Book Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami’s work has been on my reading list since the first time I heard about 1Q84. When I find a book as monstrous as that, though, my first step is always to find a smaller work by the same author, so I can decide if I like their work. When David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest first caught my attention, for example, I read Girl with Curious Hair first (and subsequently decided I wasn’t crazy about it). When it came to Murakami, I had a wealth of shorter options to choose from.

I picked Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki based on a whim, really. I read the first couple pages when I found it in the airport bookstore, and I decided I had to have it. The whole book maintains the same melancholy expressed in those first couple pages, and it’s a sort of melancholy that I can relate to.

The book follows Tsukuru, a thirty-six year old engineer in Tokyo with a lot of emotional hangups from college: his close-knit friend group essentially kicked him out of the circle without an explanation, and he never really got over it. The story flips between present-day encounters with his casual girlfriend, who encourages him to go find his old friends to get closure, and memories of his days in college.

A lot of the time, though, those memories seem muddled, and poor Tsukuru has a hard time distinguishing his perceptions from the external world. That’s where I think this book (and from what I’ve heard, most of Murakami’s work) is unique: the author takes a reasonably mundane situation and incorporates the surreal into it. Dreams and reality mingle seamlessly. Tsukuru’s experiences, whether real or perceived, all have an equal effect on him – and in that way they’re all equally real.

And Murakami’s passaged depicting the pain and depression Tsukuru suffers are agonizingly poignant. A few times in the book, he describes the effects that music in particular has on his thoughts and feelings – how music gives shape to thoughts and feelings he couldn’t articulate before. Anyone who has ever experienced depression or anxiety (and even people who haven’t, I think) will appreciate how well he captures those feelings.

But what really kept me reading the book was the same question that burned in Tsukuru Tazaki’s mind for sixteen years: why did his friends reject him?

As you read, that question will torment you the same way it tormented the protagonist, and you’ll turn each page wanting to know more. By the end of the book, though, you might not get the answers you thought you’d get, but you’ll at least feel somewhat resolved.

I’ll certainly be reading more of Murakami’s work now. I was going to read Kafka on the Shore next, but after reading this enlightening article, I think I’m going to move on to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I’m an official fan now, and I’m in this for the full Murakami experience. I was beyond pleased with my first Murakami book, so while I never made it to Wallace’s Infinite Jest, I think I’ll definitely be reading 1Q84 in the near future.

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One thought on “Book Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage

  1. Ruth Austin says:

    Enticing job, Sami. You have encouraged me to try one. I’ll start as your link suggested. Thanks.


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