An Invitation to Read Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage Together

If you are like me, you have been waiting for Haruki Murakami’s latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, to be released in English for months. I’ve had my copy on pre-order since Christmas, and it is destined to arrive on August 12. Perhaps you are waiting as well? 
I propose a shared read of this book, which is 400 pages, from August 12 to September 12. Now, when 1Q84 came out, I read it in three days. But, it was a little too fast and a little too lonely; I wanted to share what I was thinking and no one had finished it yet. So, taking a month might be just the thing. If you decide to join me you could read it in three days, or you could take the entire month. But by September 12 we could discuss any (or all) of the questions I have copied from Random House further down in this post.  
I hope that you will consider the invitation and “sign up” in the comments. I would love to read with you!
About the author:

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into more than fifty languages. The most recent of his many international honors is the Jerusalem Prize, whose previous recipients include J. M. Coetzee, Milan Kundera, and V. S. Naipaul. 
About the book:

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel—a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan—from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami. 

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages. 

Discussion questions:

1.   What is the significance of the name of the novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage? Why is Tsukuru branded “colorless”? Would you say that this an accurate description of him? Is this how Tsukuru sees himself or is it how he is seen by others? What kind of pilgrimage does Tsukuru embark upon and how does he change as a result of this pilgrimage? What causes these changes?

2.   Why does Tsukuru wait so many years before attempting to find out why he was banished from the group? How does he handle the deep depression he feels as a result of this rejection and how is he changed by this period of suffering? Is Tsukuru the only character who suffers in this way? If not, who else suffers at what is the cause? Do you believe that their distress could have been avoided? If so, how?

3.   Do you consider Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki a realistic work of fiction? Why or why not? What fantastical or surreal elements does Murakami employ in the novel and what purpose do they serve? What do these elements reveal that strictly realistic elements might not? Kuro says, “I do think that sometimes a certain kind of dream can be even stronger than reality” (310). In considering genre, do you believe that this is true?

4.   Tsukuru reveals that his father chose his name, which means “to make things.” Is this an apt name for Tsukuru? Why or why not? How does Tsukuru’s understanding of his own name affect the way that he sees himself? Where else in the story does the author address making things? Are they portrayed as positive or useful activities?

5.   Why is Tsukuru’s friendship with Haida so important? What is the outcome of this relationship? How does the relationship ultimately affect Tsukuru’s perception of himself? Does it alter Tsukuru’s response to the rejection he was subjected to years earlier in any way?

6.   Why does Haida share with Tsukuru the story about his father and the strange piano player who speaks of death? What might this teach us about the purpose of storytelling? How does Tsukuru react to this story? Is he persuaded by Haida’s tale? What does the story teach us about belief and the power of persuasion?

7.   Sara says that we live in an age where “we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather than information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people” (148). Do the characters in the story know each other very well? Do you believe that technology in today’s world has helped or hindered us in knowing each other better?

8.   When Tsukuru finally sees three of his friends again, how have each of them changed? How do they react to seeing one another after all this time? Are their reactions strange and unexpected or predictable? What unexpected changes have taken place over the years, and why are they surprising to Tsukuru? Has anything remained consistent?

9.   When Tsukuru visits the pizzeria in Finland, how does he react after realizing he is the only one there who is alone? How is this different from his usual response to isolation throughout the story? Discuss what this might indicate about the role that setting plays in determining Tsukuru’s emotional state.

10.   Does Tsukuru’s self-image and understanding of his role within the group align with how they saw Tsukuru and perceived his role in their group? If not, what causes differences in their perceptions? Do Tsukuru’s thoughts about his rejection from the group align with his friends’ understanding of why he was banished? How did Tsukuru’s banishment affect the other members of the group?

11.   Why do Tsukuru and Kuro say that they may be partly responsible for Shiro’s murder? Do you believe that the group did the right thing by protecting Shiro? Why or why not?

12.   The Franz Liszt song “Le mal du pays” is a recurring motif in the novel. Shiro plays the song on the piano; Haida leaves a recording of it behind; Tsukuru listens to it again and again; Kuro also has a recording. Why might the author have chosen to include this song in particular in the story? What effect does its repetition have on the reader—and the characters in the novel?

13.   Sara tells Tsukuru: “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them” (44). What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her statement?

14. Kuro says that she believes an evil spirit had inhabited Shiro, and as Tsukuru is leaving her home, Kuro tells him not to let the bad elves get him. Elsewhere in the story, the piano player asks Haida’s father whether he believes in a devil. Does the novel seem to indicate whether there is such a thing as evil—existing apart from mankind, or is darkness characterized as an innate part of man’s psyche?

