Book Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

CTTHaruki Murakami is not known as a genre writer, but his dabbling in the fantastika shares many of the common tropes found in modern fantasy. His novels feature gateways to other worlds, ghosts, monsters, and ordinary characters that embark on their own form of the hero’s quests.

When his previous novel, 1Q84, was released in the US, many genre authors and reviewers commented that they were reading Murakami for the first time. Like Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road, 1Q84 captured the interest of the science fiction community, spilling over from the literary mainstream.

If one is looking to get acquainted with Murakami, 1Q84 is not the place to start. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is much more accessible, but be forewarned that the genre elements are almost non-existent. The story tells of a thirty-seven-year-old man by the name of Tsukuru Tazaki who reflects back on his college years when four of his closest friends suddenly and unexpectedly dumped him from their close-knit group. The pain of this rejection is too much for Tsukuru to face and he never learns the reasons behind his exclusion. A decade and a half later, at the urging of his girlfriend, he embarks on a quest to discover the truth of what happened to their fractured friendship in an effort to repair his relationships and inner wounds that have weighed him down all these years.

Murakami typically will weave intertwining plots and several try-fail cycles into his narrative, but Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is a much more straight-forward story. Tsukuru’s missteps are slight, giving the novel a sort of short story feel to it. He is focused on one particular goal and each step is measured and completed in a serial fashion. In this sense, it is less demanding on the reader than some of the puzzles that he developed in previous novels.

Several themes that are typical of Murakami are portrayed in this novel. Feelings of inadequacy and impotence inflict Tsukuru, character traits rarely found in quest-oriented fiction. He is not an antihero either – his pursuits are noble and he shows genuine concern for those closest to him. Sexual elements always play a part in Murakami’s fiction, often more strange than erotic. Like in other novels, they act to portray first, the protagonist’s psyche, and secondarily, his desires.

What Murakami does well in this novel is in his development of mystery. Why would his closest friends suddenly abandon him without notice or motive? This sense of strangeness — albeit completely fashioned in the real world — is the weirdness that often appeals to genre readers.

By the end of the novel, I felt satisfied with the unveiling of the mysteries behind Tsukuru’s abandonment and his growth as a character to restore his self-confidence. His four friends from his adolescent period all had a color in their names, but Tsukuru remained an enigma — with his name meaning to make (which he fulfilled as a train station engineer). This colorless name was how he viewed himself. Each of his friends had a particular talent, be it music, academics, sports, or communications, but he — the Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki — believed himself to be quite ordinary in his skills and appearance.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is not a bad place to introduce one’s self to Murakami, but I think genre fans may find better works such as The Windup Bird Chronicles or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World as a better starting point. If you are looking for a faster, more straight-forward read and don’t mind the minimal use of surrealism and fantastika, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is a fine place to start.

peter 100x100Peter Snede – AISFP Contributor Peter is a husband, father of twin boys, and an engineer who grew up on a steady diet of Narnia and Dragonlance books. When he’s not working, wrestling his toddlers, or writing fiction, he often can be found blogging about books or on Twitter.

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