENFJ, meaning I tend to have following qualities – (E)Extrovert, (N)Intuition (F)Feeling (J) Judging.

But as my friend Jamie once told me, I’m an Introverted Extrovert. I like to go out and meet people and be social, but at the same time, some days I hate people.

Past few weeks I have been feeling introverted. I was frustrated and disappointed with few of my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues.
I was watching the film Norwegian Wood, (Hoping to do a blog post on this book as it’s one of the most important books in my life), and there is a scene where Midori asks Toru, the protagonist;

Midori: You enjoy solitude? Travelling alone, eating alone, sitting by yourself in lecture halls…
Toru: Nobody likes being alone that much. I don’t go out of my way to make friends, that’s all. It just leads to disappointment.

.. I couldn’t agree more.

Some days, I get tired of meeting other people’s needs (great post by Chris Brogan on this topic here).
Some days, I feel like nobody cares about my needs.
Nobody cares about your success and happiness. All they care about is their own.
That’s why, you need to be strong, you need to believe in yourself and work hard to make yourself happy.

But then again, some days I feel so fortunate to have many great friends and opportunities.
Last night and this morning were couple of those days.
I’m grateful for these days. They are like a little treasure, like a beautiful sea glass in sand.

What I Wish More People Knew About Me

I just read Amber‘s latest blog post and had to write it myself. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you go read it here first.

I met Amber last month at Social Media Camp.  I’ve written about my experience at SMCV11 here, but there was definitely something about her that I really liked. When I read her post today I got kind of teary. Something about the post struck a chord with me. Maybe that is why I really like her.I can honestly say I had a really great time with her at SMCV11. I do hope to see her again soon.

So here is my “What I Wish More People Knew About Me” list.

Like Amber, I fear that people might think I’m just so self absorbed to write a post like this. But as I was trying to create the list, I realized, for me, this is more like a confession than just a list of things I wish people knew about me.

You see, I have written many times here about my journey to live wholehearted life and to embrace vulnerability. I am completely “nobody” -I am not a social media rock star or published author or anything. (With due respect to all those people). I am just this Japanese girl who spend way too much time on social media. So why do I have to have a list like this? Because I want to be honest about who I am.

Some are totally random, and some you might already know. But here goes;

Friendships are one of the most important things in my life.

This is probably not a surprise to many of you, but I am a very emotional person. I make decisions based on my gut feeling. When I make friends, I don’t do that just because the person is nice, but rather because I’m attracted to the person. I do have great friends and every day I am grateful for them, and quite often I cry, thinking about them. No joke.

-I feel that I am never smart enough.

There are so many things I do not understand in this world and I do feel insecure that I’m not smart enough. Not smart enough to be a business owner. Luckily, I am a very optimistic(you might call it something else) person, so usually this does not limit me. But yes, I feel this way all the time.

-Ethics and fairness are important to me.

I cannot stand unfairness. I hate cheating. I’m only human, and sometimes I hate something/somebody so much. But when I attack, I always attack fairly.  If you have something to say, say it to my face. I don’t like confrontations, but I loathe backstabbing even more.

I believe in good in people and I am attracted to good people, rather than cool or smart people.

-I love miniature houses and such.

When I grow old, I am SO collecting those miniature Christmas village. When I turn 65, I’ll start accepting them as birthday gifts.

-I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami.

I read all of his books. I read Norwegian Wood when I was 13 and I still re-read them. Such beautiful, and sad story. I am very very excited to see the movie. My first born son’s Japanese name is Haruki. This was back in 1997 and Internet wasn’t that crazy yet, so I got to email him directly and told him that I named my son after him. I did receive a reply, and he said “Congratulations, your son will be a very healthy, and forgetful boy”.

-I’m kind of a loner.

I don’t mind being alone. Recently I took the Myers-Briggs test and I am ENFJ- meaning I am an extrovert. But my friend Jamie called me “Introverted Extrovert”, which is so true! I love going out on the town and have fabulous time, but at the same time I’m happy sitting at home alone in front of the computer, or read.

-I love Sex and the City.

Duh. My TV taste is very boring….no Glee or True Blood or Game of Thrones…I’m perfectly happy watching SATC reruns. I know it’s a chick show, but their writing is SO good, and so much truths in the show….on life, relationships, friendship and more.

-I can be kind of a snob.

I just talked about this on the latest Getting Engaged episode, but I hate making small talks with people. When I’m out and about, I have to admit, I am a bit of a snob. I don’t talk to cab drivers, cashiers and servers. It’s not that I look down on them. Far from it. I am always polite, but I just rather be left alone sometimes. I find, maybe because I’m a bit different (meaning Japanese living in Canada? I really don’t know) people seem to ask me a lot of questions and sometimes I get tired of it.

This sort of leads into the next one…

-I LOVE words.

I love reading, and although I don’t think I’m particularly good at it, I enjoy writing. I love getting any form of messages in writing- letters, emails, text messages. I love good quotes(I’m guilty of those quote tweets) and write many down to memorize. Words are so important to me, and I love words of affirmation. (That is my love language if you know the book)

This is all I could think of for now. I’d love to see your list too. Please comment or email me.