Discussion for Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami (1949- )

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.

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18 thoughts on “Discussion for Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”

  1. 15. We are connected by life experiences. Many people suffer from tragedy. Their layers of suffering are of different levels but there is a core of understanding that pulls the heart’s strings.Sufferings or tragedies last a very long time and don’t completely go away.

    A mother who loses a child connects and bonds deeper emotionally with another mother who also loses a child as compared to 2 mothers who each has a child playing violin in Carnegie Hall.

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    1. I like what you said in this, “…there is a core of understanding that pulls the heart’s strings.” This is one of the best parts of humanity when it is intact, that we have a great compassion for one another.

      Perhaps that is what is wrong with those who do evil; they have no understanding for someone else.

      And, I agree that suffering lasts a long time and never completely goes away.

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  2. You have selected some great questions. I am hoping to post some of my thoughts in the next 24 hours, but for a start I was going to question the idea that Tazaki was colourless. I thought at first that he was colourless – basicaly had his colours stolen from him – but later in the novel I could see some of his other characteristics, which wouldve been with him when he was in the group too. I thought that when you’re a kid, you dont necessarily value the quiet characteristics, therefore you dont count on them. I think Tazaki had more of a pastel colour. He was so concerned not to hurt his friends, he accepted their request, 100%. I think he did that because he’s tendency is to care for his friends, despite knowling nothing about the reasons. That’s colour isn’t it?

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    1. What an interesting idea, Tamara, that Tsukuru is pastel. I think he was so very passive in the beginning of the novel, the first half say, that he was colorless then. But, even when he developed an understanding of the situation, and came to confront his friends, he was never a strong color. He was so kind, so accepting, so considerate that pastel seems a very good color range for him.

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  3. I had trouble with the dreams in this novel. To me, they took the book too far over the edge of reality and all I wanted was a logical explanation for the how and why Tsukuru was banished from the group. I get the actual reason, but how could something like that possibly happen? I needed a better rationale for the details.

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    1. I know what you mean, in a way, but I don’t think that we can read a Murakami novel and not encounter a dream sequence. It’s part of who he is as a writer.

      At first I used to be very annoyed at the magical realism, the blurring of reality and fantasy. But, I think that is the American education inside of me, the part of me that expects things to be black and white and very clear. Now that I’m older, and have read from many cultures, I understand that life is not like that. It is blurry and messy and often confusing. So, with that perspective, it’s easier to accept those weird dreams. To me, they are just another way of looking at Tsukuru’s character.

      Frances, from Nonsuch Book, was also frustrated about the rationale (or lack thereof) for the reason of his banishment. I suggest that no reason is good enough to cut someone off completely with no explanation. It came to matter not so much why he was cut off from his friends, as how he overcame that wound.

      Does that make sense to you?

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  4. Thanks for the link to your responses, Tamara. I’ve enjoyed reading this book with you and the others. Murakami is enriched with the sharing of discussion,mso many people bring a fresh light to his ideas.

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  5. 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?

    My Answer: Tsukuru’s colorful friends are smart people. They manage to know Shiro’s traumatic condition and the consequence of probably making it worst if they don’t cope with her. Tsukuru is partly responsible, yes, for not approaching each of the member of the group. It’s not just Tsukuru and Kuro who are partly responsible but the four of them. For not telling Tsukuru what really happen at that time. What can we do, they need to think fast…

    I would like to add more questions. Speculations on who killed Shiro… Could it be Aka? Because the time Tsukuru visited Aka, he noticed the ash tray on his desk. And mentioned that Aka visited Shiro on her new home once.. Also, the time he visited Kuro, he was baffled to learned from her story that Shiro is smoking and an ash tray was found in the crime scene.

    I also made a comprehensive review of this book at the ff. link:
    http://www.literateknolohitura.com/2014/10/haruki-murakami-colorless-tsukuru-tazaki-and-his-years-of-pilgrimage.html

    Thanks! 🙂

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  6. There’s two things in the story which are bothering my mind. The Haida’s appearance in Tsukuru’s life is only like an independent experience of his. And then when Haida appeared in Tsukuru’s dream, what do you think the message behind his appearance ?

