Haruki Murakami: 色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年 (Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage)
At the start of this novel, we see Tsukuru Tazaki, our hero, contemplating suicide. He seems barely able to function and has clearly suffered some trauma. But Tsukuru is not your usual Murakami hero. We expect a solitary young man, something of a nerd, who is looking for something, perhaps he is not sure what, but it quite likely has a supernatural component, and he is helped, of course, by a nerdish but attractive young woman. Tsukuru is certainly a loner. He is the only child of a rich man. He does well at school but not too well. Though he is not averse to sports, reading, music and cinema, he is not terribly enthusiastic about them. In short, he is colourless, as he himself says about himself, on more than occasion. However, as we will see, he is colourless in more ways than one.
While at high school, he did some volunteer work one school holiday and met four others of his age, two girls and two boys. The five became close friends and remained so. However, Tsukuru did have one interest and that was railway stations, specifically the design and construction of them. This is what he wanted to do in life so, while the others all decided to stay in Nagoya, their home town, for their higher education, Tsukuru went to university in Tokyo, as that was the only place where he could study the design and construction of railway stations. He did keep in touch with the other four and, when he came home for the holidays, they would continue their friendship. However, one time when he came home, he phoned them as usual. In each case, he spoke to someone else – a parent or sibling – and all said that the person was out. He tried the next day with the same result. This persisted till he received a call from one of them, who made it clear that they did not want to have anything do with him again and assumed he knew why. He did not know why but did not question the caller. This was the reason for his suicidal feelings.
He was devastated by this rejection, all the more so because he had no idea why it had happened. He limited his journeys home, in order to avoid seeing them. Eventually, he took up swimming and there he made a new friend, Haida. Haida introduced him to classical music but he, too, disappeared, without warning or explanation. It is only when he is older – thirty-six – that Tsuruku has fully come to terms with what happened or, rather, he thinks that he has fully come to terms with it. However, his current girlfriend, Sara, realises that his issues with his past are affecting their relationship and tells him that he needs to find out what happened and why with his four friends. The second half of the book is about his quest to resolve this mystery.
Tsuruku definitely has an inferiority complex. His friends call him colourless because their names all contain a word for a colour while his does not. Even Haida’s name does. Each individual has their own unique colour, which shines faintly around the contours of their body. Like a halo. Or a backlight. I’m able to see those colours clearly, says a character in a story Haida narrates about his father. However he takes colourless to mean that he is lacking in personality and throughout the book, has this feeling about himself. “Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki,” he said aloud. I basically have nothing to offer to others. If you think about it, I don’t even have anything to offer myself. It is Haida who gives him the key to a certain degree of freedom: “Never being constrained, thinking about things freely—that’s what you’re hoping for?” “Exactly.” “But it seems to me that thinking about things freely can’t be easy.” “It means leaving behind your physical body. Leaving the cage of your physical flesh, breaking free of the chains, and letting pure logic soar free. Giving a natural life to logic. That’s the core of free thought.” While this may be an aspiration – and clearly is for other Murakami heroes – Tsuruku does not really manage it. However, he does learn the secret. One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony. Indeed, Murakami goes further: the point when you agree to take on death, you gain an extraordinary capacity. A special power, you could call it. This is clearly an Eastern rather than Western view of the world.
This book garnered mixed reviews, not least, in part, because it is not your standard Murakami novel and it is shorter than some of his recent work. However, I must say that I did enjoy it. It is not his greatest work by any means but it is still a very fine novel. It tells a good story, with interesting characters, it has clever plot twists and raises several worthwhile ideas and that is what I demand of a good novel.
Minor rant. The UK edition is the US edition. In other words, we have US spelling. Even the title has the US spelling colorless (which I have changed). Moreover, we have to put up with US solecisms such as different than (incorrect, though current, in the US as well as elsewhere) and US words such as railroad. Don’t Harvill Secker have editors who can do the minimum of anglicisation, particularly for a book that is going to sell oodles of copies? I very much doubt, if it had been the other way round, that US publishers would have put out a book with colourless in the title. Shame on you, Harvill Secker.
First published by Bungeishunjū, Tokyo in 2013 in Japanese
First English translation in 2014 by Knopf/Harvill Secker