[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.


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.