[I received a copy of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the book.]
Compared to my recent reads, Virgin, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Gets Trapped In An Ikea Wardrobe, and The Table of Less Valued Knights, Haruki Murakami’s newest novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a quieter, more somber book. That being said, it is just as gripping the other books, albeit in a different way. As it was my first Murakami book I can’t really comment on how it compares to his other works but I can definitely say that this has convinced me of Murakami’s literary prowess and ability to construct quiet but beautiful worlds that are told poetically and delicately. (I must also give his English translator Philip Gabriel credit here, as I’m sure he was instrumental in helping to keep the tone of the story.)
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is focused on the story of Tsukuru Tazaki. When he was in high school, he was a part of a tight-knit, five-person group. Tazaki is the only one in the group with a colourless name (the others are red, blue, black, and white) and this reflects how he feels about himself in general: colourless, meaningless, a mere empty vessel of a person. This is exacerbated when his friends suddenly cut him off, refusing to see him or talk to him. Their abandonment leaves a hole in Tazaki’s life, a hole that has never truly been mended. Finally, one day, he decides to find out why his friends abandoned him all those years ago. What he finds is shocking.
I am not usually the type of reader who puts tabs in my books, but Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki was so beautiful that I ended up with a book full of stickies. This book weaves in and out of the present effortlessly, showing us different points in Tazaki’s life – his high school years, college years, and now middle age. As we slowly learn more about Tazaki’s story, we begin to realize just how profoundly his friends’ abandonment affected his life. Murakami’s ability to write such a rounded and sympathetic character truly shows his strength as a writer. I was hooked from the first chapter, and though this book deals with a lot of darkness and sadness, I found myself drawn to it, unable to pull myself away from it until I had finished reading the last page. My read-walking was at its worst during the few days that it took me to read this book.
I don’t want to say too much more about the book as I truly believe that my words can’t do this book justice. It is quiet, poignant, beautiful. It just gets it. It’s a fast read (perhaps because it’s so gripping that you won’t be able to put it down) and it is really touching and, at times, shocking. I think anyone who has dealt with any kind of loss will sympathize with Tsukuru Tazaki and find comfort in the beautiful words and descriptions Murakami uses to illustrate the experience. I will say that I wish we get a little more development from Tazaki at the end, but I also get why it wasn’t there – when one lives so many years feeling a certain way about himself, it’s hard to change that at the drop of the hat. However, my slight disappointment over the ending doesn’t change my opinion that this is a wonderful book that I know will be adored by many. It has definitely convinced me to read more from Murakami. (I can’t believe I hadn’t read anything by him before now.)
Verdict: A perfectly-constructed book that delicately and poignantly captures the feeling of loss, isolation, sadness, and nostalgia. Content aside, the packaging of the book is beautiful – from the dust jacket with see-through panels, the book cover covered with subway maps, to the red, blue, white, and black end papers. It is so deliberately thought out and so appropriate given the context.
Read if: You enjoy books that are plot-driven but also deal heavily with its characters’ thoughts and feelings, are a fan or Murakami’s previous work or have always been curious about his writing, want to lose yourself in a gripping story that will hold you from start to finish. I can’t recommend this book enough.
Are you a fan of Haruki Murakami? Will you be picking up Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage?