Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage [NOOK Book]

Overview

The new novel-a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan-from the internationally acclaimed author, his first since IQ84.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

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Overview

The new novel-a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan-from the internationally acclaimed author, his first since IQ84.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In high school, the happiness and identity of Tsukuru Tazaki focused on his close-knit group of five friends; three boys and two girls with whom he assumed he would always be best friends forever. But when he returned from college in Tokyo, everything had changed; the friendships seemed spoiled and no one would explain why. Years later, a new girlfriend convinces Tsukuru to seek out his old buddies and uncover the truth behind their mysterious rejection. What he learns is some subtle and complicated than a single secret and reveals much about all human interactions. (P.S. Haruki Murakami is a major world author. His works have been translated into fifty languages and have sold millions of copies. In fact, this novel sold one million copies in its first week!)

Library Journal
★ 06/15/2014
In high school, Tsukuru Tazaki was part of a "perfect community" of five best friends. Each had a color attached to their family names—red, blue, white, black—except for Tsukuru, rendering him "colorless." After Tsukuru begins college in Tokyo, he's brutally excised without explanation. Sixteen years later, he's a successful train station engineer living a comfortable life still in Tokyo. Contentment, however, eludes him: "I have no sense of self…I feel like an empty vessel. I have a shape…but there's nothing inside." He's on the verge of his most significant relationship, but his lover warns he "need[s] to come face-to-face with the past" in order to consider a future. His name may lack color, but it also promises agency: tsukuru is the infinitive for "make" or "build." With Facebook and Google as guides, his pilgrimage will take him home and as far as a Finnish lakeside. VERDICT Murakami devotees will sigh with relief at finding his usual memes—the moon, Cutty Sark, a musical theme, ringing telephones, a surreal story-within-a-story (this time about passing on death and possibly six fingers). That the novel sold over one million copies its first week in Japan guarantees—absolutely, deservedly so—instant best-seller status stateside as well. [See Prepub Alert, 4/14/14.]—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
The New York Times Book Review - Patti Smith
This is a book for both the new and experienced reader. It has a strange casualness, as if it unfolded as Murakami wrote it; at times, it seems like a prequel to a whole other narrative. The feel is uneven, the dialogue somewhat stilted…Yet there are moments of epiphany gracefully expressed, especially in regard to how people affect one another…The book reveals another side of Murakami, one not so easy to pin down. Incurably restive, ambiguous and valiantly struggling toward a new level of maturation. A shedding of Murakami skin. It is not Blonde on Blonde, it is Blood on the Tracks.
From the Publisher
“Murakami is a charming travel companion. Though we know where we’re going, and must endure plenty of bumps in the road, the trip is rarely boring, his company is amiable, and we can rest assured that he will take us to strange places we’ve never been before, except perhaps in dreams. . . . [In Colorless Tsukuru] there is only a single moon in the Tokyo sky. Yet we’re undeniably in Murakamiland. Nobody else could have written this novel, or dared to try. Then again, given the remarkable continuity of his fiction, nearly every Murakami novel feels like a new volume of the same meganovel, a vast saga that is now approaching 7,000 pages in length. . . . In Murakamiland, death means merely traveling across a ‘threshold’ between reality and some other world. It is not necessarily the end. In fact, as we soon learn, Tsukuru’s obsession with death is only the beginning. . . . The mesmeric pull of Murakami’s fiction lies in this tension between the narrator’s perfectly ordinary existence and this shadow world, which might reside in our subconscious or even in an alternate universe, where we are free to enact our darkest, most violent, most perverse fantasies. . . . [He] writes genre fiction—formulaic, conventional, with an emphasis on plot. But it is a genre that he has invented himself, drawing elements from fantasy, noir, horror, sci-fi, and the genre we call ‘literary fiction.’ . . . The tone [in this new novel] is wistful, mysterious, winsome, disturbing, seductive. It is full of gorgeous, incongruous imagery. . . . Murakami is balletic, evoking metaphysical realms and a fine sense of the grotesque.” —Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic

