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

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Book review originally published on January 24, 2016 in my first blog. Posted on my Goodreads account.

I’ve read the majority of Haruki Murakami’s English-translated bibliography and I could say that Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is his saddest tale so far. Yes, I actually found this more emotionally piercing than Norwegian Wood. While the story primarily occurs during titular character Tsukuru Tazaki’s late thirties, it is in essence about a strong and innocent friendship between five teenagers, Tsukuru one of them, who met in high school and how something as pure and perfect as such succumbs to the relentlessness of time. The five young men and women form an unconditional bond with one another—a bond so intense that the friends seem to be, as one character surmises, caught in its perfection. But as young high school students, they’re certainly still oblivious to the insidious passing of time—that anything swept up against it, even something as pure as friendship among adolescents, is left powerless.

What unfolds is a pensively tragic story that has the capacity to pierce the reader at a personal level, tugging at one’s own memories of friendships formed and lost. It is nostalgic, and of course, melancholic. The book has emotional appeal with its storyline and it belongs close to the realistic end of the realism continuum of Murakami fiction.

On his sophomore year in college, Tsukuru was inexplicably exiled from his group of friends and was driven to depression for a few months thereafter. However, he overcame that yoke as he met a young man named Haida, who subsequently disappeared just as Tsukuru started to form a close friendship with him. Sixteen years after these events, Tsukuru is now in his late thirties and leads a lonesome straightforward life, almost like a reflection of his profession as an engineer of railway stations. He has a girlfriend, Sara, who notices that he still seems emotionally affected by his past, still carrying the scars of being exiled from a tight bunch of friends. She suggests (or implores) Tsukuru to revisit his former friends and confront not necessarily the “past” but rather “history” as Sara puts it. Tsukuru heeds her advice, albeit with a tinge of reluctance, and embarks on a classic Murakami-designed quest, shades of Sputnik Sweetheart, searching for answers to unanswered questions and explanations for the unexplained.

Colorless Tsukuru’s realism draws up to par with Norwegian Wood but the book also teeters into the surreal with its exploration of dreams and the human subconscious. In some ways, it draws similarities to After Dark, starting with the fact that both stories were written in the third person. While After Dark’s surrealist elements revolved around sleep, Colorless Tsukuru utilized dreaming to toe the line between real and unreal. Can dreams infiltrate reality? It’s a typical Murakami exploration into the surreal—the author’s niche—driving miles into psychological territory, delving into the human subconscious. Beneath all the superficiality of human relationships, Murakami ponders about the unseen and the intrinsic, experimenting with possibilities that deep down, in a whole different dimension, one’s subconscious can be connected and even interconnected with others’ own. Spread throughout the novel, Murakami’s metaphysical musings play around and dissect experimental conjecture, and it reminded me of his fellow contemporary Japanese author Kenzaburo Oe’s own speculative reveries in A Quiet Life, for example.

I stretched my reading time for this, even setting it aside for a couple of other page-turners, and it worked perfectly fine as I think the novel needed a calm, introspective pacing despite its relatively shorter length in Murakami standards. It’s an emotionally charged novel with interesting philosophical insights in between. Murakami explores the fragility of human relationships, the fleeting moments and episodes in one’s life, and the human longing for permanence, which is paradoxically unattainable. Time continues to tick and life goes on, waiting for nothing and no one.

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