Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. By chance all of their names contained a colour. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning 'red pine', and Oumi, 'blue sea', while the girls' names were Shirane, 'white root', and Kurono, 'black field'. Tazaki was the only last name with no colour in it. One day Tsukuru Tazaki's friends announced that they didn't want to see him, or talk to him, ever again. Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.
In his mid-30s, Tsukuru works at a Tokyo firm that designs and renovates train stations. As Tsukuru puts it, he "builds train stations". He thinks of himself as "colorless" and drab. This is in part because he was part of a special group of four other friends in his small town's high school, two boys and two girls, whose names all contained a reference to a color (red, blue, white and black). In contrast, his name, given to him by his father, means "builder". Yet it is his colorful passion for train stations that has drawn Tsukuru from his hometown to Tokyo, to obtain the necessary engineering education, while his friends stayed behind. In some of the book's sweeter passages, he sits in train stations for the peace they bring him, thinking about the workings of the stations, and watching the trains and the people using them.
The relationship he has with his four high school friends is unusually close and harmonious, and they all assiduously work to keep romantic or sexual feelings from disrupting the fulfilling, womb-like experience. However, after Tsukuru goes to Tokyo, for reasons they won't explain and he feels unable to question, his four friends turn on him, cutting off all ties and casting him out forever. He later explains: "It felt like I was on the deck of a ship at night and was suddenly hurled into the ocean, all alone. . . . I don't know if someone pushed me off, or whether I fell overboard on my own. Either way, the ship sails on and I'm in the dark, freezing water, watching the lights on deck fade into the distance." He sinks into despair, contemplating suicide, and isn't even sure why "he hadn't taken this final step. Crossing that threshold between life and death would have been easier than swallowing down a raw, slick egg."
Once burned (or drowned), twice shy, and his relationships with women, or anyone, from then on, are cautious and distant. His life seems half-asleep, but he has passionate, discomfiting sexual dreams. He finally meets a young man, Haida, while swimming, who is a kindred spirit. Among other things, Haida introduces him to the enjoyment of classical music. That notably includes Franz Liszt's "Year of Pilgrimage" and its haunting piece, "Le mal du pays", which can be translated as homesickness. As readers of Murakami's other books know, he often features pieces of music to beautiful effect. This is no exception. The friendship with Haida is Tsukuru's first step toward re-connecting, and he subsequently begins a romance with sharp, business-like Sara. She convinces him that he must revisit his old friends and find out why they shunned him. "You need to come face-to-face with the past, not as some naive, easily wounded boy, but as a grown-up, independent professional. Not to see what you want to see, but what you must see".
I can't tell you what Tsukuru finds out on his pilgrimage, which includes a trip to Finland to visit one of the relocated friends. It is at once disturbing and unfair. At the same time, it offers insight and transporting moments. "Like a pair of dancers who had stopped mid-step, they simply held each other quietly . . . Nothing came between their two bodies, as her warm breath brushed his neck. Tsukuru shut his eyes, letting the music wash over him as he listened to Eri's heartbeat. The beating of her heart kept time with the slap of the little boat against the pier."
As with many of Murakami's books, there is a mystery to be solved here, and once it is, more mystery may take its place. Will what Tsukuru learns be enough? In part this is a story of the sometimes life-changing cruelty teens can inflict on each other, and in part it's about the hard work of healing after heartbreak. We've all been there. It has been different for each of us, but the aches and longings are shared. Hurled into the dark water, all alone, and needing to find a way back. Murakami has captured this piercingly, with living and breathing characters, haunting music, and our friend Tsukuru, who is trying to find a way to re-build his life. Four and a half stars.
Tsukuru begins to date Sara, a slightly older woman, and he shares his story with her. She encourages him to seek out his former friends, as it is clear to her that the trauma from the ruptured friendship is keeping him from realizing his full potential as a man and a lover.
[Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki] is an ethereal but deeply moving novel of love, loss, anguish and redemption that has more in common with [Norwegian Wood] rather than Murakami's other works of magical realism; anyone who is looking for talking sheep, mysterious cats or precocious telepathic youth will be sadly disappointed. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this page turner of a novel, as I identified with and rooted for Tsukuru from the first page to the last. Murakami has written another outstanding work, and it is one of my favorite novels of the year.
I expect that critics won't love this one. It's lightweight in some sense, but it is also more symbolically heavy-handed than perhaps is ideal. But it's Murakami, and I will always read him with gratitude, awe, pleasure and expectation.
I wonder if this book may prove to be the sign of a change of direction or emphasis for Murakami, when his writing is finally finished and his work can be assessed as a whole.
I will not go into much detail on the plot. At the age of 20, Tsukuru Tazaki is kicked out of his brotherhood of five friends, three boys and two girls. Each of them has a colorful name: Red, Blue, White and Black, except for Tsukuru. It's representative for the way he thinks about himself: colorless, with nothing valuable to offer the rest of the group - or even the world. Little does he know that that's not the way the others think about him. So, which point of view is the right one?
The major part of the book is a quest to find out why he was so harshly removed from his circle of friends. A quest set to the tones of 'Le mal du pays', a melancholic melody from Liszt's 'Années de pèlerinage' (a hint towards the title of the book). All of this gives the book an atmosphere very similar to Norwegian Wood.
I had a hard time deciding whether to give this book four or five stars. On the positive side: I love the melancholic atmosphere, the story is not too intangible, it has the perfect length, the characters are believable, I - almost - couldn't put it down. On the negative side: some readers (maybe those not very familiar with Murakami) will remain dissatisfied. There are several loose ends and some unexplained situations. In other words, it's more of the same old thing.
I love it.
Those elements just didn't coalesce into something I couldn't bear to put down. In fact, I put it down often. I checked the distance to the end of the book (not something I've done in other Murakamis, including 1Q84). I don't mind that the protagonist is somewhat remote and disconnected; this isn't unusual in a Murakami book either. But I didn't find the handhold to the character that other readers seemed to. It was okay, but "okay" isn't what I'd hoped for. I wasn't absorbed by the people or the universe they lived in. It's a shame, because I went in fully prepared to love this book.
Recommended for: people who are put off by the weirdness in some Murakami novels, meditators.
Quote: "Talent is like a container. You can work as hard as you want, but the size will never change."
I enjoyed this book despite it being somewhat depressing in parts. It was a slow read in a nice way. The book lacks most of the metaphysical elements that Murakami usually utilizes. Also, there were no cats. I kept waiting for the obligatory cat to show up but none did.
I loved the design of the inner book jacket -- a map of the Tokyo train system. I love transit maps.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the story of a man who has never really recovered from being inexplicably exiled by a group of close friends he met in high school. Drifting through his life, engineer Tsukuru is now in his mid thirties, single and largely friendless, until he meets a woman who encourages him to confront his painful past.
Throughout Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Murukami explores the themes of identity, friendship, alienation and mental health. Tsukuru views himself as having; “…no personality, no defined color. [With] nothing to offer to others…like an empty vessel”, and as such feels disconnected from other people and destined to be alone. This feeling can be traced back to the brutal abandonment of his friends and to redefine himself Tsukuru must resolve the lingering hurts and resentments.
I thought the symbolism in the novel was fairly heavy handed and the dream slips didn’t always make sense to me. I didn’t find the writing particularly special though I found it more accessible and grounded than I was expecting.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, not having read Murakami previously though I have read plenty of opinions about several of his earlier works, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t quite it. Essentially this seems to me to be lad lit (think Nick Hornby), perhaps given gravitas primarily because the protagonist, and the author, is Japanese. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story of Tsukuru’s journey to make peace with his past and redefine his sense of self, but I was largely underwhelmed by the whole thing.
It has been written in simple sentences,colourless (!) since If there is no growth there is no colour. The subject grows on the reader as it does for Tsukuru. A great read worth rereading, as are many of Murakami's novels.