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    1. I was also stumped on why Murakami used Haida in Tsukuru’s dream. Somehow i felt this was so disconnected (this is my opinion of course) in terms of storytelling, like it an be edited out without changing the take away of the story. :/

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      1. Like you, I am stumped. But don’t you think it’s clever: shiro (white) + kuro (black) = hai (grey, as in Haida)? I still find his dream odd, though. Assuming Tazaki has no sexual desires for Haida whatsoever, and assuming that the scene where Haida had sex with Tazaki is all a dream, why would he have such a dream? Or was just all part of sexual exploration on Tazaki’s part?

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        1. Rayman, I wish that I could address your questions and thoughts in a very exact way, but it’s been so long since I read this book! You wouldn’t believe how many people come to this post from a Google search to ask who killed Shiro. For one thing, I think that Murakami leaves much to the reader’s interpretation, and he doesn’t offer easy explanations such as many Western authors do. Plus, Murakami is “noted” for writing horrible sex scenes. Not sure if that answers what you were asking, though, sorry. I think I’d like to reread this novel, as I love Murakami so much, but also every time I reread one of his books I learn something new. I catch a perspective I didn’t the first time through.

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      2. Believe it or not but before Murakami wrote about Haida-Tazaki sex dream, I already had a feeling about Haida’s sexual orientation and how is his feeling towards Tazaki. What I like about it is Haida is probably depicting how gay/lesbian people’s feeling when they only can hide their sexual orientation. Since in Asia it’s quite a taboo thing to discuss.

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        1. I agree with you that Haida is probably depicting a homosexual feeling when it often has been hidden due to cultural norms. I don’t know if it’s still taboo in Asia, but it’s now taboo in America to speak any concern about homosexuality as it’s so well embraced. Quite a turn of events in my lifetime.

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  7. Let me hazard answering # 5

    I really find it hard myself to figure out the importance of Haida in the story. But to Tazaki, his friendship with Haida is important. Haida was one of the close friends Tazaki made in Tokyo. He gave “color” to Tazaki’s life, after his own friends abandoned him unexplicably. They definitely enjoyed each others’ company; Haida kept on hanging out in Tazaki’s apartment, and much later, slept over. But this was a rather short friendship, ending with Haida’s disappearance. His disappearance somehow verified for him his perception of himself — that he was a colorless fellow, an empty container, etc. Perhaps because of the trauma of rejection of his old friends, Haida’s disappearance was a lot easier to bear for Tazaki. He was sad, but not as angry as before.

    But I still can’t figure out what exactly is the role of Haida in the story. Was he there to help Tazaki recover from his loneliness? Was he a foil that highlights Tazaki’s sadness and perception of self? If I were in Tazaki’s place, seeing Haida’s belongings many years hence will only give me a sense of longing. I think Tazaki could do without this extra sadness.

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    1. Themes
      I believe that the continuing obsession with train stations reflect the theme that humans are fragile. At one point the author mentions how devastating a bombing of a train station would be. This to me conveys in a broader sense that from a third person point of view, others look so nieve soaked up in their own lives to realize that security is not under ones control, and they simply must accept the unpredictability of life and roll with the punches. Throughout the novel tsukru displayed his insecurities calling himself colorless and insignificant, but it did not hold true to others opinions of him. His insecurities only made him more susceptible to breaking leaving him even more fragile.
      Happiness, security, and all those tuty fruity things we all thrive for can only be secured by you. Others can bring it to you momentarily, but their is no way to make sure that these people are always there, it will affect you this way. This is why it’s important to maintain a sense of self and respect it.
      I am still utterly confused as to of why some characters and details were even introduced though. Haida’s story was strange beyond hell, and I found no resolution in it, after finishing the book. The extra finger in a suitcase? The significance of placing the bag on top of the piano? The death token and its abilities?
      Wtf just happened? I feel it made the story more intriguing, but only if it made any sense. Please someone explain the significance. And finishing in haida’s mouth? The only thing I can think of is that sexuality is not one demensional, especially in our subconsciousness? Or that maybe he’s starting to think he’s gay because he hasn’t had any true successes with women? I don’t know. Maybe it was all BS, and the author just trying to tell us that you can’t trust everything people tell you.
      I basically jus used thing to in a way gather my scrambled thoughts, so thanks for listening maybe lol

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