In high school, Tsukuru Tazaki belonged to a close-knit group of five friends. When he goes off to college, the other four suddenly and absolutely reject him, refusing to give any explanation. Years later, Tsukuru’s new girlfriend Sara realizes that the devastating loss of his best friends has kept Tsukuru from moving on with his life. She persuades him to track down his friends and find out why they abandoned him.
The depth of our relationships with each other is a major theme throughout the story and worth further reflection. Sara points out, “We live in a pretty apathetic age, yet we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather that information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people.”
Overall, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage has a subtle tone and a very realistic feel, with only hints of magical and surreal elements. There were many moments of quiet, breathless awe where I simply enjoyed Murakami’s words (praise goes to translator Philip Gabriel for this as well).
The title of the book is rich. We learn why Tsukuru is “Colorless” right from the start: the other four friends have colors as part of their names, but Tsukuru does not. About seventy pages in, the source of the “Years of Pilgrimage” is revealed. By the time we reach the end of the novel, thinking about the book’s title brings forth a multitude of profound meanings. It’s pretty amazing.
There’s a nice mix of mystery and intrigue set against Tsukuru’s listlessness. Tsukuru’s character is incredibly well-developed. We see how the loss of close friendships cripples, how he navigates that grief and tries to move forward without really doing so, and we watch him finally grow out of passively accepting whatever happens to come his way. The novel’s loose ending bothered me when I first closed the book, but the more I think about how different Tsukuru is at the end, the more it makes sense for Murakami to have left things as he did.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage has been described as Haruki Murakami’s return to the subject matter and tone of Norwegian Wood. I loved the ease which with I could absorb this one, and I think it would be a fantastic starting place for a reader brand new to Murakami’s writing.