"A devotional anticipation is generated by the announcement of a new Haruki Murakami book. Readers wait for his work the way past generations lined up at record stores for new albums by the Beatles or Bob Dylan. There is a happily frenzied collective expectancy—the effect of cultural voice, the Murakami effect. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru] is a book for both the new and experienced reader. . . . The book reveals another side of Murakami, one not so easy to pin down. Incurably restive, ambiguous and valiantly struggling toward a new level of maturation. A shedding of Murakami skin. It is not ‘Blonde on Blonde,’ it is ‘Blood on the Tracks.’ . . . [The book’s] realism is tinged with the parallel worlds of 1Q84, particularly through dreams. The novel contains a fragility that can be found in Kafka on the Shore, with its infinite regard for music. Hardly a soul writes of the listening and playing of music with such insight and tenderness.” —Patti Smith, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)

“[A] remarkable novel [that] takes us on a spellbinding descent through the rings of hell in Tsukuru Tazaki’s young life. . . . A virtual symphony of literary and musical referents. Murakami’s wizardry lies in his ability to pack all that cultural and spiritual resonance into a book that is as tightly wound as a Dashiell Hammett mystery. . . . Murakami can herd the troubles of a very large world and still mind a few precious details. He may be taking us deeper and deeper into a fractured modernity and its uneasy inhabitants, but he is ever alert to minds and hearts, to what it is, precisely, that they feel and see, and to humanity’s abiding and indomitable spirit. . . . A deeply affecting novel, not only for the dark nooks and crannies it explores, but for the magic that seeps into its characters’ subconsciouses, for the lengths to which they will go to protect or damage one another, for the brilliant characterizations it delivers along the way. . . . A page-turner with intervals of lapidary prose and dazzling human comprehension.” —Marie Arana, The Washington Post

“Intoxicating. . . . It's hard to think of another writer who is as popular, as strange, and as lionized as Haruki Murakami is. . . . At first glance, you might think that Murakami has no overlap with that other writer whose work gets people lining up at midnight, J.K. Rowling. And yet they do have something in common. Both of them are comfortable creating their own specific and elaborate house blend of fantasy and reality. And as a result, they each shape a world that is recognizably their own. . . . The mystery of the spell that the great Murakami casts over his readers, myself included, [in Colorless Tsukuru] goes, as ever, unsolved. The novel feels like a riddle, a puzzle, or maybe, actually, more like a haiku: full of beauty, strangeness, and color, thousands of syllables long. . . . Weird and inviting.” —Meg Wolitzer, NPR

“[Murakamai] has opened his vision, his sensibility, to reflect the distances implicit in being alive. . . . More than just a story but rather a meditation on everything the narrative provokes. How do we connect, or reconnect, to those around us but also to the very essence of ourselves? Where, in the flatness of contemporary society—which in this novel, as in so much of his work, Murakami evokes with a masterful understatement—do we find some point of intersection, some lasting depth? . . . There is a rawness, a vulnerability, to these characters, a sense that the surface of the world is thin, and the border between inner and outer life, between existence as we know it and something far more elusive, is easily effaced.” —David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

“Mesmerizing, immersive, hallucinogenic. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru] calls to mind Murakami’s career-defining 1987 novel, Norwegian Wood.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Bold and colorful threads of fiction blur smoothly together to form the muted white of an almost ordinary realism. Like J.M. Coetzee, Murakami smoothly interlaces allegorical meanings with everyday particulars of contemporary social reality. The shadows cast may be larger than life, but the figures themselves feel stirringly human. . . . This new novel chronicles a spiritual quest that might also be a love story. But here the author strips away the magical quavers of reality and the mind-bending plot structures that have become hallmarks of his work. . . . Readers find themselves propelled along by the ebb and flow of an internal logic that feels as much like a musical progression as it does an unfolding of events. The steady calm of the prose, the ambient rhythms of recurring motifs like Fraz Liszt's ‘Le Mal du Pays,’ and the close attention to repetitive patterns in characters' lives bring readers into a carefully measured cadence like that of Tsukuru's pared-down lifestyle. . . . Thanks to Philip Gabriel's discerning translation into subtle yet artful language, the novel[‘s] . . . ease and obviousness convey an internal complexity that you ‘get’ without realizing it. . . . Tsukuru's situation will resonate with anyone who feels adrift in this age of Google and Facebook.” —Christopher Weinberger, San Francisco Chronicle

