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the complete review - fiction
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki
and His Years of Pilgrimage
general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author
- Japanese title: 色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年
- Translated by Philip Gabriel
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B+ : typically Murakamian shallow depth, but goes down very nice and easy
See our review for fuller assessment.
No real consensus; many find it winning, many irritated by too much about it/Murakami's writing
From the Reviews:
- "The novel is far from perfect. With at least a couple of subplots that venture off nowhere, it seems almost consciously imperfect. Yet the limpid movement of the narrative and the delicacy of the hinges Murakami uses to put his plot together impart the sense that weíre in the hands of a master. Putting beauty into the fault lines, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is literature infused with the spirit of wabi-sabi." - Ed Wright, The Australian
- "This book shows that Murakami can find mystery in the mundane and conjure it in sparse, Raymond Carveresque prose. (...) The relative ordinariness of the plot notwithstanding, the story has pace and suspense. (...) Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is one of his most coherent and, in its tight and tidy way, one of the most satisfying." - David Pilling, Financial Times
- "Although as adept as ever at setting up Kafkaesque ambiguity and atmosphere, he disappointingly chooses to leave most of the mysteries unresolved." - Mark Lawson, The Guardian
- "This author's signature tune, an almost child-like naivety harmonised with riddling sophistication, sounds throughout. Much-loved music can work that way as well. Like a jazz standard customised by a master improviser, or a Romantic piano piece that skips from nursery to cemetery, Murakami's prose seamlessly fuses folksiness and profundity. No one can quite say where the schmaltz ends and the subtlety begins." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
- "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a welcome return to the naturalistic style. It is neat, economical, even minimalist. (...) The underlying subject is the loss of innocence as one moves from youth to middle age and childhood friendships dissolve under the pressure of the change. (...) Rather than sliding into the surreal, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage tracks steadily into elegiac, nostalgic territory, with an acuity that, at points, is very affecting. The writing, unobtrusively translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, is by turns off-key, banal, then piercingly accurate or memorable, above all in the similes on nearly every page." - Jerome Boyd Maunsell, Literary Review
- "There is a rawness, a vulnerability, to these characters, a sense that the surface of the world is thin, and the border between inner and outer life, between existence as we know it and something far more elusive, is easily effaced. (...) This is where the novel elevates, becoming more than just a story but rather a meditation on everything the narrative provokes. How do we connect, or reconnect, to those around us but also to the very essence of ourselves? Where, in the flatness of contemporary society -- which in this novel, as in so much of his work, Murakami evokes with a masterful understatement -- do we find some point of intersection, some lasting depth ?" - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times
- "Der allseits bejubelte neue Roman von Murakami ist staunenswert schlecht geschrieben. (...) (D)ie soziale und topografische Ortlosigkeit ist aber keine von Murakamis Schwächen, im Gegenteil, wenn dieser Autor mit etwas überzeugt, dann ist es die Fähigkeit, seine Geschichten an den ubiquitären Unorten unserer Epoche anzusiedeln, auf überfüllten Bahnhöfen, auch nächtens belebten Strassen, in überall gleich ausschauenden Schnellrestaurants ..." - Karl-Markus Gauß, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
- "So, too, Murakamiís latest novel, which may prove a little too colourless for readers who are new to his work, if exactly the right kind of vibrancy, as ever, for his millions of devotees." - Randy Boyagoda, New Statesman
- "This book is as short on explanations as it is long on overwrought adolescent emotion. And either Mr. Murakami or his translator, Philip Gabriel, likes to bludgeon each new thought with brutal repetition." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times
- "This is a book for both the new and experienced reader. It has a strange casualness, as if it unfolded as Murakami wrote it; at times, it seems like a prequel to a whole other narrative. The feel is uneven, the dialogue somewhat stilted, either by design or flawed in translation. Yet there are moments of epiphany gracefully expressed, especially in regard to how people affect one another." - Patti Smith, The New York Times Book Review
