Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: Initial ThoughtsAfter My First Time Through

Colorless Tzukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgramage

The first sentence is rather shocking. “From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.” It’s not exactly a hopeful beginning, and yet right from the beginning we are in touch with a familiar theme of Murakami’s: despair.

Tsukuru Tazaki’s despair is born of loneliness, a legitimate feeling since his four closest friends have abandoned him with no explanation. He is left wondering what he could have done to be rejected so completely, and having not even the strength to ask for explanations, he retreats to Tokyo.

As Tsukuru reflects on his four friends, he feels empty and isolated by comparison. One of the reasons is that each of the four had a name containing a color. The two boys’ last names were Akamatsu-which means “red pine”- and Oumi-“blue sea”; the girls’ family names where Shirane- “white root”-and Kurono-“black field.” Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a color in its meaning. From the very beginning this fact made him feel a little bit left out.” Even though Tsukuru’s name does not have a color, it does have significance; tuskuru means “to make or build.” It is a name which perfectly fits a character who is able to build train stations, and more importantly, who must build meaning into his life again.

While Tsukuru Tazaki swims laps at a pool in Tokyo, he meets a new friend, Haida (whose name means literally, “gray field”. And he also meets Sara, who is the impetus behind his pilgrimage. She knows that he cannot carry on without knowing the reason for his expulsion from the group, and it is she who encourages him to meet each one of the friends sixteen years later. Three times, by Chapter 11, this quote is given, “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”

Tsukuru’s pilgrimage is to find out why he was rejected. But more importantly than that, in my opinion, it is to find the strength to carry on regardless of the past. His pilgrimage is to put the past to rest, while bravely embracing the future with a confidence which has been dormant for far too long.

(I plan on rereading this book before September 12, on which I will post the discussion questions put forth by Random House. From there, those who have read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage are welcome to answer any of the questions they choose. Please know now much I enjoy the discussion we began with the book cover yesterday. I look forward to more insight from your comments and reviews in the weeks to come.)

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50 thoughts on “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: Initial ThoughtsAfter My First Time Through”

  1. I'm behind on my Murakami reading. (I still haven't read 1Q84.) But I really like his style of writing and the characters he creates. Right now it's a tie between Kafka on the Shore and Wild Sheep Chase for which Murakami is my favorite. I'm really looking forward to reading this book. (Hopefully sooner than later.) Have fun rereading!

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  2. I suspect Kafka on the Shore will always be my favorite. Followed by the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. But this particular book has much to say about isolation, loneliness, and ultimately, courage.

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  3. (spoilers) I loved reading this book but I was very disappointed in the ending particularly that we never find out what happened with Haida. Don't get wrong, I count many open ended books as favorites but this one just left to many unanswered questions. Plus what happens with Sara and Tsukuro? We never know. Who was that guy she was walking with?

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  4. There are unanswered questions, as I've come to expect with Murakami. But, when it comes to Sara, I think it doesn't matter what becomes of them as a couple as much as that he found the courage to actively pursue her. He found he loved her, instead of only having empty feelings inside, and he found the strength to tell her even when she wasn't giving clear signals in return. Do you agree with that?

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  5. Yes! Yes! Agree completely. You are right. I just finished it yesterday so I'm still trying to assimilate and understand it all. What about Haida? What was that all about? And what really happened with Shiro? Was it an alternate Tsukuru who did all those things to her?

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  6. I devoured it as soon as I got my copy and have been pondering it ever since. I loved how it felt like a typical Murakami book, but felt slightly different than his usual fare. I definitely agree with you that this story about was about Tsukuru trying to build his life again after having endured such loneliness for so long. I wanted to find out more about Haida, but realized that perhaps he was a friend for a reason – to get Tsukuru to open up to friendship again. And I did like how much Sara pushed him to challenge himself by visiting his past, considering how much it had hindered him in his life. Murakami writes about despair and loneliness with such authenticity that Tsukuru's pain leapt off the pages – you could feel it. I absolutely loved this book!

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  7. I'm not sure about Haida, who was literally a gray field…perhaps he was another person for whom Taukuru cared deeply but still found disappointment in the abandonment. But this time, his disappointment wasn't so crushing. I guess he saw that he could go on after Haida left so suddenly with no explanation.

    As for Shiro, I think she was killed by a stranger. Certainly not Tsukuru. But when Murakami brings in the concept of a parallel universe, or the ideas that our dreams could be realities, maybe he means that Tsukuru could have “killed” her with his thoughts. It's always possible that we can destroy something, someone's without ever wanting to. Look what his friends did to him…

    I will reread this book. Often in retreading a Murakami I see things I didn't see (or understand) before.

