[Review] Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pelgrimage, and the Murakami Festival

[Review] Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pelgrimage, and the Murakami FestivalDe kleurloze Tsukuru Tazaki en zijn pelgrimsjaren (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pelgrimage) by Haruki Murakami
Published by Atlas Contact on January 2014
Genres: Japanese literature
Pages: 364
The verdict: three-half-stars
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Out of the blue and without saying why, Tsukuru Tazaki's closest childhood friends tell him he is no longer welcome in their group.

It’s already been two weeks since the Murakami Festival took place in Amsterdam to celebrate the release of the Dutch translation of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. The book was published officially on January 10th, but participants to the festival received the book more than a month before.

The book is about Tsukuru Tazaki who, shortly after he moved away from his hometown to go to university in Tokyo, was told by his group of friends that they never want to see him again. Then Tsukuru, at age 36, meets a woman he maybe, possibly, wants to spend the rest of his life with. She tells him he has to overcome his trauma of being abandoned by his group of friends.

Colorless Tsukuru TazakiI have a hard time making up my mind on this book. I really love Murakami’s works, for several reasons. I love the ‘magical-realism’, not knowing what is going to happen and whether everything gets resolved by the end or not. I love how it feels like Murakami is always ‘writing the same book’, how characters reappear and all his works are intertwined, whether intentional or not. I love how his books touch me and I love how I am unable to explain how they touch me.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is different. It lacks magical-realism, although at some points in the book I had some hope we might see some. In this sense, the book is closer to Norwegian Wood than to his other works. The book definitely touched me with its theme of friendship and loneliness, in a way I haven’t experienced with any of Murakami’s other works.

However, some time has passed since I finished the book, and the more time passes, the more bland I think the book is. Not a good sign. Definitely not one of my favourite books.

Murakami Festival
We received the book a month early so we could prepare for the festival, where we discussed the book. The festival took place in 15 different locations at the same time, with one ‘book club’ of 150 people and the other ones smaller, 25-30 people. I must say this festival was a really fun experience! I picked one of the smaller book clubs to join and was lucky enough to end up discussing the book at the Cat Cabinet, an art museum dedicated to depicting cats. Couldn’t pick a better place to discuss a Murakami book!

Photo © Maartje Strijbis
Photo © Maartje Strijbis

The festival was attended both by long-time/die-hard Murakami fans as well as people who had never read a book of his before Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and anyone in between.

Some interesting theories on the new book (spoilers!):
Is Haida real or not? This was such an interesting question! I had considered the possibility shortly, but after discussing with our group I am beginning to think this is a reasonable possibility. Tsukuru doesn’t seem to meet Haida with any other people present, save for the swimming pool but there is no special acknowledgement from other people. Then there’s that dream (this was where I was hoping for magical-realism but alas). We aren’t even sure if the dream is real or not. It seems quite possible Tsukuru is just imagining Haida, then has this dream about his imaginary friend, is so embarrassed about himself, and as a result his imaginary friend disappears. We will never know. The book has two main unresolved plotlines: who raped Yuzuru, and what happened to Haida? For some reason everyone (myself included) seemed more curious about the latter…

© Maartje Strijbis
My book 😉 Photo © Maartje Strijbis

And then there’s another unresolved plotline: Midorikawa… What do we think about him then. I thought it was interesting some people in the group thought the little bag he put on his piano contained his 6th finger(s). Quite possible. People were torn on whether the 6th-finger-story had any deeper meaning, but I suspect it might just be Murakami who’s telling us some interesting side story.
The significance of stations: people come and go at stations, no one stays. So can we compare Tsukuru to a station?
And finally, how colorless is Tsukuru really? Opinions on this varied, but I think despite everything: still ‘colorless’. But this might just be my opinion on the book 😉


  1. Unfortunately, I won’t get to read this for a while (I was thinking about trying the German version, but I’d rather wait for the English one). I’ve just finished ‘Norwegian Wood’, and everything I’ve heard about the new one indicates that this is the closest match – which, after ‘1Q84’, isn’t necessarily a bad thing…

    • C.

      I’m curious what you’ll think of it when you read it. I quite enjoyed Norwegian Wood but when it comes to style Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki felt like a watered down version of Norwegian Wood (the plots are very different, mind you). The more time passes, the more bland Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki seems in my mind. I wasn’t crazy about 1Q84 but that one seems more interesting now than it did when I was reading it/just finished it 🙂

  2. I am, I must confess, in no great hurry to get hold of this in translation. My wife read the original and her feedback was, er, muted.

    So basically I’m just commenting to say how much I enjoy everyone’s awkward skirting of the topic whenever 1Q84 comes up (which I’m as guilty of as anyone). I read it as readalong last year and I think if I hadn’t had that external motivation it might still be sitting in the ‘indefinite hiatus’ pile by the bed.

    • C.

      I don’t know what it is about 1Q84. Despite having it as a hardback, I read the e-book. And no matter how long I’d keep reading, it seemed I would only move forward 1-2 %… That, and the repetition in book 1 just… yeah. Sometimes I wonder if I gave it a good rating just because I felt so accomplished for having finished it :P?

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