Colorless Tsukuru Tazak and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Philip Gabriel
Knopf, August 2014
400 pages – Amazon
Haruki Murakami’s latest offering is more subdued, linear, and introspective than his previous work. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is more about a journey through the soul than through the physical world. Murakami provides his usual: a brooding protagonist, sex, erections, magic realism, and a complete lack of neat American literary resolution. However, therein lies Murakami’s charm. Critics of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki claim that Murakami is recycling the same old material, but I ask you: Which successful writer lacks a recurring theme? Murakami’s fictional universe is his own, and the characters who inhabit it have so much of us in them we can’t stay away.
Tsukuru Tazaki is a railroad station engineer who lives a rather disaffected life. During his early college years the only four friends he had cut him off. This banishment was sudden and unexplained:
“I’m sorry, but I have to ask you not to call any of us anymore,” Ao said abruptly and without preface. No “Hey!” or “How’ve you been?” or “It’s been a while.”
“Tell me—what happened?” Tsukuru asked.
“You’d better ask yourself that,” Ao said.
The path to Tsukuru’s recovery involves an intense contemplation of suicide, and a morbid preoccupation with death. Tsukuru hurtles into a void of suffering and confusion, all the while wondering why his friends abandoned him. Murakami writes:
Perhaps he didn’t commit suicide then because he couldn’t conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had towards death. But method was beside the point. If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he wouldn’t have hesitated to push it open.
To say we’ve all been there might be a stretch but in this day and age perhaps not. Our human condition is largely an incessant “why me” meditation, and the most gripping elements of this novel are these intense moments of metaphysical, erotic, and plain introspection. I was sucked in completely by Murakami’s skillful use of dialogue blended with omniscient narration. Young Tsukuru is an aching ball of worry. He incessantly examines the meaning of existence and death. Murakami then diffuses the tension with tepid present day Tsukuru. The balance builds escalating layers of suspense, and crisis after existential crisis Tsukuru begins to fill out.
Tsukuru has no particular interest in anything, except railroad stations. His desire to build train stations is what ultimately motivates him to leave for engineering school, which leads to the demise of his friendship with Ao and the other three. He often confesses that he has an “interest in one specific thing,” and not a passion. However, his interest in railroad stations is peculiarly utilitarian. Murakami writes:
“But why railroad stations?”
“The world needs them, that’s why,” Tsukuru said, as if it were obvious.
“Interesting,” the man said, as if he truly felt that way. “I’ve never really
given much thought to the necessity of stations.”
“But you use stations yourself, I imagine. If there weren’t any, you’d be in trouble when you ride the train.”
Each of his friends’ names represents a color, but Tsukuru’s name does not. His name loosely means, “to make things.” This name arrangement is engaged extensively throughout the story, as Tsukuru believes he is an empty vessel, devoid of color or anything of substance. When Tsukuru falls in love, and the object of his affections, Sara, demands that he resolve this inner conflict, Tsukuru sets out on a pilgrimage to confront his former besties.
Murakami haunts the novel with another beautiful song, “Le Mal du Pays” by Franz Liszt. The music becomes a bridge between the characters, and serves Tsukuru as icebreaker, memory aid, and background music. It is there as Tsukuru replays his life in his mind, over and over again, questioning his existence.
Tsukuru Tazaki had nowhere to go. This was like a running theme of his life. He had no place he had to go to, no place to come back to. He never did, and he didn’t now. The only place for him was where he was now.
Murakami doesn’t rely too heavily on fantastical events, or magic realism, although they are sprinkled in to good effect. There’s a straightforward feel to this novel, which is a departure from earlier works like Kafka on The Shore and 1Q84.
The characters are searching for a kind of inner peace. They make bargains for their own survival and for the survival of their friends. These people relieve one burden, and pick up another. Ultimately, these struggles reveal that we are not always as courageous as we’d like to be.
Murakami has crafted a fine novel, a work of art that opens the door for our own inner pilgrimage.
Roberto Carlos Garcia’s published works include the chapbook amores gitano (gypsy loves) Cervena Barva Press 2013, his poems and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in PLUCK!: The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, The Rumpus, 5 AM Magazine, HTMLGiant, Connotation Press- An Online Artifact, Poets/Artists, Levure Litteraire, and others.
A native New Yorker, Roberto holds an MFA in Poetry and Poetry Translation from Drew University. Roberto is Instructor of English at Union County College, his website is www.robertocarlosgarcia.