15.   While visiting Kuro, Tsukuru comes to the realization “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds” (322). This, he says, “is what lies at the root of true harmony.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with his statement?

16.   Why does Tsukuru seem to be so interested in railroad stations? How does his interest in these stations affect his relationship with his high school friends? Later in his life, how does this interest affect his understanding of friendship and relationships? The author revisits Tsukuru’s interest in railroad stations at the end of the book and refers to the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways in 1995 great disaster of 3/11 in Japan. Why do you think that Murakami makes mention of this incident? Does this reference change your interpretation of the story?

17.   Is Tsukuru’s decision with respect to Sara at the end of the story indicative of some kind of personal progress? What is significant about his gesture? How has Tsukuru changed by the story’s end? Do you believe that the final scene provides sufficient resolution of the issues raised at the start of the story? Does it matter that readers are not ultimately privy to Sara’s response to Tsukuru’s gesture?

18.   Tsukuru wishes that he had told Kuro, “Not everything was lost in the flow of time” (385). What does he believe was preserved although time has gone by? What did the members of the group ultimately gain through their friendship despite their split?

19. How does Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki compare to Haruki Murakami’s earlier novels? What themes do the works share? What elements of Murakami’s latest novel are different or unexpected?

(About the author, about the book, and the discussion questions all come from Random House. Don’t forget to leave a comment if you’re thinking about joining in!)

26 thoughts on “An Invitation to Read Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage Together”

  1. I'm in. I've just rung the local book shop and put my order in. I've marked those dates in the diary. I've never actually participated (only really observed) a read along, so this will be a new Japanese Lit Challenge experience for me. I cant wait…. you know how much I love Murakami..Que 7 feeds into all my facebook/twitter google+ fears… this will be an iteresting read.


  2. Hooray, Tamara! You're first to sign in, and I'm thrilled. Here we go, from Paris to Japan all in the space of one month. No fears “allowed”, only reading at your pace and discussing what you choose. I suspect we can respond to the questions that most appeal to us, or simply record our own thoughts along the way.


  3. I'm so glad you're tempted, France. I love reading with you and sharing your insights. Both what I Talk About When I Talk About Running and Underground are works of nonfiction, which I quite enjoyed. But, Murakami's fiction has quite a bit of magical realism in it among other singular qualities all his own. Sometimes, it's almost difficult for me to grasp what he's saying, which is why I love his suggestion that readers should be open to possibility. I guess each of us could come up with our on interpretation about many of his works. That is why he's all the more interesting to have as a shared read. I do hope you will join in. xo


  4. Not having read this book before, obviously, I can't guarantee it will be our favorite. But, as you say…might as well start somewhere. He's one of my very favorite authors, so I hope you'll enjoy him, too. Glad to have you along, Lizzy!


  5. Sounds great – a definite “Maybe” for me – I have the eGalley I was trying to figure out when I might tackle this one, as I have about 4 books i really need to read and review, but I think the month timeline will work. Thanks for hosting.


  6. How envious I am you have the galley, already I presume? Well, I don't want to interfere with your reading schedule, but I would dearly love your presence in this shared read. If you choose. Maybe. 😉


  7. Hi, Harvee. It has to be preordered at this point, unless you're lucky enough to have an egalley like Bivliophile by The Sea. Amazon has it to preorder in hardback, or a kindle edition for $10.99. Barnes and Noble has it available, too.


  8. I'd love to have you join in, Edgar. Getting the book into our hands seems like the main issue to resolve for many of us! The title of the book you just finished sounds hilarious indeed. Something I feel like doing on many days. 😉


  9. I must join in the group as well. I love Murakami, his sense of humor and his storytelling ability. I typically use the library for all my book needs but I enjoy your blog and your followers so it's off to Amazon for me.


  10. I'm glad you're joining is, Joe, and you might end up glad that you'll have a first edition hardcover of the book (if you buy that instead of the kindle version). At any rate, what will be the best part is sharing our ideas together; I always want to talk about Murakami when I'm reading him and now I 'll have the chance. So excited, and thanks for reading with me and others.


  11. I've marked this as to read on so I won't forget to download it when it becomes available. I love Murakami and YOU are the person who first recommended him to me back in 2011 (when I was looking for short story reading recommendations). I hope I can make room for it in my busy reading schedule next month.


  12. Jay, I'm so happy that you enjoy Murakami as much as I do and that you even remembered my little role in the introduction. Hope you can find the time to join in!


  13. I'm glad it's official, Nadia! I'll add you to the list in the sidebar. This is the first time I've been looking forward to August since I was a child. I think. 😉


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