Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami (translated by Philip Gabriel) – 2015 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

‘Talent might be ephemeral,’ Haida replied, ‘and there aren’t many people who can sustain it their whole lives. But talent makes a huge spiritual leap possible. It’s an almost universal, independent phenomenon that transcends the individual.’

Great segue for Murakami’s latest instalment “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”, a master who is this year’s favourite to win the Nobel Prize (5/1 at Ladbrokes), this novel selling one million copies in the first week of publication in Japan, atop the best selling book list at Book Depository, debut at number 4 on the New York Times Best Seller list and obviously more. A book, whichever way you look at it, will be critiqued long and hard around the globe. So has Murakami sustained his talent?

Before him lay a huge, dark abyss that ran straight through to the earth’s core. All he could see was a thick cloud of nothingness swirling around him; all he could hear was a profound silence squeezing his eardrums.
Welcome to the world of Tsukuru Tazaki, the purest form of his name meaning “create”, however our Tsukuru is of the simpler form, he “makes” or “builds”. A shadow of a man who was destroyed many years before when his four closest school friends suddenly cut him off without explanation. His friends all having colourful names, Aka = red, Ao = blue, Shiro = white and Kuro = black. Together they make an “orderly, harmonious, intimate place”.
Without overstating things, this is a book about names:
First he was given a name. Then consciousness and memory developed, and, finally, ego. But everything began with his name.
But it is also a book about color (why does the English publication insist on the US spelling? Excruciating). For example Shiro, whose name is white, is described as follows:
The Yamaha grand piano in the living room of her house. Reflecting Shiro’s conscientiousness, it was always perfectly tuned. The lustrous exterior without a single smudge or fingerprint to mar its luster. The afternoon light filtering in through the window. Shadows cast in the garden by the cypress trees. The lace curtain wavering in the breeze. Teacups on the table. Her black hair, neatly tied back, her expression intent as she gazed at the score. Her ten long, lovely fingers on the keyboard. Her legs, as they precisely depressed the pedals, possessed a hidden strength that seemed unimaginable in other situations. Her claves were like glazed porcelain, white and smooth. Whenever she was asked to play something, this piece was the one she most often chose. ‘Le mal du pays.’ The groundless sadness called forth in a person heart’s by pastoral landscape. Home-sickness. Melancholy.

For me, this section paints the purity of white, the cleanliness, the peacefulness. Although “luster” [URGH ANOTHER AMERICANISM] – I’ll stop with that now – not the writer’s fault.
Our protagonist Tsukuru has reached a point in his life where he needs to resolve the past, he has just begun a new relationship and without understanding what happened all those years ago he will never be able to fully let himself go, emotionally.
A novel which explores a number of the human “sins”, for example, jealousy:
Jealousy – at least as far as he understood it from his dream – was the most hopeless prison in the world. Jealousy was not a place he was forced into by someone else, but a jail in which the inmate entered voluntarily, locked the door, and threw away the key. And not another soul in the world knew he was locked inside. Of course if he wanted to escape, he could do so. The prison was, after all, his own heart. But he couldn’t make that decision. His heart was as hard as a stone wall. This was the very essence of jealousy.
No spoilers in my reviews so you won’t know how Tsukuru fares with his journey away from his exile and back towards his school friends, whether he finds out why they cut him off, was it because he wasn’t a colour? Or how his years of pilgrimage transpire.
It is understandable why this is a best seller, a new, and more approachable work, from a master, an intriguing plot and a masterful weaving of a simple story. However to be honest I found a few things quite frustrating, the amount of references to Tsukuru being unable to form a lasting relationship became tedious, I think I understood that after the fifth mention, but to call it out twenty or thirty times?? And in reality this is quite a shallow work, it begins with such promise and the palette of colours could be melded together quite nicely exploring the clarity and purity of blue, the rage and masculinity of red, the shade and despair of black and how Tsukuru (the “creator”) blends them all together.
For new Murakami readers this is a nice introduction to his work, and if you enjoy it I suggest you look at his other works (don’t jump straight into 1Q84 though), and I have a distinct feeling for Murakami fans this may be a little disappointing. But then again I may have missed the point, but as someone said to me today, maybe there is no point?

PS – The stickers inside are pretty cool though.

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