“[A] feeling . . . lingered with me for days after I read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, a feeling of having experienced some extreme vividness, some extreme force of emotion. I'm still not sure exactly what it was. ‘An encounter with genius’ may be the answer . . . . Murakami is like Edward Hopper or Arvo Pärt, his simplicities earned, his exactingly artful techniques permitting him a higher kind of artlessness. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru is a] sincere, soft-spoken story. . . . There is an intoxicating mood of nostalgia. . . . Tsukuru's pilgrimage will never end, because he is moving constantly away from his destination, which is his old self. This is a narrow poignancy, but a powerful one, and Murakami is its master. Perhaps that's why he has come to speak not just for his thwarted nation, but for so many of us who love art—since it's only there, alas, in novels such as this one, that we're allowed to live twice.” —Charles Finch, Chicago Tribune

“In Japan, and increasingly abroad, Murakami has become a publishing sensation. . . .Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is one of his most coherent [novels] and, in its tight and tidy way, one of the most satisfying. . . . The relative ordinariness of the plot notwithstanding, the story has pace and suspense. We want to find out what happened and what is going on in Tsukuru’s head. Dreams figure prominently as the protagonist tramps through the Freudian undergrowth. . . . Murakami can find mystery in the mundane and conjure it in sparse, Raymond Carveresque prose. . . . Those who miss the goat-heads and the demons and the parallel worlds in which anything can happen shouldn’t worry. There’s enough unresolved human mystery in this novel to suggest that they’ll be back.” —David Pilling, Financial Times

“Hypnotic. . . . Colorless Tsukuru spins a weave of . . . vivid images around a great mystery. . . . In the past decade, James Wood has convincingly argued that what the novel does best is show us what consciousness feels like. Murakami, in his own oblique way, has sharpened that objective to a mystical cognitive science: This, so many of what of his books tell us, is what perception feels like. . . . [He] elegantly describes how emotional trauma can lead us to disassociate. . . . The story flows along smoothly, wrapping around details like objects in a stream.” —John Freeman, The Boston Globe

“A reader opens a Murakami book with the expectation that anything can happen and that a story begun in realism will soon take off toward dreamlike realms. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki alights in some mysterious places but doesn’t settle there. . . . [It] is replete with emotionally frank, philosophical discussions. It’s a gentle ride, without the depictions of violence that sometimes occur in Murakami, and any traumas are recounted in retrospect, now covered with the tempering blanket of time. . . . Reflective.” —Jenny Shank, The Dallas Morning News
 
“[Colorless Tsukuru is] beautiful, rich with moving images and lush yet exquisitely controlled language, reverberating, like that piano music Tsukuru cannot forget, with elusive emotion. . . . Murakami's last novel, 1Q84, was a gripping, complex, surrealistic thriller that weighed in at over 900 pages. This one is less than half that length, far more streamlined in structure and essentially realistic, but no less compelling. . . . Fans of elegant, intelligent fiction will welcome this book.” —Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times

“So taut and approachable—though it still retains [Murakami’s] cool fabulism—that it may expand the Japanese lit icon’s fan base even further.” —Boris Kachka, Vulture

“Moving. . . . Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki may be Murakami’s most human novel yet. . . . [When it] was released in his native country of Japan, it sold a million copies in its first week. That number is astronomical, especially here in the states, where Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices had a ‘strong’ opening week with only about 100,000 books sold. Calling Murakami a ‘universally respected author’ or even a ‘paragon of literature’ is no longer apt. The man is a cultural force unto himself. . . . [In Colorless Tsukuru] the staples of his work (stories within stories, sexual perversity, mysteries without real answers) all come together to form a beautiful whole. . . . It’s quiet in the same way Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is, leaving the reader with that nostalgic feeling one gets when putting down a truly captivating story.” — Noah Cruickshank, A.V. Club
 
