Book Review

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

“Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a color in its meaning. From the very beginning this fact made him feel a little bit left out.” (pg.8)

Protection. Companionship. Understanding.

The beauty and harmony that comes from a close knit group is a singular experience.

In high school Tsukuru Tazaki has a close connection with four other students and for many years enjoyed having a place among them, but that wasn’t to last. For many of us these friends from high school drift apart as they become new people. For Tazaki the separation was immediate and severe. With no warning the four friends disowned Tazaki and he was ripped from their company with no explanation.

It takes sixteen years before Tazaki seeks answers for why he was exiled.

Murakami produces a story that is very human. Full of mystery, strange fantasy and a raw journey back to humanity.

However, like many other critics, my experience with Colorless Tazaki wasn’t all positive. I found the main character often times flat, repetitive, and infuriating. This is probably due to Tazaki’s stagnant emotional development, which can be a thought provoking character tool, but it can also go too far. A dull protagonist can kill otherwise great novels. But despite this flaw I found myself still fully engaged and wanting more. I don’t know if it is a point for or against Murakami that he makes me want to continue even though sometimes I just want the protagonist to shut up and stop being so damn passive.

In the end, there were a few other outstanding flaws in the novel. Unlike some other reviewers, I won’t knock Murakami too hard for some of the stiff dialogue because he was at the mercy of the translator. My major concern is how Murakami writes female characters. I wish I could delve further into this subject but I would have to spoil the central mystery in the plot (which itself verges on offense and is one hundred percent upsetting). Tazaki’s love interest, Sara (the plot device to start the story), is underdeveloped and I still have no idea what they see in each other. The other female in the foursome, Kuro, is the only complete character whose point of view I understand.

In my book club the group seemed to focus more on the negatives of the book during our discussions, but in the end only one (out of about 15 people) actually disliked the book as a whole. On the way home I kept going back to this and might have a couple of answers to why most readers are able to forgive its flaws:

First, when Muramaki is good, he’s really good. Some of the passages are gorgeous and the language gives the whole experience a dream-like quality, which also emphasizes all the mystery elements because we as the audience question Tazaki’s narrative: What is dream and what is reality?

An example of the type of imagery in the novel:

“He never dreamed. But even if he had dreamed, even if dreamlike images arose from the edges of his mind, they would have found nowhere to perch on the slippery slopes of his consciousness, instead quickly sliding off, down into the void”  (pg.5)

Second, Muramaki strikes an emotional chord with his audience: Many of us regret not keeping in touch with close friends. Throughout middle and high school, I was friends with three other girls. Our little group went through so much that I genuinely thought we would be friends forever. We seemed to get along great, and when we didn’t we always made up after a fight; we were in harmony. However, these groups of friends rarely separate due to major fights, but with choices, and harmony alone is not enough to keep them together. And when that happens, like Colorless Tazaki we ask ourselves, “Was I responsible? Was I the weak link in the group? Did I destroy our harmony?” But maybe there’s another answer: Maybe there was never any real harmony, it was just an illusion that the group needed to survive the harsh landscape of high school.

For this reason, I would recommend Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki: Because Muramaki gets it. He understands the arrested development that comes from this sudden abandonment.

In the Margins:

  • Murakami is a lit-rockstar in Japan. His book releases are Harry Potter-level crazy. This is his 13th novel. I don’t know how I haven’t heard of him before but I feel my lit nerd card needs to be revoked.
  • Though in the end the main mystery is solved I was left with way more questions then answers. SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.
  • There is some strong sexual content especially one scene in particular… which was a dream… and really odd. I wasn’t bothered but those more sensitive to sexual content might want skip this read.
  • If you are unsure about Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki maybe give Norwegian Woods or Kafka on the Shore a chance. These are Muramaki’s more popular books and even have little cult followings. I plan to check them out.
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