During his teenage years growing up in the city of Nagoya Tsukuru Tazaki became very friendly with four other youngsters (two men and two women), and they gradually all became inseparable. By coincidence, all of the other four had names which included a colour, and in occasional moments of depression Tsukuru wondered whether he was lacking in any natural brightness or vigour.
When the group come to go to university the other four all decide to stay in Nagoya, but Tsukuru had always dreamt of building railway stations, and went to study in Tokyo. When he returned home at the end of the first semester he is told by the others that they don't want to see him again, or have anything further to do with him. They offer no explanation and, though he is stunned by the announcement, Tsukuru accepts the situation.
Now, sixteen years later, Tsukuru is working as a railway engineer and has a beautiful girlfriend, Sara. He tells her about the abrupt cessation of his strong friendship with the other four, and she advises him to try to discover what had caused the abrupt severance.
As ever, Murakami, being a master at suspending his readers' disbelief, makes everything seem immensely plausible. Tsukuru is an odd but deeply empathetic character, with a charming lack of self-delusion.
Though the book lacks the excitement and the constant sense of a huge surprise just around the corner that peppered 1Q84, this book is no less gripping. My only disappointment was that it was over so soon. Ah well, I will just have to wait another four of five years for the next one!
It's not that the characters are unloveable, let alone monsters, but that they are quiet, unassuming, seeking ways to avoid calling attention to themselves. But within those quiet characters are loudly beating hearts. And the world is filled with people like this.
Tsukuru, whose name means "grey" spelled one way and "someone who makes things" when spelled another way, once was part of a tightly knit group of friends. He and the four others went through high school together as if they were one, like points on a star that stay in balance. The two girls and two other boys in the group all have names that mean colors. Tsukuru feels thrilled that they include him. When it's time for university, Tsukuru is the only one who lives their city. He and his friends fall into their old routine whenever he's home on holidays. Until one visit, when all of them refuse to see him or talk to him. No one will tell him why.
Returning to university, Tsukuru wishes he could die. He feels dead inside. It's months before he climbs out of his sorrow, goes on to earn his engineering degree and remains in Tokyo. His job is something he likes, engineering changes to railway stations to improve them or accommodate changes. It's not exciting but it is useful.
He had one good friend at college who told him a strange story passed on from his father and who, later that same night, is part of a strange dream Tsukuru has involving the two girls. It's either a dream or, considering this is a Murakami novel, a slip into another dimension in which people meet when they are separated in space and time. It's something that's occurred in other Murakami novels, such as Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84 and After Dark. The encounters often lead people to a feeling of closeness or, in this case, to another level of something Tsukuru had not felt or acknowledged how he felt about the girls. It disturbs him, and disturbs him even more when his college friend suddenly becomes part of the scenario.
The story that his friend tells him fits within the overall narrative the way a fairy tale or legend is told, in the dark hours of the night when the story takes on a greater emphasis than it would have if told in daylight. His friend's father ends up as a handyman at a remote mountain resort, pleased to pass the time fixing things and enjoying the scenery. A jazz pianist comes to the resort and eventually recounts a strange story, insinuating that the sack he carries and carefully puts on top of the piano before he ever plays is a burden. It is a burden that can be passed on to another and which involves death. He insinuates that the handyman could voluntarily become the new carrier of the burden. And then the pianist is gone the next day.
It is pure Murakami that he throws in a bit of magical realism to reinforce the idea that it exists in this world, even though it is not visible to many. This idea comes into play later in the book, when Tsukuru speaks to someone he has not seen in years. Both of them have the sense that, even though they were not at a location where someone else encountered danger, they were somehow there and somehow responsible.
In his late 30s, the unattached Tsukuru meets a woman who may be the one for him. It's a quiet relationship. Before it gets deeper, she warns Tsukuru that he hasn't gotten over his past. He needs to resolve the hurt that he suffered when his friends cut him off.
The rest of the novel is paced as one expects in a Murakami work - unhurried, prose matter-of-fact, revelations expressed as quietly as commonplace greetings. There is a melancholy that pervades the acceptance of growing old, of realizing that one may have found one's place in life and that the past cannot be the present or become the future.