Colorless Tsukuru had me hooked from the start. . . . A piercing and surprisingly compact story about friendship and loneliness. . . . Murakami skillfully explores the depths of Tsukuru’s isolation and pain. His nervousness when he begins to suspect that friends have shunned him—and his anguish when it is confirmed—are chilling. No mysticism needed.” —Jeremy Kohler, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 
“Questions beget questions in this brilliant new novel by Haruki Murakami. . . . The premise is simple enough, but in the works of Murakami, nothing is simple. The endpapers for [Colorless Tsukuru] make this clear. A partial map of the huge, complex Tokyo subway system surrounds the text. Thousands of travelers pass through central stations on these heavily traveled lines. People intersect without ever meeting. Perfect for Tsukuru. . . . [It is] the gray area[s] Murakami explores so brilliantly. His characters’ lives spin out in the shadow of accidents and natural disasters that have plagued Japan in the decades since Hiroshima. . . . Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki has a strong storyline and sharply drawn characters whose motives are ambiguous: a perfect introduction to Murakami’s world, where questions of guilt and motivation abound, and the future is an open question.” —Kit Reed, The Miami Herald

“Murakami has a knack for swift, seamless storytelling. . . . Don’t be surprised if you devour Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage in the course of a night or two. Despite having an achromatic enigma as its protagonist, it’s shockingly seductive. . . . A quietly thought-provoking book, but some of its most charming and unexpected moments come in nicely observed nuggets that seem to be far removed from the main narrative, at least at first glance.” —Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch
 
“Accessible and often moving. . . . One of Murakami’s most endearing and enduring traits as a writer is an almost reportorial attention to detail, the combined effect of which gives you a complete picture while still feeling a little ethereal. Because, like many of the award-winning novelist’s best books, Colorless also is rooted in dreams.Tsukuru relates dark fantasies involving the people in his past in such a matter-of-fact way that the character himself isn’t sure they’re not real. As always with Murakami, it doesn’t really matter if they are real: It’s the feelings they evoke that matter.” —Chris Foran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
 
“Spare and contained . . . so the few hints of emotional color stand out. . . . Because it’s clear that Tsukuru’s conscious and unconscious lives are almost totally separated, it’s impossible to trust his memories or his interpretations of events. That gives the novel an unsettled, unresolved quality that continues to hum after its disquieting conclusion. . . . Like many of Murakami’s books, this one has an implicit soundtrack. In this case, it’s Liszt’s suite for piano, Years of Pilgrimage, and particularly the ‘Mal du Pays (Homesickness)’ section of the suite. . . . Quiet, with disturbing depths.” —Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch

“Murakami confronts big themes (friendship, forgiveness, the betrayal of loyalties) with a sombre eye. His gift as a novelist is to locate the moment of crisis when a character loses faith, religious or otherwise, and life is exposed in all its drab wonder. Colorless Tsukuru, a work of lapidary and suspenseful mystery, goes to the heart of questions about human solitude and yearning to connect. Admirers of Murakami’s previous novels—Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle—will not be disappointed.” —Ian Thomson, Evening Standard (London)
  
“Almost without precedent in modern times, [Murakami] has combined giddy popularity—in Japan, his novels can sell 1m copies in the week of publication—with the literary prestige of admiring reviews from giants such as Updike. . . . One reason for Murakami's huge readership is that, unlike many serious novelists, he is as interested in plot as prose. . . . All the author's signature flourishes are here, including a significant piece of music (Liszt's ‘Le mal du pays’ underscores this novel), an impressive range of cultural reference (name-checks include Arnold Wesker, Pet Shop Boys, Barry Manilow and Thomas Harris) and a deep interest in sex. . . . [Kafka] haunts Murakami's fiction as both an explicit presence . . . and a general tutelary influence. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru is] as adept as ever at setting up Kafkaesque ambiguity and atmosphere.” —Mark Lawson, The Guardian (UK)
 
“Murakami is one of those rare novelists who can turn our ordinary lives, whether conducted in Tokyo or Duluth, into something wondrous. . . . Few authors can endow the ordinary with so much enticing oddity. . . . It is a testament to Murakami’s power as a novelist that he can moderate the ebb and flow of reality with such singular confidence.” —Alexander Nazaryan, Newsweek
 
“Spell-binding. . . . Strangely beautiful . . . intensely moving.” —Eithne Farry, The Independent (UK)
 
“The joy of [this] novels lies in taking another wander through Murakami-land where everything is suffused with an air of mystery and many questions are left unanswered. . . . Let [Colorless Tsukuru’s] peculiar beauty wash over you.” —Jake Kerridge, Sunday Express (UK)
 
