Rate this book:


Description, Categories and Awards


This is a mesmerising mystery story about friendship from the internationally bestselling author of Norwegian Wood and 1Q84 Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. By chance all of their names contained a colour. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning 'red pine', and Oumi, 'blue sea', while the girls' names were Shirane, 'white root', and Kurono, 'black field'. Tazaki was the only last name with no colour in it. One day Tsukuru Tazaki's friends announced that they didn't want to see him, or talk to him, ever again. Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Tsukuru has four fast friends in a Nagoya High School. The others have a color in their surname. Tsukuru is without color. He feels he is the flaw in the circle.

Tsukuru leaves Nagoya for University in Tokyo to study train station engineering. The others remain behind. He contacts them during rare visits home. One such visit leaves him rebuffed by all without explanation.

The bite is deep, drains the color of his life and fills him with guilt. He grows thin and reclusive, ghosting through school. He recovers but remains gaunt. He finishes University and gets a job engineering train stations.

In a city of millions he has occasional contact with occasional women. Off-time often finds him at train stations watching others come and go while he sits, backgrounded, stationary on his journey.

At 36 he meets Sara. She pushes him into his past to pull him into a future with her - possibly. He wants her. He wants a life.

Tsukuru returns to Nagoya and presses for an explanation. He get it - with a riddle, a deeper guilt and a need to visit Finland.

The circle was only say-so perfect - a perfect fiction - with real consequences. Murakami hangs the story on Tsukuru but the fiction was consequential for the five - and all that fell into their circle.

I bought Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage on release day. Early. I made it my mission to buy this before I left Melbourne to return home and rocked up to a bookstore just after opening. I carried it home carefully in my hand luggage. And even though it was released nearly a year ago, I didn’t read it until recently. Why? I guess it’s because I always like to have some Murakami I haven’t read up my sleeve and really, this book is so pretty, it just needs to be stared at for some time. I also received in my copy the slightly infamous stickers, but I haven’t opened them. (I’m even less likely to use them to decorate my copy). This is such an aesthetically pleasing book that I just want to keep it forever.

As for the story, unfortunately it’s not the insta-love I felt for 1Q84 and Norwegian Wood. A friend from work and I have discussed this at length and she feels it’s closest to Norwegian Wood in content. While it’s ‘straight’ (i.e. very few of those Murakami ‘what-the?’ moments like talking cats/frogs or multiple moons), I don’t think it has the depth, beauty or melancholy that Norwegian Wood does. She also thinks that it’s written to be hip and meet the current culture. I don’t agree – Tsukuru, the main character rarely uses the internet, Facebook etc. which doesn’t make him current in my book. I think the overall theme of friendship, loss and moving on is more universal. If you’re looking for an out there Murakami you can analyse until the cows come home, this one isn’t it. It’s a pleasant story of Tsukuru, a man who designs and builds railway stations who is haunted by something that happened when he was at university. He used to be in a very close knit group of friends, all who had names linked to colours (his means build). They did everything together. However, one holiday when Tsukuru returned from university, they all shunned him. They didn’t want to be friends anymore and they said he knew why.

But Tsukuru didn’t know why. Since then, his life has been solitary with what few friends he has disappearing. You could say (and Tsukuru would agree with you) that it’s affected his whole life. But Tsukuru’s new girlfriend Sara encourages (actually, more like demands) that he resolve this issue in his life. She tracks them down and it’s up to Tsukuru to meet them and find out what happened. The bulk of the novel is Tsukuru meeting each of his former friends and finding out what happened, with them and with their friendship. In typical Murakami fashion, not everything is answered. There are enough loose threads and ‘what-ifs’ to have you wondering for a day or two. It’s not as involved as 1Q84 or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle but it’s a pleasant journey, one that I was more than happy to take.

As always, Murakami’s work demands that you read each word and savour it like an expensive chocolate. Philip Gabriel is the translator and once again, he does a wonderful job, capturing the essence of the Japanese lifestyle and bringing to English the intense sense of loneliness in Tsukuru’s life. As anyone who has spent time in railway stations in Japan would know, they are a work of art and I found it fascinating that this is Tsukuru’s job. We get a glimpse of what his job is like, but it’s more of a metaphor for Tsukuru’s life – always moving, never stopping to contemplate. It’s only when he reflects on how his friends have done and his relationship with Sara that he slows down to reflect. Is this a comment on modern culture, that we rush around like shinkansen, never stopping to think beyond the next station? Perhaps. But Murakami’s work is always full of symbolism and I could write forever on what it all might mean and I could be completely wrong. Anyway, with the release of Wind/Pinball this week I haven’t got time for that – time to move on to the next Murakami station. While this may not be Murakami’s best work, it’s an enjoyable read that will satisfy Murakami cravings.


