Book review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless TsukuruI was thrilled to bits when I received Haruki Murakami’s latest book from a friend since it has been almost three years when he released his 1Q84 and it has been highly anticipated by legions of the Japanese author’s fans, including myself. A huge thank you to you know who you are for gifting me with one of the most thoughtful gifts I have received in a long while.

Murakami’s newest offering is as expected oozing with his typical writing style and themes – a lonely man in his mid-thirties feeling displaced in a big city while harboring a deep sense of solitude.

Before jumping the gun, I would like to rave about the gorgeous design for the hardcover version published by Alfred A. Knopf of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage”. The dust jacket features five cutout panels, four filled with colors and the last transparent to reveal the complex train lines in Tokyo underneath. When viewed from a distant, the cover forms the shape of a deconstructed left hand, a pictorial description tying in closely with the author’s writing.

“You know in a sense we were a perfect combination, the five of us. Like five fingers,” Ao raised his right hand and spread his thick fingers. “I still think that. The five of us all naturally made up for what was lacking in the others, and totally shared our better qualities.”

Story wise, protagonist Tsukuru Tazaki is a typical salaryman in Tokyo, who despite being financially comfortable remains haunted by his past where he was abruptly cut off from his tightly knit group of high school friends. These friends apart from Tsukuru all share a distinctive feature of containing a color in their last names – aka (red), ao (blue), kuro (black) and shiro (white). Only Tsukuru remained as the colorless Tsukuru.

Inside of Colorless TsukuruThis is essentially the story of him confronting ghosts from the past.

“At the point when you agree to take on death, you gain an extraordinary capacity… You’re able to push open what Aldous Huxley calls ‘ the doors of perception.’ Your perception becomes pure and unadulterated. Everything around you becomes clear, like the fog lifting. You have an omniscient view of the world and see things you’ve never seen before.”

Stylistically speaking, there are no major surprises with many recurrent themes recycled from his other books, and that is one of the major criticisms of Murakami’s works. Yet in this pool of sameness, I stay drawn to his tottering on magical realism and Zen philosophy to pose some difficult questions about fundamental concepts towards time, space, love and life.

“No matter how shallow and dull things might get, this life is worth living. I guarantee it. And I’m not being either ironic or paradoxical. It’s just that, for me, what’s worthwhile in life has become a burden, something I can’t shoulder anymore… But you’re different. You should be able to handle what life sends your way. You need to use the thread of logic, as best you can, to skillfully sew onto yourself everything that’s worth living for.”

And to be honest, loneliness is not one of the easiest topics to write about for the lack of theatrics and extreme emotions, so we ought to give him credit for tackling it with such earnest.

Have you read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments down below.

Ending off with the main song inside this novel Franz Liszt’s ‘Le Mal Du Pays’:


34 thoughts on “Book review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage

  1. This is good timing. I was just at the library and happened to see 1Q84. The title intrigued me and I read the back but I didn’t get it because I wanted to know a little more about him. You have convinced me to pick one of his books up when I go back! He sounds fantastic.

  2. “pool of sameness”—that’s good! Oscar Wilde comments that when one praises a woman’s hair or her eyes it’s because there is no further beauty to her to compliment; you begin with the cover of Murakami’s book!

  3. Thank you for this review! I really am intrigued by the surnames as different colours, and he is colourless, it already tells you so much about the character… look forward to giving this a read!

  4. Reading this one was like a long walk on a breezy day. Or as Tsukuru would testify, watching trains go by. I read not knowing what’s coming and before I knew it, I couldn’t stop. I was in love. I have the Harvill Secker hardback which came with the added bonus of stickers depicting elements from the book (by five different designers) that could be used to customise the cover, which I thought was a brilliant idea. The ending is perhaps the best part. I enjoyed every bit!

  5. I look forward to giving this one a go. I’ve never read any of his books as yet ( although many are on the increasingly hypothetical to read list but your review has bumped him and this one up a few places. Thanks!

  6. I’ve just ordered this off amazon thanks to your wonderful review 🙂 Not something I’d usually go for, but the most important thing about literature is trying different things from time to time, that’s the only way our brains continue to expand, grow and harbour new ideas. Planting the seed is just the beginning

  7. Hi, there! Greetings from Indonesia!
    I’ve read this book earlier this year, maybe in January or so. And I agree with you, though he always uses the same theme for every book that he wrote (loneliness, etc), I still love this book. Actually this one easily became my favourite after Kafka on the Shore (for me). And have you read his short story in New Yorker? It’s also beautiful 🙂

  8. Kafka on the Shore is my favourite so far. He also wrote an interesting non -fiction about running marathons. What I talk about when I run – or some such title!

  9. A friend recently lent me this book and I’m looking forward to reading it! You seem like a true Murakami fan, so all I have to ask is: Are there cats in this book, too? 😛 -Cheri

  10. I haven’t read any of his books before but I’ve just ordered this one. I’m looking forward to it and I do love the cover… some reviews I’ve read said this was quite different to his usual style… did you find this? Thanks

  11. I’ve read this book in one sitting. I was completely drown into the story. I couldn’t finish 1Q84, it wasn’t a story for me although I loved all his previous books but this last one was a little gem. It was simple yet it touched me. Maybe because I read it in a period of time where I felt close to the main character.

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  13. Ive read this book and loved it. It was full of intense emotion and it seems that Murakami is always reading what’s on my mind.

  14. I love Murakami, but I have to confess that I liked this book less than the previous ones. Maybe it is a someone said above, it is more simple, or maybe it is more sad. However, I still love the atmosphere he creates, the relationship of his characters with nature and the magical realism elements à la japanese. What is your favorite Murakami book?

  15. Just finished the book too. Loved it and like many others (or just me), I went into youtube to listen to Franz Liszt’s ‘Le Mal Du Pays’, picturing Shiro playing it. I do enjoy Haruki Murakami’s style.

  16. Just finished this book too. I suspect like most (me – who never follows classical) I went into youtube, to listen to Franz Liszt’s ‘Le Mal Du Pays’ and imagine Shiro playing it.

  17. Hello, I’ve followed your blog for quite some time. My name is Rinta and I’m from Indonesia. A self proclaimed avid reader and a big fan of Haruki Murakami.

    I’ve finished reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage about two weeks ago (and I also have the Alfred Knopf’s version and really like the design as well). I’m a big fan of Murakami thus whatever he produced, I must say I have a very biased comment about it. Personally though I think the story started stong although Murakami still play in his “comfort area” and recurring theme of magical realism and loneliness. However when the story was about to end I realize that the story might be simpler than I thought it would be. By the time I finished reading it, I thought that the whole story was basically about Tsukuru trying to let go of his past in order to move on to the next phase of life with Sara. Still I praised him and his well-crafted words when he explored the theme of alienation, loneliness, and depression.

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