“Oddly satisfying. . . . This kind of Murakami novel is like life, then, but less so yet somehow more so.” —Sean O’Hagan, The Guardian (UK)
 
“A meditation on language and reference.” —Leo Robson, The Telegraph (UK)
 
“Hypnotically fascinating. . . . A journey of immense magnitude, both physically. . . and, of course, metaphysically, as Tazaki attempts to make sense of his own inner world and the dreams that shape his other dimension. There are always other dimensions in Murakami’s novels, and while they can seem impenetrable, they eventually feed into and help vivify the powerful personal dramas taking place on a purely human level. In the end, Murakami writes love stories, all the more tender and often tragic for their exploration of the multiple realities in which is lovers live.” —Booklist (starred review)
 
“Murakami devotees will sigh with relief at finding his usual memes – the moon, Cutty Sark, a musical theme, ringing telephones, a surreal story-within-a story (this time about passing on death and possibly six fingers). That the novel sold over one million copies its first week in Japan guarantees – absolutely, deservedly so – instant best-seller status stateside as well.” —Library Journal (starred review)
 
“One of Murakami’s more memorable protagonists . . . a testament to the mystery, magic, and mastery of this much-revered Japanese writer’s imaginative powers. Murakami’s moxie is characterized by a brilliant detective-story-like blend of intuition, hard-nosed logic, impeccable pacing, and poetic revelations. . . . [He] reveals Tazaki’s pilgrimage through stunning psychologically and philosophically charged passages that are alternately all too real and almost hallucinatory. . . Tazaki’s quest restores him to the cycle of love, loss, and resurrection that is time’s eternal flow in surprising, delightful, and sometimes frightening ways, none of which will be lost on lucky readers of this new masterpiece.” —Elle
 
“A return to the mood and subject matter of the acclaimed writer’s earlier work. . . . A vintage Murakami struggle of coming to terms with buried emotions and missed opportunities, in which intentions and pent up desires can seemingly transcend time and space to bring both solace and desolation.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“Another tour de force from Japan’s greatest living novelist. . . . Murakami writes with the same murky sense of time that characterized 1Q84, but this book, short and haunting, is really of a piece with older work such as Norwegian Wood and, yes, Kafka on the Shore. The reader will enjoy watching Murakami play with color symbolism down to the very last line of the story, even as Tsukuru sinks deeper into a dangerous enigma. . . . A trademark story that blends the commonplace with the nightmarish in a Japan full of hollow men.” —Kirkus (starred review)

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-06-15
Murakami (IQ84, 2011, etc.) turns in a trademark story that blends the commonplace with the nightmarish in a Japan full of hollow men.Poor achromatic Tsukuru. For some inexplicable reason, his four best friends, two males, two females, have cut him off without a word. Perhaps, he reckons between thoughts of suicide, it’s because they can pair off more easily without a fifth wheel; perhaps it’s because his name means “builder,” while all theirs have to do with colors: red pine, blue sea, white root, black field. Alas for Tsukuru, he “lacked a striking personality, or any qualities that made him stand out”—though, for all that, he’s different. Fast-forward two decades, and Tsukuru, true to both his name and his one great passion in life, designs train stations. He’s still wounded by the banishment, still mystified at his friends’ behavior. Helpfully, his girlfriend suggests that he make contact with the foursome to find out what he’d done and why he’d deserved their silence. Naturally, this being a Murakami story, the possibilities are hallucinogenic, Kafkaesque, and otherwise unsettling and ominous: “Gray is a mixture of white and black. Change its shade, and it can easily melt into various gradations of darkness.” That old saying about not asking questions if you don’t want to know the answers—well, there’s the rub, and there’s Tsukuru’s problem. He finds that his friends' lives aren’t so golden (the most promising of them now hawks Lexuses and knowingly owns up to it: “I bet I sound like a car salesman?”); his life by comparison isn't so bad. Or is it? It’s left to the reader to judge. Murakami writes with the same murky sense of time that characterized1Q84, but this book, short and haunting, is really of a piece with older work such asNorwegian Woodand, yes,Kafka on the Shore. The reader will enjoy watching Murakami play with color symbolism down to the very last line of the story, even as Tsukuru sinks deeper into a dangerous enigma.Another tour de force from Japan’s greatest living novelist.
The Barnes & Noble Review

If you've never read Haruki Murakami before, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which sold more than a million copies during its first week on sale in Japan, isn't a bad introduction. With its focus on mutating, amorphous friendships and the sometimes blurred lines between dreams and reality, this deceptively simple tale of a solitary, self-effacing man's search for connection and meaning in his life is more like the perennial Nobel contender's earlier novels — including Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and my favorite, Kafka on the Shore — than his more recent doorstop, 1Q84, a complex detective story that featured alternate realities and parallel worlds. Colorless Tsukuru is a wonderfully accessible choice for book groups because it wears its profundity lightly.