- "As always with Murakami, symbolism and metaphor loom large. (...) In its singularly understated way, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, is, as its title suggests, a quest novel, though one without any dramatic epiphanies. This, too, is typically Murakamian. I had the lingering sense throughout that I had read this story before, or at least a version of it, so familiar were the characters, their ways of conversing and the abiding undercurrent of passivity that underpins their lives." - Sean O'Hagan, The Observer
- "Readers find themselves propelled along by the ebb and flow of an internal logic that feels as much like a musical progression as it does an unfolding of events. (...) Thanks to Philip Gabriel's discerning translation into subtle yet artful language, the novel reads like a Brian Eno song" - Christopher Weinberger, San Francisco Chronicle
- "(T)his is a rich and even brilliant piece of work that pulls off the tricky feat of being genuinely resonant and satisfying, while still keeping some of its secrets hanging tantalisingly out of reach. And you could certainly argue that itís more impressive to create something that feels so mythical out of a lonely and often baffled Tokyo engineer going about his unspectacular daily life than to create it out of a bespoke myth." - James Walton, The Spectator
- "It is simple, yet artful. It builds like a toy train set. Each section answers one question and poses another, surprising and satisfying at once. Always the author acknowledges the discipline of his craft: the telling detail of character and setting, the deft stepping between present and past, forward movement varied selectively with digression and recapitulation. It shows the imprint of American fiction -- the marked individual, gilded youth seen through the prism of age. But it also shows the sensitivity to subtle, elliptical shifts of mood and emotion found in Japanese masters such as Yasunari Kawabata and Junichiro Tanizaki." - Nicholas Jose, Sydney Morning Herald
- "If the book has claims to an identity beyond that of recovery-narrative-with-sprinkled-weirdness, it is as a meditation on language and reference." - Leo Robson, The Telegraph
- "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki combines the tautness of a thriller with the lyrical tone of a poem. The narrative itself is dreamlike, with its combination of suspense and mystery, its scrambling of clues, laced with seemingly random associations, its story within the story. (...) Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki lacks the ambition and flamboyance of Murakamiís previous novel, 1Q84 (2009Ė10), but it is his most tender since Norwegian Wood (1987), infused with emotional generosity and the spirit of forgiveness." - Ruth Scurr, Times Literary Supplement
- "There is no fantastical alternate universe and no character burdened by mysterious powers. This is a pared-down story about finding things to live for after traumatic loss. It is one of the most poignant and affecting books the prolific Japanese author has written. (...) Mr. Murakami's writing will never be artful, but its plainness (here in an unobtrusive translation by Philip Gabriel ) fits better with this novel's grounded, unprepossessing plot than with his earlier hyperactive fantasias." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
- "Skirting the edges of magic realism, Mr. Murakami deftly weaves together past and present. (...) But for every duff or unhinged sentence there is a moment or passage of human metaphysics beautifully distilled: the quiet revelation of a missed opportunity" - Toby Lichtig, Wall Street Journal
- "So it is that a story that, in other hands, might sink with the weight of its own angst, becomes a page-turner with intervals of lapidary prose and dazzling human comprehension. (...) It is a deeply affecting novel, not only for the dark nooks and crannies it explores, but for the magic that seeps into its charactersí subconsciouses, for the lengths to which they will go to protect or damage one another, for the brilliant characterizations it delivers along the way." - Marie Arana, The Washington Post
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage finds its eponymous protagonist at a crossroads, at age thirty-six.
Reasonably happy in his job working for a railway company in Tokyo, he has spent the last sixteen years largely without any close friends; his more intimate relationships with women have not led very far, either, but he has now begun dating Sara Kimoto.
They're at a stage in their relationship where they're not sure what will happen, but seem to see future possibilities.
Standing in their way is a piece of Tsukuru's past, and Sara pushes him to confront it, seeing it as an essential step if he wants to move on -- in life, and with her.
Tsukuru was part of a small, very close-knit group when he was in high school in Nagoya, a quintet consisting of two other boys and two girls.
They made an effort to: "maintain the group as an orderly, harmonious community" (Tsukuru admits: "We were in high school, and had all kinds of weird ideas") and seemed to manage well.
Upon graduating, Tsukuru was the only one who left Nagoya, because Tokyo was the only place he could get the training for his dream-job (of designing railroad stations) -- but the group continued, with Tsukuru remaining close to them while failing to make any real friends in Tokyo.
