Review: Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami occupies a unique position in world literature. Winner of countless international awards and regularly in the running for the most prestigious accolade of all (that of Nobel laureate), he retains so large a following that his work has already been translated into 50 languages and his latest novel – Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – sold one million copies in a week in his native country of Japan alone.
Murakami’s story starts with the simple fact that the names of Tsukuru Tazaki’s four best friends at high school all contained a colour – they were the two boys Aka (the one with the best grades, whose surname meant ‘red pine’) and Ao (the captain of the rugby team, whose name meant ‘blue sea’) and two girls Kuro (eager, charming and curious, whose name meant ‘black field’) and Shiro (tall, slim and beautiful and ‘white root’). Only Tsukuru and his surname were ‘colourless’.
One day after years of companionship in school, on vacation and in work placements his four friends told Tsukuru that they did not want to talk to him ever again. Their news was as final as it was sudden and unexpected, and when Tsukuru challenged it his friends’ only response was that he already knew the reason behind their decision.
Plunged into a deep depression, Tsukuru has drifted through life ever since unable to form long-term attachments. But now he has met Sara, who has told him that the reason why he has been unable to form stable relationships is rooted in his friends’ decision and that the time has come to find out exactly what happened – and the reason why – on that day almost two decades ago.
It is apparent from the very first page why Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage has harvested critical plaudits and at the same time hoovered up the popular vote – it is profound but gentle, quiet and yet moving and sophisticated as well as accessible. It is genuinely beguiling, hooking the reader almost before you know it. Like the very best of Murakami’s work, it is full of references to pop culture, jazz and cooking. It is part hymn to classical music, part reflection on the counterculture movement of the 1960s and even part ghost story!
Best of all, it is without question the coolest looking book to be seen in the coffee shop, bar or on the beach with this summer. Ultimately ‘Tsukuru Tazaki’ is an ode to believing in oneself to be as much a part of the in-crowd as the very coolest kids in school, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. And who hasn’t needed to hear that message at some point in their lives?