I did the most Murakami hipster thing imaginable whilst reading this and went and bought a recording of Liszt's Annees de Pelerinage to listen to because it's what drives the "plot" forward and is what the novel is named after. It turns out that the 3 volume suite is itself named after Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years, which I will now be taking a little look at whilst continuing to explore Liszt. Beyond that this is pretty much as simple and straightforward a Murakami novel as you're likely to find, a study of love, loss and despair but from the point of view of a man who has disconnected himelf, or perhaps been disconnected, by others from emotion and feeling. It's a nice little novel that left me longing for more depth and substance, although the lack of fantastical elements was a welcome change of pace after 1Q84.

Once again Murakami has pulled me into his web of intrigue setting up a plot that is as compelling as any "airplane page turner". But as usual his skill as writer shines all the more brightly with beautiful prose and the sound of Liszt's "Le mal du pays" wafting through the pages. It haunts the novel just as Tazaki himself is haunted by a crime he may or may not have committed. He knows not of what he is accused by his most cherished school friends only that he has been tried and convicted in absentia. His journey to find out why is a journey of sexual self discovery filled with ambiguity, beauty and mystery which may leave some readers frustrated an unable to just enjoy the simplicity of his prose.

All non-English novelists must rely on the deftness of their translator. The only fault I could find with this novel is that perhaps the translator Philip Gabriel at times was lost for words and resorted to cliche. But it does not detract.
I"m with you Simon. I must read everything he has written!

Tsukuru Tazaki was lucky enough to have four close friends in high school. They were a tight knit group and they all shared their hopes and dreams with each other. When it came to college Tsukuru went off to Tokyo to pursue his dream career while the others remained in Nagoya at various schools. They vowed to remain close and Tsukuru made an effort to visit as much as possible. That was until one day Tsukuru was told that the other four wanted nothing to do with him anymore.

I am not going to go too much into the plot; I think this is something that needs to be discovered within the book. However I do need to talk a little about it. Tsukuru Tazaki had always felt like an outsider, even though he was accepted into the group for a while. He was always colourless in a group of colours; Akamatsu (which means red pine), Oumi (blue sea), Shirane (white root), and Kurono (black field), while his name means ‘to build’. Essentially this is a novel about friendship, rejection, isolation and the psychological scars that can be caused by others who never took that into account. There is a whole other side that can be explored but that would involve spoilers.

I had a rocky start with Haruki Murakami; the first book I read was 1Q84 and lets face it, this is the worst place to begin. I was exposed to the world of Murakami with the awkward fetishes and magical realism but 1Q84 was ultimately a little clunky and way too big. Luckily I am a bit of a hipster and picked up What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and while I’m not a runner, I found it to be an interesting read. It wasn’t till I read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World that I truly understood his brilliance. I still have a lot more to read but Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was a perfect next choice.

I have often heard people recommending beginning with Norwegian Wood because it is rooted in realism and I would like to think Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage would work as well. I obviously haven’t read Norwegian Wood yet but the idea of beginning with some of his realistic novels before getting into the magical realism and exploring the weirdness of Murakami’s brain is probably a good idea. His style is a little unusual but once you get an understanding of how his mind works you should be readying do dive into something fantastical.

What I have found reading Haruki Murakami is that he has a strong interest in both the conscious and the subconscious. His books explore the complexities of the mind and how different situations have a psychological impact on a person. This is a really interesting theme and one that I am particularly interested in; if I knew that a long time ago, I am sure I would have been more willing to explore his works. Even What I Talk About When I Talk About Running explored this theme and it was a memoir.

I do wish I didn’t begin with 1Q84 but after a few other books, I finally can say that Haruki Murakami has another fan. I am keen to read all his other books; both fiction and non-fiction. There is something enthralling about the way a mind works and I really like the way that Murakami explores that. While Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was far from perfect, there are some weird and awkward moments in the writing that I believe is synonymous with his writing style but I found this a captivating read. I have reserved Norwegian Wood at the library and I am hoping to read that one very soon.