But, suddenly, Tsukuru was told he was no longer welcome, cut off from the other four:
It was a sudden, decisive declaration, with no room for compromise.
They gave no explanation.
And Tsukuru didn't dare ask.
You'd figure he'd press the issue a bit, but instead he just lets it fester in his mind -- badly for a few months, but even afterwards, right up to the present, it obviously weighs on him.
The four other members of the group had a: "small, coincidental point in common: their last names all contained a color" [this works a bit better in the original Japanese, where the characters used in writing the names make this more obvious]; they wound up using the color-part of their names as nicknames:
the boys were called Aka (red) and Ao (blue); and the girls were Shiro (white) and Kuro (black).
Colorless Tsukuru is, of course, left out.
And even as an adult he continues to feel something is missing:
I've always seen myself as an empty person, lacking color and identity.
Maybe that was my role in the group.
To be empty.
As he acknowledges, being cut off from the group was a big deal: "That incident changed me forever."
Some of the change manifested itself physically -- as all who knew him both before and after note -- but it seems to have also crushed part of his soul.
Most importantly, it has left him largely outside any sort of social circle -- he gets along fine at work and keeps in touch with his family, but he's not truly close to any individuals.
(Further complicating things, the one person he did form a friendship with in Tokyo one day also disappeared without explanation.)
Sara pushes him to finally deal with the issue:
You need to come face-to-face with the past, not as some naive, easily wounded boy, but as a grown-up, independent professional.
Not to see what you want to see, but what you must see.
Otherwise you'll carry around that baggage for the rest of your life.
She assembles the information Tsukuru needs to contact those from the old gang, whom he hasn't been in touch with for some sixteen years.
As it happens, one has died; the others are, in turn, all happy enough to see him -- and the matter of why he was banished is finally revealed to him, very near to the midpoint of the novel.
It turns out to have been complicated too, Tsukuru more sacrificial lamb for the sake of another group-member, rather than himself being in any way blameworthy.
Still, it was obviously not a situation that was handled well by anyone involved (including Tsukuru), and it's no surprise the other group members eventually drifted apart too.
Possibly, 'empty' Tsukuru was the missing piece holding together the group, but arguably they had other issues -- certainly the one who wound up dead was dealing with some personal demons -- and the breaking apart of the group may well have been inevitable.
Murakami's narrative remains wholly and effectively Tsukuru-fixed, the reader learning much of the information along with Tsukuru, as it were (though other parts are, of course, filled in -- the pieces from the past that Tsukuru has been carrying around with him all these years).
Hence readers barely get to know that lost group of friends, meeting them only long after they have gone their separate ways (as Tsukuru (and Murakami) don't say much about what they were all like when they were together -- though Tsukuru does share some of the sexual fantasies about the two girls that he has).
Ultimately, Tsukuru's brief encounters with each of the other three surviving group-members -- one as far away as Finland -- are the most we see of them, each meeting positioning them in the present -- they're all reasonably successful and, in their own ways, happy -- as well as dealing with some of the past.
Tsukuru doesn't betray too many hard feelings -- in this sense he really can come across as rather colorless -- so there's little tension to these meetings.
Some secrets, of sorts, are revealed -- one group-member had an eating disorder, another turns out to be homosexual, and of course there's the matter of why Tsukuru was excommunicated -- but there's not really that much drama to all this.
Affable Tsukuru listens and nods and though he's puzzled by some things isn't one to force really any issues.
The one friend Tsukuru makes in Tokyo (who eventually just ups and exits Tuskuru's life, pretty much without a word, too) is Haida, when they are both students.
For a while they wind up spending a lot of time together.
Haida likes classical music and brings over some to listen on Tsukuru's stereo; one piece that strikes Tsukuru is one that he recalls one of the group-members having played a lot on the piano: Haida explains that it is:
"Franz Liszt's 'Le mal du pays.'
It's from his Years of Pilgrimage suite 'Year 1: Switzerland.'"
Just to make sure readers don't miss the point, Murakami included the idea of 'Years of Pilgrimage' in the book's title.
Liszt's piece is, indeed, Années de pèlerinage but it's worth remembering that it is apparently inspired by Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre -- 'Wanderjahre' (literally: 'years of wandering') a closer approximation to what Tsukuru's last decade and a half have involved than the specifically goal-focused concept of pilgrimage.
