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

I have had Murakami on my radar for some time.  I was hesitant, however, about tackling his recent book 1Q84 due to its length – almost 1200 pages in paperback.  After reading a fascinating interview with him in The Paris Review Interviews Volume IV, I decided to seek out one of his novels.  As my financial situation precludes book purchases for the time being, I checked the Seattle Public Library for available Murakami novels.  Alas, all of them were reserved with long waiting lists.  Then I checked the large print versions and I found a copy of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, his latest novel.  It had the advantage of being only about 460 pages in large print, which makes about 330 pages of normal print.  Easy on the eyes too, I must say, that large print.

Unlike some of Murakami’s most popular novels, this one is not fantastic or surrealistic, although it gives way to dream sequences on occasion.  It tells the story of the title character, who is colorless because, unlike his friends, his family name does not have a color in it.  Additionally, he leads a fairly bland life as an engineer who helps build railway stations, which are his great obsessions.  The focus of the story is his relationship with four high school friends.  For years they are inseparable, but shortly after Tazaki moves to Tokyo to pursue his work, he is informed by one of them that he is no longer part of the group, that he should not try to contact any of them, and that none of them want to have anything more to do with him.  This at first makes him suicidal, but he gradually rebuilds his life.  On the verge of middle age, he meets a woman he cares deeply about named Sarah, and she encourages him to contact his friends, to visit them and find out why they cut him off so abruptly.  His odyssey in contacting his lost friends one by one and fitting together the broken portions of his life form the balance of the book.

Murakami tells the story not simplistically but in simple, straightforward prose.  Part of the reason for the plain prose may be the translation of course – there is always this risk when reading literature that is not in the original language.  However, Murakami is fluent in English and approved this translation, so I have to conclude that it stays true to the spirit of the original.

One thing I noticed as I read concerns how the characters behave towards one another.  No matter what their relationship is, they are much more polite and speak more formally that American characters would in similar circumstances.  I’m sure this must be due to inherent cultural differences.

The basic emotions the story deals with, however, are universal.  It’s a deep, heartfelt story about the loss of youthful innocence in the face of the indifference and violence of the outside world into which we all are thrust.  The main character Tazaki is easy to empathize with as he undertakes his years of pilgrimage from adolescence to middle age.  I enjoyed reading this book, highly recommend it, and look forward to reading more of Murakami’s work.

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