Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

A few months ago I walked into the book store ready to enter the world of Haruki Murakami. I had heard about the success of his novel 1Q84 and that day I was looking for his essay collection What I talk about when I talk about Running, which has a very similar title to the collection of short stories by Raymond Carver, What we talk about when we talk about Love. The thing is, as soon as I found the Murakami book, I realized that it was literally about running. As it turns out, Murakami is a big fan of long-distance running and this book contains his thoughts and running experiences.

As I stood there in front of the pile of books, I realized that there were two main reasons for me not to buy the book:

  1. I hate running.
  2. I had never read Murakami before and starting with a book about one of the sports I find the most boring was not a good idea.

And then I saw it. A few centimeters away from the running book was a Murakami novel with a funny name. I picked it up and, after reading what it was about, decided to purchase it.

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami

This is the story of Tsukuru Tazaki, the boy with a colorless name. All his four childhood friends had a color in their names: for example, his friend Kei Akamatsu (赤松 慶) has the word “Aka” (赤), which means red. The fact that he has no color has affected Tsukuru his entire life. It was during his second year of university that his friends, without any sort of explanation, decided to stop talking to him, and it was during that time that Tsukuru Tazaki, albeit unconsciously, decided to never get close to anyone again.

Sixteen years later, Tsukuru is a man who can be described as successful: his economic situation is good, he works in something that he’s always loved, he eats healthily, he exercises regularly, and he lives in a nice apartment in Tokyo. In short, his life is very stable. And then Tsukuru starts going out with a woman named Sara. Tsukuru has had girlfriends before, but he really likes this one, and if he wants to have a relationship with her, he needs to re-examine his own life and his past, which is full of confusion, bad decisions, fantastic tales and the Years of Pilgrimage of Franz Liszt. It is a journey that, Tsukuru hopes, will help him heal old wounds that have limited him his entire life.

It is a well-told story, quick and easy. I don’t know if the text was simple because of the translation or because that’s how it’s written in Japanese, but Hemingway did say that big emotions don’t come from big words. In 300 pages, Tsukuru takes us on a journey of self-discovery and reflections about life, the decisions that we make, the things that hurt us, the difference between forgiving and forgetting, and about seeing things from the perspective that only distance gives.

“You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them. If nothing else, you need to remember that. You can’t erase history, or change it. It would be like destroying yourself.”

My main problem with the book began halfway through it, mostly because I felt that the author was opening too many doors that led nowhere and touching on themes that were never solved. In a way I understand because that’s how life is: full of situations that we seldom think about, opportunities that we don’t take, and experiences that lead nowhere. But at some point I felt that the book had too many episodes that aimed to reveal something deep about a character, and then they didn’t. That threw me off the story and made me wonder why they were even there. The ending was supposed to be hopeful, I guess, but instead it felt kind of abrupt.

All in all, it was a quick and enjoyable read, and, as far as I know, this book has everything that makes a Murakami novel, which is why I think it was a good choice. Recommended to all who enjoy a contemporary story and foreign literature.

  My edition:  Paperback, published in 2013 by Tusquets Editores.
My edition: Paperback, published in 2013 by Tusquets Editores.
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