Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review. 

This is how bad I am: when given the opportunity to read the new Haruki Murakami (that is the first time I’ve managed to write that out correctly on the first try), I thought I was getting my hands on new Kazuo Ishiguro.


Imagine my surprise when that was not the case at all. I initially thought that maybe this would be a tough read – I’d never read a Murakami before and never really wanted to.

But I kind of loved Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.


When we meet Tsukuru Tazaki he is on the brink of death, contemplating suicide every hour of every day. He had been a part of a close group of 5 friends – they did everything together, together they made up whole people, filled the gaps in each other that were wanting. Even though he had always felt a little bit other in this group – the other 4 all had names that had a colour in them: black, red, white, blue while  Tsukuru Tazaki was colourless – they were his best friends. When his friends cut him out of their lives without an explanation, without any warning, Tsukuru is left numb and confused.

The story moves back and forth between those days leading up to the break and the aftermath, and the present day when 36 year old Tsukuru is embarking on the beginning of a promising relationship with this new woman. She becomes the first person he’s ever told the full story to, the first person he’s ever been open with about the fact that since those friends he’s never really bothered to make any new ones. She encourages him to contact those friends to find out what it was that made them cut him out of their lives. She’s convinced that they won’t be able to have any kind of relationship until he has worked out this emotional blockage, until he can feel secure knowing that not everyone he cares for will just cut him off.

For some reason I was expecting some kind of sci-fi futuristic situation so a story in modern day Tokyo was a pleasant surprise. I loved travelling with Tsukuru to find out what happened, why his friends cut him out. There was a story within a story situation early on the book that I didn’t understand and a fairly graphic sex scene that I could have done without (especially since I still can’t figure out what that achieved) but mostly I couldn’t wait to get back to this very modern tale. Tsukuru is left out in the cold, without any support in his critical years of development. Without friends he wanders through his life, not really caring about anything, always wondering about the friendships that he used to have. He achieves what he wants to professionally but without anyone to share it with, he just kind of bobs along alone.

I’m not anywhere near the loner that Tsukuru is, but I so identified with him. These days we have a tendency to live through our devices without making actual contact with the people we care about. Although Tsukuru’s lack of contact was not his own choice, he didn’t follow that up by going out into the world and finding new friends. Without friends, without the presence of meaningful relationships in his life, Tsukuru is just an empty vessel.

The fact that this book was a translation added an extra layer of intrigue for me. The descriptions of the names of his characters and their meanings are beautiful. There’s a whole passage where Tsukuru’s name and its meaning are described and why his father chose a certain spelling over the more common one. Murakami describes language and the way we use it in different situations to illustrate the state of Tsukuru’s relationships. In one scene, Tsukuru is meeting with an old friend and no longer feels that the casual form of you is appropriate; in English we don’t have these distinctions but I liked having it pointed out to better understand the moment. His prose is incredibly elegant; so much so that I almost found myself holding my breath so as not to disturb the moments he was creating.

I’m glad I thought Murakami was someone else or I never would have given Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage a chance.

PS One last thing: this book is really cool looking. It’s a hardcover but like a tiny one. The actual cover, once you remove the dust jacket, is covered in Japanese train station lines. And I love the hand – each finger a different colour…Just wanted to add that.


Judging Books By Their Covers

I realized today how much importance I place on a love of books.

There’s a girl in my office that I have recently started to work very closely with. She is a good looking girl, well dressed, thin but seemed kind of flakey. Probably because I am an asshole and judged her based purely on her looks, something I rail against guys doing to me all the time (that’s not to say that I think so highly of myself. But I am blonde, I am chesty and clearly, there are some preconceptions that come along with those “blessings”).

I just kind of went along with the assumptions that other people had of her, that she was flakey and dumb. I know. I feel like a Class A jerk OK?

But this story has a happy ending.

This morning we were in training together and there was a pause while the instructor was helping someone else and we started talking. And she was throwing out things like “have you read any Bill Bryson?”

No! But he’s on my list!

“What about any Haruki Murakami?”

IQ84! No, but it looked really interesting!

I told her to read The Marriage Plot and to look into the Merde books by Stephen Clarke.

And while we were discussing these amazing things, I realized that a) I had been a dickhead and b) I can’t think of a single one of my close friends that doesn’t at least have an appreciation for books.

I have multiple friends that use me as a library. It was a friend that set me on my path towards Jen Lancaster. My friend Meghan and I buy each other books with the express purpose of trading them with each other when we’re done.

Even my other half will get into specific genres and has a fairly impressive collection of hockey literature. Also? He doesn’t say a word when I walk out of a bookstore with 4 more books to add to the pile of 12 or so that I have yet to read. And he was a willing accomplice when we moved and I told him that we needed another massive bookshelf.

If I find out that you do not like books, that you don’t ever make the time to read or that you consider flipping through a magazine as being literate, I pretty much dismiss you from my notice. I’d venture to say that if you dismiss books and reading, then that’s really as much as I care to know about you.

But if you admit to the same guilty pleasures of 5 hour sessions in a bookstore, then you are probably pretty alright.