“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” sold more than one million copies in its first month of publication in Japan in April 2013. I can totally see why! While going through my growing Murakami book collection, I decided to read this interestingly titled story next.
One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds.
In high school, Tsukuru Tazaki belonged to an extremely tight-knit group of friends who pledged to stay together forever. But when Tsukuru returns home from his first year of college in Tokyo, he finds that they want nothing to do with him. Something has changed, but nobody will tell him what – and he never sees them again. Years later, Tsukuru has become a successful engineer, but is also something of a loner. It is only when he begins dating an older woman named Sara that he confesses the story of this mysterious betrayal and the shadow it has cast over his life. She becomes convinced that Tsukuru must track down his old group to try to answer the question that has haunted him all these years, creating a hole inside of him: Why did they suddenly turn on him? Tsukuru searches out his old friends, and as the truth reveals itself, he must confront the simmering emotional undercurrents that the group had suppressed in order to reach their ideal of perfect friendship – and in order to find himself.
What I liked in the book
The colours, the metaphors of the complicated grid network which is similar to the paths people take in life and can sometimes intersect with others or can never cross again. Or the web of memories people create which might look different from a different perspective even if the events are literally the same.
Tsukuru is very plain – in his tastes, in his way of being, dressing, talking. He even perceives himself as plain despite multiple people having had shown interest in him, both romantically and friendship-wise.
“Well, I feel more often how dull and insignificant I am for other people. And for myself.” Sara gazed into his eyes for a time, her voice serious. “I don’t think you’re either dull or insignificant.”
He feels left out due to the fact that his name did not translate to a colour, much like his friend’s did.
And aside from Tsukuru Tazaki, they had another small, coincidental point in common: their last names all contained a color. The two boys’ last names were Akamatsu—which means “red pine”—and Oumi—“blue sea”; the girls’ family names were Shirane—“white root”—and Kurono—“black field.” Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a color in its meaning.
The book also features some pretty lacking sex scenes between Tsukuru and Sara – where he appears to be as disconnected as he is from other things. He often finds his fulfilment in fantasies involving two of his former childhood friends but never in real life. He is aware that he can never truly belong to someone fully until he resolves his past hang-ups and brings closure to his mysterious situation.
He was well aware that there was something more. Making love was a joining, a connection between one person and another. You receive something, and you also have to give.
When talking to Sara, he explains that in his mind, his friends as much as his loves have become abstracted. first as colours, then as concepts.
“When I couldn’t help thinking of them, I always tried to think of them as a pair.” “The two of them as a pair?” Tsukuru paused, searching for the right words. “I can’t really explain it. I thought of them like they were a fictitious being. Like a formless, abstract being.”
One of the other things I’ve liked in this book was how his shunning actually changed him as a person. He feels empty, he was close to dying many times and he had resurfaced as a phoenix, but instead in having been filled with substance and a new purpose, he sees only an emptiness inside of him that not only drowns him, but also affects the reader as they don’t want to see any more of this husk of a person.
barely—I’ve been clinging to this world like the discarded shell of an insect stuck to a branch, about to be blown off forever by a gust of wind.
This is the point where I started hating this book a little. Maybe it was the author’s intent to slowly make the reader hate Tsukuru, but he has literally no redeeming qualities. His only identity is that one where he is part of a highschool group of friends. He is not his own person and even his dreams of building stations is not as satisfying to follow due to the bureaucracy.
Why I didn’t like the book
“Ideas are like beards. Men don’t have them until they grow up.
Murakami had a great idea. Document the life and feelings of someone who has had a tragic event (by some terms) in their young life and see how the separation trauma plays out in their adult years. His vision of his grown-up friends is interesting showing that people don’t always end up as the same people they dreamt to be.
Therein sits the problem with this book – the characters, while mildly interesting, are not enough to keep the plot going and you get bored of this drab Tsukuru and his imaginary sex life which might or might not contain some gay tendencies.
Though he probably would never have admitted it, he was hoping to prove to himself that he wasn’t gay, that he was capable of having sex with a real woman, not just in his dreams. This was his main objective.
Something must be fundamentally wrong with me, Tsukuru often thought. Something must be blocking the normal flow of emotions, warping my personality. But Tsukuru couldn’t tell whether this blockage came about when he was rejected by his four friends, or whether it was something innate, a structural issue unrelated to the trauma he’d gone through.
The sex is also terrible. Tsukuru has real sex with Sara and “dream” sex with Shiro – whom we hear later on that commited suicide after accusing Tsukuru of raping her when she was visiting him in Tokyo – a fact which was only true in Shiro’s mind. It made me wonder whether the “dream” sex with Shiro wasn’t actually a mental way that Tsukuru was raping Shiro as they were having sex without her consent, but if that is the case, at least half the teen male population has at least once had “dream” un-consensual sex with a woman.
These insistent caresses continued until Tsukuru was inside the vagina of one of the girls. It was Shiro. She straddled him, took hold of his rigid, erect penis, and deftly guided it inside her. His penis found its way with no resistance, as if swallowed up into an airless vacuum. She took a moment, gathering her breath, then began slowly rotating her torso, as if she were drawing a complex diagram in the air, all the while twisting her hips. Her long, straight black hair swung above him, sharply, like a whip. The movements were bold, so out of character with the everyday Shiro.
We are shoved Tsukuru’s penis and his adventures in our face every 20 pages or so. When he doesn’t mention his hang up, he talks about his erections. Not cool man, not cool.
Back in his apartment he changed into pajamas and got into bed just before midnight. And right then, as if finally remembering to do so, he had an erection. A heroic, perfect, rock-hard erection. So massively hard he could barely believe it.
Eh, OK-ish book to read, too long by a mile. 2/5