"'Le mal du ...' ?"
"'Le mal du pays.'
Usually it's translated as 'homesickness' or 'melancholy.'
If you put a finer point on it, it's more like 'a groundless sadness called forth in a person's heart by a pastoral landscape.'
It's a hard expression to translate accurately."
Tsukuru's 'mal du pays' is not a locale-bound sort of homesickness (indeed, he's not in the least nostalgic about Nagoya -- and specifically mentions he's not particularly closely tied to Tokyo, either: physical place doesn't seem to matter much to him): the place he lost and is seeking is more fundamental: the suggestion is he had found such a place as part of the group in high school, and now, possibly, he might find one again with Sara.
In fact, Liszt quotes Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage in Années de pèlerinage:
I live not in myself, but I become
And, indeed, Tsukuru lived 'in' the group when he was younger; displaced, he has been unable to become portion of anything around him since.
In learning of why he was expelled from the group, as well some of the flaws of both the group and its members -- and seeing how it collapsed -- he may perhaps find the cure to his own 'mal du pays', and is then perhaps ready to establish a new place for himself, rather than just wondering what went wrong in the old.
Portion of that around me
Murakami doesn't go overboard with mysticism (or cats) here, but can't quite keep everything grounded in reality.
"An evil spirit possessed her [...] That's the only thing that can explain all that happened to her", one character insists, and Murakami can't resist some supernatural sensations.
And perhaps because his life is otherwise fairly empty, Tsukuru does have some vivid dreams -- and one unsettling night-vision ("This isn't a dream, Tsukuru decided. Everything is too distinct to be a dream"), involving Haida.
Earlier, Haida had told him a story, but not revealed everything:
What was in the bag ?
Haida's story had ended before he revealed the contents.
Tsukuru was intensely curious about what had been inside, and wanted someone to tell him its significance.
Why did Midorikawa so carefully place that bag on top of the piano ?
This had to be the missing key to the story.
Murakami likes to tell his stories in similar fashion: placing the bag prominently in sight, suggesting it holds the key -- but not opening it for the reader.
He plays this game well.
It obviously lends an air of mystery to everything, but also suggests more weightiness than Murakami can otherwise provide.
Yet despite its shallows -- and reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage really is just like wading -- the novel manages to feel reasonably profound.
So simple, so lacking -- and yet the writing, in sum, leaves an impression.
Perhaps like a dream (one reason Murakami is so drawn to them ?).
But he wasn't given the answer.
The combination of sincerity and cluelessness in Tsukuru works very well.
A character who is abandoned by his friends but waits some sixteen years before asking any of them Why ? may seem unrealistic, but Murakami carries it off.
Among his effective techniques are the revealing asides, as when Haida admires the college student's fancy digs:
"Your family must be pretty well off ?"
Grateful, perhaps, but Tsukuru is presented as completely oblivious to the fact that his family is not just obviously exceptionally well off but that he's a child of incredible privilege; this is the rare novel where this is nevertheless almost incidental: Tsukuru's issues are so other-worldly that (his) social, financial, and professional status are convincingly presented as essentially irrelevant.
"You know, I'm not really sure.
Maybe -- I have no idea.
I don't think even my father would know unless he assembled his accountant, lawyer, tax consultant, and investment consultant together in one room.
It seems like we're not badly off now, which is why I can live in this kind of place.
Believe me, I'm grateful."
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is an easy, quick, and completely engaging read.
Those irritated by Murakami's style (i.e. the lack thereof, cliché-dripping) may be annoyed by some of the writing, but it's still hard to resist.
The novel is easy to pick apart on many levels, yet its flaws are easy to forgive.
Almost despite itself (and its ambiguous ending -- though surely even that could be seen coming), it is a very satisfying read.
- M.A.Orthofer, 18 August 2014
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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage:
Other books by Murakami Haruki under review:
Books about Murakami Haruki under review:
Other books of interest under review:
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About the Author:
Japanese author Murakami Haruki (村上春樹) was born January 12, 1949.
He attended Waseda University.
He has written several internationally acclaimed bestsellers and is among the best-known contemporary Japanese writers.
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