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  8. It did feel like a Murakami book, and yet I was glad this was more realistic. (Although not without the bizarre and complex!) I agree with you that Haida was sort of a “transitional” friend, and I also agree that Sara was so wise to push him toward solving the unanswered questions of his past. The last bit of your comment is what I love most about Murakami: he writes of loneliness and despair, alienation and isolation with such honesty I know he's felt those things. And I know he understands them, not only in himself but in me. Perhaps he hits on a feeling which is more universal than most people would care to admit, and because he can touch that core of “I'm sad”, and name it, his readers love him.

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  9. I've read your review & comments very carefully, skimming when necessary to avoid any spoilers (thank you for the alerts).

    I'm not quite half way through. Sara has just given him the addresses for his friends…and the pilgrimage is about to start.

    Even though 1Q84 was overly wordy at time; it drew me in, actually sucked me into his world in a way this one hasn't quite done (yet?)
    It's a quieter, less dramatic novel so far. The exterior world is not a big player like in 1Q84 either.

    I'll be back… 🙂

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  10. The first theme I ponder on is jealousy in Chapter 3. Murakami singled that powerful emotion that turned around Tsukuru’s dying state.
    The second theme is value of philosophy and abstract ideas which Tsukuru like to discuss with Haida and of course the music of Franz Liszt, the Years of Pilgrimage, in Chapter 4.
    The third one is the offer, like the bargain of Faust with Mephistopheles, on return for a special power, the expansion of consciousness, on Chapter 5. There are more themes in the later part of the story.

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  11. I found this a very different read than 1Q84, both in scope and magical realism. This is much more realistic, and in my opinion, quite piercing in its depiction of Tsukuru in his isolation and loneliness. I honk you're quite right in saying it's quieter and less dramatic…all the way through. Unless you don't call emotional revelations dramatic. 😉

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  12. How interesting that you point out these themes, Edgar. I'd like to know more about what you're thinking with the jealousy and power themes; those didn't leap out at me. But, I do have a post planned with the books and music Murakami mentioned in this, his latest work, just as I highlighted for Dinna Tartt's The Goldfinch. I'm always interested in what authors include in their books as relates to the fine arts.

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  13. I agree Bellezza; we don't need to know if they actually get together – the pilgrimage was about learning to open up again and love whole-heartedly, with courage. And to not be passive. But to accept that you can't know everything about someone – there will always be little pockets of reserve/unknowns.

    Tsukuru also realised that Haida was as damaged as Shiro and that they cut him off due to something within them, not within him.

    In the end they “each of us had did what we had to do, in order to survive.”

    I'm also drawn to the how people often view themselves very differently to how others see them. Tsukuru highlights this the whole way through the book. Part of his pilgrimage was seeing himself as other's see him – the calm, balanced person capable of handling anything.

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  14. People come and go in our lives all the time. But Tsukuru didn't have many friends fullstop, so when the natural ebb and flow of friendship happened with Haida he was left without any other friendships to fall back on & it seemed more dramatic or significant?

    Both Eri & Tsukuru discuss the idea that they 'killed' Shiro “in a sense”. I kind of get what they mean, but ….?

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  15. When I was thinking about the comments above, the old saying about friendships for a reason, a season or a lifetime popped into my mind.

    I think you're right that Haida was a reason – a transitional friend to help move Tsukuru move onto the next stage. Perhaps Sara is too?

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  16. Because of 1Q84, anytime something a little unusual happened – the dreams, the mention of bad elves, I expected/suspected a little people invasion or a parallel universe in the offing!

    Tsukuru's life has crept in quietly and gotten under my skin though. The strength of character that can come from loneliness & alienation has been described so realistically. It reminds me a little of Paul Auster's writing about loneliness. Two men who know what it is to experience deep loneliness…and how to write about it.

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  17. As you can see by all these comments, I've just finished the books! These are my first rambling attempts to write my way into a coherent review 🙂

    I'm also curious to delve into Haida's fathers story – fables usually point to some key idea that the author wants to express. Dreams are also another key device to explore the subconscious desires of the characters.

    Sex dreams are usually interpreted as an integration of what the person you're having sex with symbolises to you, regardless of their sex. What do Shiro & Haida symbolise to Tsukuru…and what parts of their personality is he trying to integrate into his own??

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  18. Yet at the end, he says he might still consider suicide if Sara turns him down.

    I flipped through the book, horrors, I know, but I came away thinking Tsukuru is way too self absorbed for this day and age, only focusing on his feelings in the midst of so much going on around him – in society and the world, for instance. True, he took part in charitable and altruistic events in school, but you get the sense this was only to stay in the group or be part of the group. How much did these activities really mean to him in themselves?

    A comment on modern man or maybe the modern Japanese youth – too self absorbed?

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  19. I'm not reading these post yet, but I will. I have to finish The Kills which is 1000 pages long, and The Snow Queen which has to go back to the library before I can start the new Murakami.

    But I have it on my end table…..waiting…..

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  20. Hi Meredith,
    I am avoiding reading all the posts, I just started reading this book. So far one thing stands out, it is a much more dealistic read than other Murakami books…..of I go to read

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  21. Friend friendships for a reason or a season is a great connection for Tsukuru and Haida. I'd like to think that Sara turns into something more, but we don't know for sure. If she wasn't walking with that man, hand in hand with ebullience, I'd say she and Taukuru were a sure thing.

