Book review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Words: Amy Harris

Originally published: April 12, 2013
Author: Haruki Murakami
Country: Japan
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Publisher: Vintage Books / Random House Australia
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“‘Tell me – what happened?’ Tsukuru asked.

‘You’d better ask yourself that,’ Ao said.

Before Tsukuru could think of how to respond, Ao had hung up.”

Tsukuru, now in his thirties, is alone. He has had almost no companions since his four high school friends cut him off. Now the prospect of a serious romantic relationship, in the form of Sara, comes his way. However, Sara feels that something is holding them back.

“‘… I think you have – some kind of unresolved emotional issues.’”

And so begins Tsukuru’s search for the truth behind why his closest friends; Aka (red); Ao (blue); Shiro (white); and Kuro (black), shut him out.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s most recent novel. Having never read any of his works before, I picked up the book partly due to my interest in Japanese manga and anime, and partly because of my growing tiredness of English young adult ‘literature’ today. Though creatively nothing like Fullmetal Alchemist or Baccano, this book certainly presents the originality and charm I was looking for in foreign fiction.

In Japanese culture, names have meanings. The final attribute that drew me to buying the book was that Tsukuru’s four high school friends all had names that contained a colour in them; making him the only one of the group whose name was colorless. That is something I’ve never come across in English books.

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However, no matter how original a concept is, execution is the most important part of any creative piece. Despite the story being rich and interesting, the actual writing I found questionable at times. I wonder how much the translator, Philip Gabriel, influenced the flow of the language. Perhaps the dialogue is stilted even in Japanese. However, upon my second reading, I have concluded that this is intentional on Murakami’s part, as the subtle sense of humor the book presents is largely based on the seriousness of the characters. Discounting the dialogue itself, I felt myself awkwardly smiling as characters pause in a conversation to eat or take a sip of coffee or wine as if to illicit dramatic effect in mundane moments. Murakami’s writing style also tends to tell rather than show the reader, which can be sometimes patronizing. That being said, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is very mature, and leaves many questions unanswered for the reader to fill in the gaps. Not to say that there isn’t any closure as closure, abandonment and loyalty are the main themes of the novel.

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© Bungei Shunjū

Plot-wise, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki takes its time. However, the carefully placed plot points all keep the reader intrigued enough to keep reading. The story flips back and forth between the events in his young adult years that made him who he is and his adult self actually finding out the causes of these events. Old mysteries are solved and replaced with new ones. As I read on I was just as eager as Tsukuru to find out the whole truth.

After writing this review I’ve realised I’ve criticized the book more than I intended to. But I think it’s important especially in entertainment to realise that just because we love something that doesn’t mean it’s flawless. I love this book. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is just the first of Murakami’s works I will ever read!

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© Random House

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