Febookuary – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Possibly the Longest Title I Have Read in a While

murakami-coverI can’t believe it. It’s finally happening. Not only have I reached halfway in Febookuary but I’ve completely sold out and I’m reviewing another Haruki Murakami novel just because I can! If you don’t know I reviewed Murakami’s excellent Norwegian Wood back in 2013, when my blog was still young and untainted by the harsh reality of my addiction to writing and themed posts.

Seriously though, of the vast swathes of literature I could have delved into and made merry with, I opted to go with an author I have already read instead of broadening out my already slim book reviewing section with more authors. It bugs me enough to write these two paragraphs about it. And wait for it, there might be a third which may try and dig me out of this hole. And look below, there it is!

To be fair to myself, I thought it fair to review this as, unlike most of my reviews here, this is a book is a new release, only coming out in Japan in 2013 and the US and UK in 2014. I know The Fault in Our Stars and soon to be reviewed The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly aren’t exactly old, but to have a book that at least is somewhat hot off the press at least gives this reviewing month some relevance to literature coming out now. And with that let’s go over to the obligatory overview for the latest.

Tsukuru Tazaki is a man in his mid-thirties who does something he has been hoping to do since he was a young boy: he builds train stations. Although he doesn’t exactly get to build new stations, rather, maintains existing ones, he is happy with his job. However Tsukuru is not a happy man.

As a teenager Tsukuru was part of a group of colourful people, their names all having something to do with colours while Tsukuru remained colourless and, to his mind, without anything special about him. However Tsukuru remained happy in this group, feeling;

‘Like an equilateral pentagon, where all sides are the same length, their group’s formation had to be composed of five people exactly – anymore or any less wouldn’t do. They all believed this was true.’

However Tsukuru leaves for Tokyo to attend a prestigious engineering college and, while all is fine to begin with, Tsukuru returns back to Nagoya one day and finds no-one meets him. He calls and no-one answers. Eventually he gets through to his friend Ao who abruptly tells him that they never want to see him again. Now, all those years later, after having lived, or rather existed, with this knowledge, a woman named Sara comes into Tsukuru’s life and pushes him to find out what really happened all those years ago.

Now to the review proper. I must admit that, having only read Norwegian Wood and loved it, I may have gone into this novel with hopes of something resembling that particular work. To be fair, the styles are similar in quite a few way, with Colorless Tsukuru being centred on a certain realism and on how people try to move on with their lives, as well focusing on people’s relationships. However Norwegian Wood was at its core a love story, and a very prominent one at that, whereas Colorless Tsukuru feels more like a commentary on how we carry baggage and sometimes need closure, even if it means going halfway across the world to get it, with a loose love story plonked very near it.

This is a theme which Murakami makes sure we realise with enough power to be measured on the Richter scale. The fact that emotionally traumatic things can happen to people through one event, even an event which we have no knowledge of, can change our lives irrevocably; that we can never turn the clock back on, leaving us only to think of what could have been over what actually happened.

It’s quite a sad concept and yet very relatable. I am in no doubt that people have not thought as to where their lives may have led them if they had done one thing instead of another, or if someone else had done one thing rather than going in a different direction. This looking back and fondly wishing over what could have been is something inherent in all of us, making the story sad yet also endearing.

0810-bks-Smith-sub-COVER-articleLarge-v2Just to pile on the sadness, Tsukuru has a very negative view of himself when surrounded by others which takes form in how he perceives names. He comments that his friends had names with the colours red, blue, white and black in them respectively whereas Tsukuru, as you may have guessed, had no such colour. While the others used their colours as nicknames;

‘[H]e just remained Tsukuru. How great it would be, he often thought, if I had a color in my name too. Then everything would be perfect.’

This mild obsession with his lacking something is not solely down to colour, rather it is also reflected in quite a large way in how Tsukuru views himself. Even early on the novel, Tsukuru’s self-deprecation is evident:

‘But when it came to Tsukuru himself, 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.’

Again this shows how, perhaps not everyone but at least some, view themselves from time to time. Sometimes more than that. It’s an unhealthy behaviour that people can get hung up on. To give an example, it is like thinking that you are probably unlikely to be remembered in two hundred years’ time. By then all of us living will be dead and no-one will remember us. Only a few will be remembered by what they did or said while the rest of us will perish into anonymity.

Yes that was a bit depressing wasn’t it? But seriously, this is a completely unfeasible and unhealthy life goal. To be remembered out of the seven billion of us is a hard thing to do. Even people famous now will in all probability be forgotten leaving only a few to be remembered. Being forgotten and not remembered is what most people will come to, but to obsess on that fact is detrimental to your life, just as it is to Tsukuru’s and his feeling of lacking compared to others. We put colour in our own lives; that is what is important.

I know I’ve probably given a really superficial and not very well thought point on what is probably a really serious issue but I hope I’ve not angered too many people or sent anyone into a self-existential crisis.

But Murakami also gives cause for hope in the form of Sara. Sara represents something new in his life, something vibrant and wonderful that he is just getting to grips with.  She encourages him to move on with his life by settling what has happened in the past. The continual prospect of something new is a fundamental change from the tales of a man who is very much preoccupied with his own past. It gives Tsukuru a chance to move on while not making it fundamentally clear whether this is the cure-all for his past woes.

haruki-murakamiBut one thing I must note is, while I have only scratched the surface of the points this novel goes into, this novel definitely says some brilliant to say, even if the majority of them are a bit melancholy. It does follow a certain pattern similar, but still falls a little short of Norwegian Wood, although very similar in style. Yet Colorless Tskukuru is most definitely worth your time to read as, while it gives no definitive answers on happiness, it does give you a detailed and compelling look into how people handle emotional trauma and how, if you can, try to put it behind you.

Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed this review! If you liked what you read then please follow me here on WordPress as well as Facebook and Twitter! My next Febookuary review will be George Orwell’s look at British colonial life in Burmese Days. But to reiterate, thanks for reading!

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