But there also is the sense that the more a person can believe in the truth of something, the more alive that person feels:
We truly believed in something back then, and we knew we were the kind of people capable of believing in something -- with all our hearts. And that kind of hope will never simply vanish.
It is this kind of realization that helps Tsukuru decide the value of his lifelong journey, and the next step he wants to take. It also helps him realize that he has to allow others the same privilege and await their decision. While 1Q84 was the kind of story in which young hearts seek each other, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is the kind of story in which young hearts mature but do not give up their search.
This is a small book. Physically it's smaller than a mass-market paperback and comes in at 386 pages. The dust jacket and the cover are carefully designed to graphically depict one of the relevant themes in Tsukuru Tazaki's life, color.
While in high school, Tsukuru is one of a group of five friends who are rarely apart. Three boys, two girls; this circle goes everywhere and does everything together. But then college comes, and Tsukuru leaves for Tokyo to study engineering in order to design and maintain train stations, something which has fascinated him since childhood.
A couple of years after high school, while he's home on break, Tsukuru is informed that he is no longer a part of the five, and that it would be best if he never talked to any of them again. Puzzled, and deeply hurt, Tsukuru returns to Tokyo.
After six months of dreaming of death and nearly starving himself as a form of suicide, Tsukuru returns to a sense of normality and continues with his education, finally landing a job with a firm which specializes in train stations.
Now in his early 30s, Tsukuru is still completely haunted by the betrayal of his friends, not understanding what he could have possibly done to find himself excommunicated. A young woman he dates encourages him to track down his four friends and find out what happened. She's convinced it's the only way he'll ever completely heal and be ready for a committed relationship with her. What Tsukuru finds out is inconceivable, yet in an odd way makes complete since.
Murakami's odd sexual dreams, birds, trains, colors and themes of bureaucracy and aloneness are all in this book. Because all of his friend's names translate to a color, and Tsukuru's does not, he laments that he is simply colorless, boring and bland. As do other Murakami characters.
There's little metaphysical symbology in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, some but not much. This is a more straight-forward sort of storytelling, which explores what it means for someone to find meaning in their life.
This novel has many of Murikami's trademark elements: mystery, a contemplative internal narrative, unresolved elements, dreaminess, musical references and an outsider as the protagonist. Tsukuru Tazaki is a mild mannered loner who is leading an orderly existence in Tokyo. He lives in that enormous city but is not really part of it. Instead he enjoys the solitary sport o swimming and observing others especially in train stations. Train stations seem to be a metaphor for how people move on in life. Tsukuru sees himself as colorless while others are leading colorful lives. He suffers from having been mysteriously rejected by four high school friends whom he hasn't seen or confronted in 16 years. He seems to think that if he had not been rejected he would have been happier and had a more fulfilling life. Currently, he has two people in his life--Haida and Sara-- who seem to serve as mentors helping him to come to terms with his depression and isolation. Sara encourages him to meet with his former friends in an effort to understand their rejection. Tsukuru does this and does learn the truth of the rejection. Along the way he discovers that his two male friends, although financially successful, are leading mundane lives--one sells cars and the other mentors business people. He also finds that one of his female friends had a tragic life. This part of the plot is not very well explained by Murakami (possibly on purpose). The other female friend has found happiness in Finland as an artist and mother. Murakami's main theme seems to be about how people move on in their lives and change--not always for the better and that it is not really possible to hold on to happy times. I'm reminded of the Springsteen song "Glory Days." Some find happiness and fulfillment while others find tragedy, but many just lead mundane lives.
What always surprises me is the way Murakami takes the reader in hand ("The details of her death would remain an eternal and unknown mystery"), and leads them down the rabbit hole--only afterward do you see the leaps of logic the author asks you to take. Like, why did the police never question Tsukuro, especially when this group of friends had found out Tsukuru (allegedly) raped her? Or that perhaps he did rape her, and all those erotic dreams he had of her were really him performing the rape--much like Haida disappearing after a homosexual fantasy involving the two. These are the underpinnings of Murakami's noir plot surrounding Shiro, but in this book, there were just a few too many stitches left loose.
