What We Talk About When We Talk About Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

The first Haruki Murakami book that I ever read was 1Q84. It was written like nothing I had ever read before—magical, calm, layered, connected, obscured, symbolic. Over the next couple years, I made my way through more of his books, as my local used bookstore and library allowed. Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore, and After Dark were all enjoyable, but they didn’t give me the same high that I had been searching for since I lapped up the final pages of 1Q84.

I approached Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage with high expectations. I pushed away the thought that perhaps the reason that the majority of Murakami’s books don’t match up to 1Q84 means that 1Q84 is more of an anomaly than a rule. “Naah,” I told myself, “1Q84 was the last book published before Colorless, and it represents a newer and better leaf in his career.” I avoided reading any reviews, so as to preserve every drop of a virgin reading experience, but I was so certain that Colorless would be even better than 1Q84 because of how much display area it got in bookstores. Good marketing does not a good novel make.

The basic plot: middle aged Tsukuru has trouble forming and keeping relationships with other people, and it’s not because he is on the Autism spectrum (though his train station obsession hints at that). His close group of high school friends broke up with him out of nowhere, and that experience hurt him so badly that he has been apathetic about getting close to people ever since. When his love interest detects that he has a psychological block, she quests him with reconnecting with his friends and tying up loose ends.

Many people compare Colorless to Norwegian Wood, and I agree with making that comparison. Both center on unhealthy relationships that the main male character needs to address before he is able to move on with his life. Both of them have an older female character who intuitively knows what the main character needs to do and tells him so. Neither of them have magical or occultish themes like we see in Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84.

I guess it’s important to remember that Norwegian Wood was Murakami’s breakthrough novel, and the one that endeared him to the Japanese public. So there are people out there, millions of them, who enjoy reading about ruminating on old relationships in Murakami’s slow, steady, rainy-day way. And besides Japan, it seems that the whole Man Booker Prize committee also enjoys this (read five prize winners in a row and you’ll see what I mean). But personally, I don’t have lingering regrets about past relationships, or discontentment with my current one, and I wasn’t able to identify with any of Tsukuru’s problems. I’m thankful for this. Maybe when I reach middle-age, I’ll feel regrets about the what-if’s in my life, but I doubt it. Not dwelling on the past is one of my coping mechanisms and is important to my worldview.

So, I was fundamentally disappointed with the plot, but all the other Murakami hallmarks were there to redeem it. The linguistic style is smooth and calculated, the pace moves in a contemplative and careful manner, and as always, it gave me a desire to go live in Japan and be an introspective, clean, reserved, polite person. And listen to records and pet cats.

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