Tsukuru Tazaki is an uncommonly sympathetic character, as steady as a surgeon's hand, as trustworthy as a pencil. He's forthright about his sorrows, but he's not a whiner. When Tsukuru's tight-knit group of high school friends — two men and two women — categorically cut him off without explanation during his sophomore year in college, his self- esteem takes a nosedive, sending him into a suicidal depression for months. "Alienation and loneliness became a cable that stretched hundreds of miles long, pulled to the breaking point by a gigantic winch," Murakami writes.

Tsukuru recovers his equilibrium, but the experience changes him permanently: "The pain of having been so openly rejected was always with him. But now, like the tide, it ebbed and flowed." He settles into a "small and lonely" life in Tokyo: cooking his meals, swimming his daily laps, drinking his half bottles of beer (all he can tolerate), and showing up for work. Murakami explains, "Habit, in fact, was what propelled his life forward. Though he no longer believed in a perfect community, nor felt the warmth of chemistry between people."

Tsukuru has no clue why his friends have banished him — and he's too shattered to press the issue — but that doesn't stop him from conjecturing. Could it be because he's the only one who left their hometown of Nagoya for college? Or because "there was not one single quality he possessed that was worth bragging about or showing off to others. At least that was how he viewed himself. Everything about him was middling, pallid, lacking in color." After the shutout, he regards himself as "an empty vessel. A colorless background," bringing too little to relationships to sustain them. But Murakami easily sustains our interest in this low-key but deeply drawn character, who comes across with seductive limpidity in Philip Gabriel's admirably nuanced translation.

Murakami hits the color theme hard — a fine starting point for book group discussions. Everyone in the group except Tsukuru has names that contain a color. Interestingly, while Tsukuru's male buddies' names evoke red and blue — bright primary colors — the two women, each a source of suppressed romantic involvement, are linked to monochrome shades of black and white. So, too, is Haida, Tsukuru's only friend in Tokyo — a philosopher, music lover, and fellow swimmer at the university pool — whose name means "gray field." As with the two women from Tsukuru's high school circle, there's also a suggestion of sexual tension between Tsukuru and Haida — though it is possibly all in Tsukuru's head, either imagined or dreamed, and in any event, never discussed.

Tsukuru's name, chosen by his father, a successful businessman in real estate, means "builder" — appropriate for a man who, following his lifelong fascination with train stations, becomes an engineer who designs them. The web of railroad lines spread over Tokyo not only supplies the image for Chip Kidd's striking cover design but an overarching metaphor for how people connect, travel along parallel paths for a stretch, and peel off in different directions, sometimes converging again at a station farther along life's tracks, sometimes missing their stops or connections. Murakami's narrative suggests that the more stations you build — "The kind of station where trains want to stop, even if they have no reason to do so," the greater the likelihood that people will intersect.

Colorless Tsukuru is a quest novel about Tsukuru's journey at thirty-six toward confronting what his new girlfriend calls "unresolved emotional issues." Sara Kimoto, who, not coincidentally, also works in the transportation industry — for a travel agency — is an oddly charmless character, coolly efficient to the point of detachment. On their fourth date, she essentially issues an ultimatum: Find out what really happened sixteen years earlier with his friends and stop living like "a refugee from his own life" — or sayonara. The wonder is that Tsukuru doesn't switch trains, yet Murakami certainly makes us feel his relief at his newfound ability to experience overpowering desire.