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  22. I have not read Paul Auster's work, although I think I have one of his books (on Winter?). Murakami though touches the heart of me on so many ways. I can't say he writes universally because I don't know everyone's heart. But, he is able to see mine quite clearly, or else I understand his because of the way he writes with such vulnerability.

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  23. I don't think we can limit self-absorbed to any one culture…America seems to be doing a fine job in that area much to my dismay.

    I didn't find Tsukuru selfish as much as sad. Yes, there was a lots of self introspection, but I think it was because he was trying to overcome his sorrow (and utter lack of confidence).

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  24. I understand not reading the posts, or comments, for fear of something being spoilt. It is more realistic than he usually writes, and I enjoyed that very much. Although that's not to say there aren't cryptic parts, right?

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  25. I think self absorbed rather than selfish, Bellezza. The extreme case of this self absorbtion moves him to consider suicide. I found it interesting Murakami's comments on the current mad-rushed Japanese society, at least in the big cities – page 362 – “Japanese…. eyes downcast and unhappy looking.” Not a happy life…concerns so narrow – daily long commute, etc.” What do you think of this?

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  26. I have never been to Japan, although I have heard that the people are quite depressed on the whole. There seems to be so much pressure, and isn't the suicide rate incredibly high? When you explain Tsukuru Tazaki as self-absorbed, rather than selfish which is a leap I took, I can see that. But, I don't “blame” him for it. Somehow I see his pain as legitimate, whereas in other books being self-absorbed is just annoying.

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  27. Tsukuru as a metaphor for society makes a lot of sense to me. I think there are so many lonely and isolated people, even in crowds of so called friends. You made a brilliant point, Harvee, which is why I love reading together.

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  28. Bellezza, the book sounds intriguing as well as enigmatic. Thanks for sharing the bit about the colors. I hope to read it–one of these days!! 🙂

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  29. Is there also something to be said about T & aloneness as he is watching the crowds in the train stations. T builds structures for all these people to move through efficiently…maybe he should build something for society that helps them to connect with each other; not just to make a connecting trip!?

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  30. Wonderful idea, that Tsukuru should build something for the people to connect with each other instead of through the buildings. I think he's working on building himself up to be strong enough to maintain connections, at least.

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  31. I havent yet finished ( I am flying to Darwin next week and will have plenty of time on that trip!) so I havent read all your comments and replies – however what I have read of the comments here are encouraging – I am really enjoying the book (although it's a little heavy for carry on the commute to work). I notice that someone's asked about the future of Sara and T – and I agree that it doesn't really matter – Sara is performing a duty in the story (one that I would probably perform in my friends lives). I also note that someone's commented on T own name and its influence on his vocation in life – 'to build' – isn't it interesting that names can have that influence. I guess that;s the whole premise of this story. I have read the review (I think Words and Peace) on the cover – but my cover is not the same – so I'll give it some thought when it comes to my review….
    Thanks B for hosting this fascinating read. I'm looing forward to looking at the questions next week.

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  32. It's a surprisingly quick read, Suko, although I read it as slowly as I could to savor every moment. Still, as one would expect, there's a lot to contemplate with the story he gives us.

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  33. Hi Meredith, I just finished Murakami's latest novel, so I am still thinking. After reading your comments and the comments of other readers, I find it interesting the many ways to interpret this novel. It might be one of Murakami's most realistic novel, then again it might be more surreal. After all I try to consider the author, where the dreams just dreams…..?

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  34. What an interesting question Sylvie. Murakami's books float in and out of dreams-some of Ts Dreams could very well have been real. I find Ms style so intriguing because of this blurring boundaries.

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  35. Literally finished this book just a few minutes ago. I think there was some symbolism with his fascination with trains, how they have a given destination and cannot change course. If this is true, then he and Sara either will or wont end up together, as it is predestined.

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    1. You bring up a point I hadn’t considered before. It’s true that trains have a given destination and cannot change course…on the other hand, they can take us where we want to go if we get on the right one. When I finished the book, I felt that Tsukuru was on a train that will take him to a better place. And, I so hope that he and Sara will end up together now that he is on the path to healing having had the courage to follow her advice and face his pain.

      Thank you for commenting.

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  36. I am not familiar with this book but your review makes it interesting. I am glad to know he pressed on but sorry to hear he carried the hurt and baggage of the rejection for another 16 years. Life is too short for that.
    I am thankful God gives us intrinsic worth and we don’t have to rely on others for value and worth. I learned when I was 27 (guess it took me a few years too) that I didn’t even need my earthly father’s approval to be of value. I was lucky at 34 to meet my husband who accepted me and allowed me to be me – he was another blessing/gift from God. 🙂 Enjoy your reading and your discussions with this shared reading experience.

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