As promised, I am posting the questions Random House gave us for the purpose of discussing Haruki Murakami’s latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. So many questions seem rather a lot, so I’m going to choose to address only a few. Feel free to choose any you like, and respond here in the comment section or on your own blog. May the discussion commence!
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?
I think that before Tsukuru went on his pilgrimage, he was colorless. Consider this quote from early in the novel, “Tsukuru Tazaki was the only one in the group without anything special about him. His grades were slightly above average. He wasn’t especially interested in academics, though he did pay close attention during class and always made sure to do the minimum amount of practice and review needed to get by…He didn’t mind sports but was never interested enough to join a team…He had no deep interest in the arts, no hobby or special skill. He was, if anything, a bit taciturn; he blushed easily, wasn’t especially outgoing, and could never relax around people he’d just met. Everything about him was middling, pallid, lacking in color.” In comparison to his friends, in comparison to a life he could be living boldly, Tsukuru is indeed colorless.
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?
I think that Tsukuru lacks the courage to attempt to find out the particulars about his banishment. He was wounded so deeply, he simply could not face the rejection; in the face of that wound it must not have really mattered why his friends rejected him, as much as the fact that they did.
How can only one person be affected when relationships fail? All suffered, even if not quite as acutely as Tsukuru did. In his rejection, their bond of unity was broken.
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?
To me, the dreams in this novel were not real; they did not really happen. I think they were Tsukuru’s subconscious at work, that many times we suppress ways we really feel, or thoughts we really think, and they come back to us in dreams until we sort them out. The dreams very power perhaps make them “stronger than reality”, but only because of the hold they have on our emotions.
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?
“Le mal du pays” is a song with a haunting melody. And, any song that we hear during a particular time in our lives never really leaves us. Don’t you have the experience, when you listen to such a song, that you’re back in that moment? You can almost physically feel the time, the memory, the people you were with. I think this song carried such meaning for Tsukuru not only because of its beauty, but because of the import it had in his life from the people who meant something to him.
Also, Haida tells him, ” ‘Le mal du pays.’ It’s French. Usually it’s translated as ‘homesickness,’ or ‘melancholy.’ If you put a finer point on it, it’s more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’ It’s a hard expression to translate accurately.” What better piece of music to accompany Murakami’s themes of sadness and alienation?
(I was so moved by what Haida says later, about Lazar Berman playing Franz Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage suite ‘Year 1: Switzerland’ that I bought a copy for myself, and I’ve been listening to it ever since. “A Russian, Lazar Berman. When he plays Liszt it’s like he’s painting a delicately imagined landscape. Most people see Liszt’s piano music as more superficial, and technical. Of course, he has some tricky pieces, but if you listen very carefully to his music you discover a depth to it that you don’t notice at first. Most of the time it’s hidden behind all the embellishments. This is particularly true of the Years of Pilgrimage suites. There aren’t many living pianists who can play it accurately and with such beauty. Among more contemporary pianists, Berman gets it right, and with the older pianists I’d have to go with Claudio Arrau.”)
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?
I highlighted this quote every time that it appeared in the novel, and I’ve counted at least three. This quote has particular significance to me because when my first husband left his son and I in 1997, I could not bear any memory of our life together. I threw out whole photo albums, and boxes of letters he’d written to me. I was foolish enough to think that in discarding the memory, I could erase the time.
It is not that simple, and even the memories don’t stay hidden for long.
I don’t believe we can erase either the memories, or the history, of our lives.
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?
I have read Murakami’s book Underground which tells of the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo. I think the reference to that incident applies to Tsukuru because innocent people are often the victim of someone else’s cruelty. The question becomes not, “Why did I suffer this way?” but “How can I get through it with courage and grace?” Tsukuru was as innocent as those who were gassed, yet he suffered terribly at the hands of others who care mostly about their own agenda.
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?
I find that this novel has many themes that are prevalent in Haruki’s writing: loneliness, depression, and alienation are all present here as well as in Kafka on The Shore, Hear The Wind Sing, Pinball, 1973, and especially Norwegian Wood. For me, this book had many parallels to Norwegian Wood. In particular, I found a quote I’d copied from that book, “No body likes being alone that much. I don’t go out of my way to make friends, that’s all. It just leads to disappointment.” This quote alone seems to sum up so much of the way Tzukuru felt before he went on his pilgrimage. Thank goodness Sara told him, “You need to come face-to-face with the past, not as some naive, easily wounded boy, but as a grown-up, independent professional. not to see what you want to see, but what you must see. Otherwise you’ll carry around that baggage for the rest of your life.”
As for you, do you agree with any of these thoughts? Do you have something you’d like to add or address which I’ve left out? I’d be so glad to read what you have to say.