As in Murakami's earlier work, music plays a central role. At one point, he compares our lives to "a complex musical score . . . Filled with all sorts of cryptic writing, sixteenth- and thirty-second notes and other strange signs." The "Years of Pilgrimage" in the title refers to Franz Liszt's mid-nineteenth-century set of three suites for solo piano — which in turn refers to the Romantic literature of self-realization, including works by Goethe and Byron. The haunting section titled "Le mal du pays" (homesickness), which occurs late in the first suite, recurs like a leitmotif through Colorless Tsukuru, perfectly capturing the subdued mood of the novel and its theme of yearning for lost innocence. It is a piece that Tsukuru's high school crush, Shiro — graceful, serious and ultimately disturbed — played beautifully, and that Haida later plays on Tsukuru's stereo, eventually giving him the boxed set of Lazar Berman's ethereal recording.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that there's a sentimental as well as Romantic-with-a-capital-R aspect to this novel, and some classic Murakami bizarre sidebars, including a long discourse on hyperdactyls, people with six fingers. In fact, it's a difficult book to quote, because out of context, much of the dialogue, especially, sounds either flat or trite: "I'm fond of you, too, very much," Sara responds pallidly at a key moment.

Murakami fans who love his mix of the hyper-real with the occasional dash of the dreamlike might also want to check out Alessandro Baricco's wryly amusing, beguilingly strange pair of interconnected novellas, Mr. Gwyn — which also centers on alienation and music, though with a more determinedly surreal spin — and, coincidentally, also features a gorgeous cover design and appealing small-format hardcover edition. Both Colorless Tsukuru and Mr. Gwyn encourage us to follow their solitary protagonists down intricately branching, often mysterious tracks that lead to surprising destinations — the kind of journey the best books offer.

Heller McAlpin is a New York–based critic who reviews books for NPR.org, The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.

Reviewer: Heller McAlpin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385352116
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/12/2014
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 373
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into more than fifty languages, and 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

The The story of how Haruki Murakami decided to become a novelist says a lot about his work, because it is as strange and culturally diffuse as the works he writes. While watching a baseball game in Toyko in 1978 between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp, Murakami witnessed an American hit a double. At the crack of the bat, Murakami -- who had never had any ambition to write because he assumed he didn't have the talent -- decided that he should begin a novel. He then started his first book, in the night hours after work.

If you're waiting for a connection between the double and the epiphany, there isn't one. It's often that way in Murakami's fiction, where cultures blend and seemingly incongruous, inexplicable events move the story forward. People disappear or transform as quickly as the worlds around them, and the result is a dreamlike atmosphere that blends mystery, magic realism and sci-fi while remaining unmistakably distinct from all three.

Murakami was brought up in a suburb of Kobe by parents who were teachers of Japanese literature; but the literature of his parents did not interest him and he read mostly American authors, listened to American jazz and watched American shows. For this reason, though his books are set in Japan and originally written in Japanese, they do not seem terribly foreign to English speakers. South of the Border, West of the Sun's title derives from a Nat King Cole song; and you're as likely to find a reference to McDonald's, Cutty Sark or F. Scott Fitzgerald as you are to anything Japanese.

Murakami began his career with the coming-of-age novels Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball 1973, but he hit his stride with A Wild Sheep Chase, a novel about a twentysomething ad executive who is drawn into the quest for an elusive, mutant sheep. The novel appeared in the U.S. seven years after its 1982 publication, introducing American audiences to this unclassifiable author. It contained many of the traits that mark Murakami's novels: a solitary male protagonist who drifts just outside society; first-person narration; and philosophical passages nestled within outlandish, unconventional plots. An admiring New York Times Book Review called Murakami a "mythmaker for the millennium."

The author's commercial breakthrough in Japan had come with the publication of Norwegian Wood in 1987, which sold two million copies. The story of a man who becomes involved with his best friend's girlfriend after the friend's suicide, it stands alone as the author's most straightforward, realistic work. Murakami acknowledges the book's impact on his career, and stands behind it; but he is also aware that it represented a departure from the surreal books that had made him a "cult" author with a modest following. "After Norwegian Wood, I have not written any purely realistic novels," Murakami said in a 2001 publisher's interview, "and have no intention of writing any more at this time."