Five friends in high school – three young men and two young women – band together to complete a community service project. When the project ends, they continue to hang out with each other. Four of the members of this group have, as part of their names, a kanji symbol which also refers to a color: red, blue, black, and white, which they used as nicknames. Tsukuru’s name did not contain any color, so he remained Tsukuru. After graduation, they all went their separate ways to college. Tsukuru receives a strange message, that his four friends no longer want anything to do with him, and furthermore, he was not to contact any of them in any way whatsoever. This message contained no explanation of what had happened. Naturally, Tsukuru becomes devastated to the point of contemplating suicide. Then he meets a woman who urges him to contact his friends and learn why he was ostracized from the group. His “pilgrimage” involves traveling around Japan and Europe to track down his friends. What he discovers about them – and more importantly about himself – is a rather poignant story.
As he has done in previous novels, Murakami sprinkles lots of references to music in his story. He also plays with the colors and the occupations of the five friends. Also, like Tengo in 1Q84, Tsukuru is a rather fastidious creature of habit. Again, like Tengo, Tsukuru frets over his fear of being alone. Murakami writes, “Maybe I am fated to always be alone, Tsukuru found himself thinking. People came to him, but in the end they always left. They came, seeking something, but either they couldn’t find it, or were unhappy with what they found (or else they were disappointed or angry), and then they left. One day, without warning, they vanished, with no explanation, no word of farewell. Like a silent hatchet had sliced the ties between them, ties through which warm blood still flowed, along with a quiet pulse" (18).
One of the interesting aspects of Murakami’s fiction is his attention to microscopic detail. He describes an encounter with the new friend who urges him to solve the mystery of his lost friends. Murakami writes, “She took a sip of coffee and returned the cup to the saucer. She paused, and checked her enameled nails. They looked beautiful, painted in the same maroon color as her handbag (perhaps a little lighter). He was willing to bet a month’s salary this wasn’t a coincidence” (147).
Compared to some of his other novels, this small format book of a little less than 400 pages, really seems like a novella. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami would be a great introduction to this important figure in world literature. 5 stars
The premise of the story is solid. Basically, our story centers on the title character. Tsukuru is a train engineer who works on Tokyo's highly complex metro system. As most of Murakami's protagonists, he is a man who has reached his mid-thirties, shuffling his feet, filled with ineffable ennui. But unlike other protagonists, he kind of knows why. While still a college student, Tsukuru was part of a group of close-knit friends (two girls, three boys, including our protagonist). By college, everyone stayed behind, while Tsukuru went off to school in Tokyo. They would meet up regularly until one day Tsukuru is abruptly rejected. His friends stop returning his calls and eventually he is warned not to try to contact them ever again. They simply say, "Think about it, and you'll figure it out."
With great pain, Tsukuru survives this blow but he remains stumped as to why he was coldly dumped by his closest friends. He muses that maybe it was because he has no distinct personality, that he is "colorless." And in truth, all his friends have colors for names. Was that it? Later, he thinks there might be darker reasons for their abandonment, which are mirrored in the crazy sex dreams he has.
Tsukuru survives this emotionally scarring event, but he never really gets over it. On the advice of a girlfriend, he decides to undertake an investigation into finding out why they left him like they did. Murakami weaves together past and present through Tsukuru's life. Terrible secrets are eventually revealed and Tsukuru discovers what role he truly played in the group—and it is far from colorless, though not in the expected way.
Middle-class ennui and desolation is what Murakami does best and some readers might find our main character, who otherwise lives a comfortable life, as exasperating. At times, I wanted to reach over and shake some sense into him. Part of the frustration stems from Murakami's sometimes strained prose, which can feel banal and threadbare in places, but perhaps it's just a reflection of Tsukuru and the fact that the story is told from his point of view. Murakami has never been a stunning prose stylist. Sure, there are moments of writing brilliance (Tsukuru embraces a friend and it is described as "a pair of dancers who had stopped mid-step"—picture that) but otherwise it's his enigmatic characters that keep you reading.
