(Author: Haruki Murakami) + (Year: 2014) + (Goodreads)
Seeing as Murakami is my favourite author, it comes as no surprise that this book was a fantastic treat for me and one of the highlights of my book year. Each one of his books is like a breath of fresh air for me. He masterfully manages to combine the ordinary perils of everyday life and the supernatural, as a reflection of our internal struggles.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a fantastic book, which tells the story of colorless Tsukuru and his group of colorful friends: Ao(blue), Aka(red), Shiro(white) and Kuro(black), and after that Haida(gray). It is sort of coming of age book, but also a very mature book, which, written by Murakami, becomes a very interesting mix.
I am not going to lie, like most authors, Murakami has his own formula for creating a story: he has a very lost main character, mysterious women, people with strange but interesting lives, great advises coming from fantastically weird people, an unresolved mystery and simple acceptance of life. You can sense the likeness between some of his literary worlds – for example the atmosphere inColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage can easily be compared to the one in Norwegian Wood.
But unlike most authors, he manages to captivate me every time. I have become increasingly tired of Pratchett’s Discworld, or King’s fantasy universe. Murakami, though, has the wonderful ability to take the reader to his amazing and enticing world which is a very balanced mix of the real and the surreal.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage might seem simplistic and on the short side, compared to 1Q84, which I absolutely love, but if you think about it, it is actually a very nice representation of our inner world and the way it influences our outlooks of life and the people that surround us.
Tsukuru Tazaki has spent his entire life believing that he is boring, empty and lacking character. This has left a deep mark on his life, his lack of friends, his obsession with death, his romantic relationships and even his family ties. Having accepted that he can be of no interest to anyone, he has started living a desolate life in his secluded apartment. As the story develops, we come to understand that he is not a bad conversationalist, nor is he too shy when communicating with people. He simply thinks that he has nothing to offer them and does not even try. This is a clear example of how our personality molds the world around us, and what we believe is what we are – as the Hermeticism maxim goes: “As above, so below”. Because, later in the book, when we get a chance to see Tsukuru through the eyes of his friends, we realize that he is not in fact an empty vessel in their eyes, they actually find him both charming and interesting, and also very handsome.
Of course, his laments can become a little tiresome at some points, I have to agree with that, but if you think realistically, each and every one of us can go on and on about our shortcomings if we have the right audience. I am willing to overcome my annoyance with the constant repetition, as I consider how many times I have done the same thing when I have been with a person who can bear my whining. Oops.
The colorful bunch is a bit stereotypical, but not as a fault of the author, the characters fully realize that they have taken on certain roles in their group as to make it the harmonious little society that they need in their lives in order to feel accepted and supported. Ao is the happy-go-lucky jock, Aka is the nerd with the glasses, Shiro is the sensitive, animal-loving musician and Kuro is the sarcastic and funny comedian that every group of males needs in order to be complete. As the book moves forward we face the lives that the characters have sixteen years after Tsukuru’s banishment and they are harshly realistic, enough so to remind us that time is limited and as Kuro herself puts it, “That amazing time in our lives is gone, and will never return. All the beautiful possibilities we had then have been swallowed up in the flow of time.”
Can you imagine that you wake up one day and you are there, at that moment, when you know that all the beautiful possibilities are gone?
Kuro was actually one of the two most interesting characters in the book for me. She is both magical and unreachable in her faraway cabin in Finland, and real and tangible in the way that she leads a live that all of us could end up having. In recent years I have seen many bright and amazing people befallen by depression and desperation which can adequately be described in Kuro’s words: “Nothing worked out for me. One day I just stopped and asked myself: What in the world are you doing with your life? I had no goals anymore and I was just spinning my wheels, watching my self-confidence disappear.” At some point in life, earlier and earlier, it seems nowadays, compared to the stories which I have read of previous centuries, people reach this moment when they become another wheel in a merciless and unforgivable machine comprised of school and work and the burden of our society.
What I got out of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimageis that when faced with the horrifying reality of becoming a grown up in our time, you have to struggle to be yourself and not loose sight of who you are and what your dreams are. You may accept the world as it is, as ugly as it may be, but not give up on it, and instead try to be your best self, not for anyone else but for your own satisfaction.
Sara was the other character that I liked very much. She was way out of Tsukuru’s idealized views of his friends, she was completely and enchantingly corporeal, with all of her flaws out in the open. Her gentle wisdom was very appealing to me, as was her simple view of the world, as seen when she asked Tsukuru to rid himself of the burdens of his past, because while he may not have been willing to admit it at first, unresolved issues can hurt future relationships very deeply.
Murakami and Music
I love how musical all of his books are. His entire writing is like the flow of a lovely and bittersweet symphony. In his books not only does he narrate as a skillful musician, but he includes actual songs which go with story as a perfect soundtrack. In this case it was Liszt’s “Le mal du pays” which is the epitome of the beautiful sadness, described in the book. I was not able to listen to it until I had reached the middle of the book but after that it sort of became the natural background of the story.
The Minuses. *** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
What I did not like about Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage were three mysteries which were left unanswered and frustrated me more than Murakami’s usual vagueness does.
– Shiro’s rape and death. I wanted to know what really happened to her. As far as Tsukuru’s musings go, I can accept that she chose to punish him for leaving by falsely accusing him, but it was still supposedly something that happened to her and I’m discontent by the fact that we were not told who really raped her and finally who killed her.
– The story about the mysterious pianist. While I can see why Murakami squeezes this story in the book and leaves it unanswered, it’s like an itch, the part about the mysterious jar he puts on the piano before he starts playing.
– Haida’s disappearance. This was the part which frustrated me the most. We are partially informed about why Tsukuru was kicked out of his group, resulting in him losing those four friends, but what about Haida? I am assuming that the sexual encounter between Haida and Tsukuru really happened and that’s why Haida left. But what happened with him afterwards? This is going to bug me for a while, I swear.