Murakami's return to surrealism with Dance Dance Dance (the sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase), however, did not slow his career growth. Further translations of his work and publication of his stories in the New Yorker assured a growing following in the States, where his best known (and, to some, his best) work is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which appeared here in 1997. It's a masterful work that draws together all of the themes Murakami had been exploring in his fiction up until then: modern ennui, the unpredictability of relationships, a haunting backdrop of Japanese history.

In addition to his sublime and profoundly strange short stories and novels (Sputnik Sweetheart; Kafka on the Shore; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, etc.), Murakami has made occasional forays into nonfiction -- most notably with Underground, a compilation of interviews with victims of the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, and his 2008 memoir of the New York City Marathon, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. He has also translated several works by American authors into Japanese, including title by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, and John Irving.

Good To Know

Murakami owned a small jazz bar in Tokyo for seven years after college, an experience that he enjoyed and called upon when creating the main character of South of the Border, West of the Sun, who also owns a Tokyo jazz bar.

Murakami's first three novels, -- Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball 1973, and A Wild Sheep Chase -- comprise The Trilogy of the Rat.

His most often cited influences are Raymond Chandler, Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan.

Murakami told an interviewer from Publishers Weekly in 1991 that he considers his first two novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball 1973 "weak," and was not eager to have them translated into English. The translations were published, but are not available in the U.S. Third novel A Wild Sheep Chase was "the first book where I could feel a kind of sensation, the joy of telling a story. When you read a good story, you just keep reading. When I write a good story, I just keep writing."

Daniel Handler, aka children's author Lemony Snicket, is a vocal fan of Murakami's who once wrote a review/paean to the author in the Village Voice entitled "I Love Murakami." "Haruki Murakami is our greatest living practitioner of fiction," he wrote. "....The novels aren't afraid to pull tricks usually banned from serious fiction: They are suspenseful, corny, spooky, and hilarious; they're airplane reading, but when you're through you spend the rest of the flight, the rest of the month, rethinking life."

Murakami has taught at Princeton University, where he wrote most of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Tufts University. The twin disasters of a gas attack on the Tokyo subway and the Kobe earthquake in 1995 drew the author back to Japan from the United States.

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    1. Hometown:
      Tokyo, Japan
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 12, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Kyoto, Japan
    1. Education:
      Waseda University, 1973
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

The reason why death had such a hold on Tsukuru Tazaki was clear. One day his four closest friends, the friends he’d known for a long time, announced that they did not want to see him, or talk with him, ever again. It was a sudden, decisive declaration, with no room for compromise. They gave no explanation, not a word, for this harsh pronouncement. And Tsukuru didn’t dare ask.

He’d been friends with the four of them since high school, though when they cut him off, Tsukuru had already left his hometown and was attending college in Tokyo. So being banished didn’t have any immediate negative effects on his daily routine—it wasn’t like there would be awkward moments when he’d run into them on the street. But that was just quibbling. The pain he felt was, if anything, more intense, and weighed down on him even more greatly because of the physical distance. Alienation and loneliness became a cable that stretched hundreds of miles long, pulled to the breaking point by a gigantic winch. And through that taut line, day and night, he received indecipherable messages. Like a gale blowing between trees, those messages varied in strength as they reached him in fragments, stinging his ears.

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Reading Group Guide

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?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2014

    Nothing less than exceptional 

    Nothing less than exceptional 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2014

    Not great

    I looked forward to a new book from this author and was overall disappointed because it just wasnt that good. Sad to be letdown

    1 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2014

    Surprisingly, this novel is more like "Norwegian Wood"

    Surprisingly, this novel is more like "Norwegian Wood" and less like "1Q84."  It is surprising because I have read that Murakami has said that he would not write another novel like "Norwegian Wood." There are some surreal elements in the form of dreams and tales and the reader is tempted to ponder whether they may intersect with reality in some way but, ultimately, it's easier to believe that they are just what they appear to be.  Typically, Murakami leaves most of the readers questions unanswered, one so blatantly that it feels like a deliberate parody.  Atypically, I do not believe that there is a single cat mentioned in the whole novel.  If you are reading it after you read this, please correct me if I am wrong.  Like all of Murakami's writings, I found it frustrating at times but ultimately a good read.I did not enjoy it as much as, say, "1Q84" or "The Wind up Bird Chronicle" but it is definitely worth the read.    

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 25, 2014

    more from this reviewer

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    0 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2014

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