Near the end of the book, Tsukuru has a realization about the nature of human relationships. Our train engineer realizes that life is messy and that the past can't be easily compartmentalized. "There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed." His story ends in a way that isn't unusual for Murakami, but it still left me strangely unsettled. I'm used to open-ended endings but this was something else. Murakami's book is a pilgrimage of self-discovery but it is one that doesn't leave clear answers. The novel is about how the past weighs heavily on the present. The past often hangs over us, haunts us. People we love, people we've hurt, people we've shared big and small moments with—they all matter in ways bigger than we sometimes realize.
Author - Haruki Murakami
Tsukuru Tazaki is a young man who has experienced incredible loss. He has lived the majority of his adult life alone, but unable to connect with anyone on a relationship level that is sustainable. He doesn't know why and until it is pointed out to him by his current girlfriend.
He retells the story of his teenage years and the four friends he had. All of their names translated into a color, except for his. He always felt that somehow that showed how he was less than them. But they cared for him anyway and with them he felt part of something very special.
Until the day he returned back home from college, on a weekend break, to have each of his friends refuse to take his calls. Until finally one of them calls him and tells Tsukuru that the group wants nothing to do with him any longer and that they would rather he never called them again. Shocked, he agrees to leave them alone. This episode has shaped his whole being into adulthood. Leaving him a solitary and untrusting man. Unable to sustain or build a true relationship with anyone.
"...Perhaps he didn't commit suicide then because he couldn't conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had toward death. But method was beside the point. If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he wouldn't have hesitated to push it open, without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life..."
His girlfriend convinces Tsukuru, that after all these years, he needs to search out these friends and find out why they cast him out. That he would never truly be complete until he finds out why they abandoned and shunned him.
Reluctantly, but knowing he needed to, Tsukuru begins his pilgrimage to find out the truth. In doing so, he will unravel truths and secrets about himself and his friends. And the lies they have weaved around one another for the last decade. This journey for Tsukura is one of self discovery and redemption. Of forgiveness given and needed for all involved. Of friendship and memories that can never be reclaimed, but yet, perhaps better left to the past.
I am left with mixed emotions on this novel. For that alone it should be read. Any book that can illicit from the reader a sense of emotion should be recognized for what it truly is.
Damn good writing.
My issue is simple. If I had known Tsukuru Tazaki, I would probably have asked the depressing, self involved, emotionally handicapped whiney ass to stop calling me too and that I no longer wanted to be friends with him. Like ever. But I would have told him why. That he was a depressing, self involved, emotionally handicapped whiney ass but wipe and honestly, because your name does not translate into a color you are less than everyone else? Seriously? Instead his friends simply refuse to talk to him and he, for his part, simply accepts this proclamation and tries to go on. Spiraling even deeper into what can only be a suicidal depression.
So what is good about this story?
Writing. Damn good writing! And did we mention that this damn good writing is a translation as well?
I am convinced that Haruki Murakami could write out my grocery list and make it dramatic and compelling. The depths of Tsukuru's mind that Murakami plumbs to describe the pain and confusion he feels by being ostracized by his friends is handled with a grace and poise that is rarely seen in American novels. Murakami does it with effortless ease, or so it seems. For all of this is from Tsukuru's thoughts, dreams and muses. On the outside, as is true in Japanese culture, nothing is shown.
Murakami is exploring not only the human mind, but the tender and often confusing emotions that dwell within.
Damn good writing. A very good read.
That being said, i really love his work, because of a different reason. He most of the time manages to create this extra emotional layer in between the lines. It's hard to explain - almost as hard as explaining the plots of his books - but in 'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki' this extra layer made me really love the book, with its vague mixture of acceptance of loss, nostalgia,...
Anyway: Murakami will never win the Nobel prize, of that I am quite sure, but as long as he keeps touching me with his work, I'll keep reading him.