Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. By chance all of their names contained a colour. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning 'red pine', and Oumi, 'blue sea', while the girls' names were Shirane, 'white root', and Kurono, 'black field'. Tazaki was the only last name with no colour in it.
One day Tsukuru Tazaki's friends announced that they didn't want to see him, or talk to him, ever again.
Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.
"From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying." (p.1)
So begins Haruki Murkami's first novel since the bloat of the book many expected to be his magnum opus. Happily, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is essentially the inverse of IQ84. It's short and sweet where that last was extended in its dejection; gently suggestive rather than frustratingly overbearing; and though the ending is a bit of bait and switch, it's one which feels fitting, unlike IQ84's dubious denouement.
If you were worried, as I was, that Murakami may have had his day, then rest assured: his new novel represents a timely reminder of the reasons you fell for his fiction in the first place.
As with almost every book to bear the international bestseller's brand, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage immerses readers in the mindset of a single, emotionally crippled character; a man approaching middle age, in this case, whose major malfunction is made plain from the first page, as he reflects on his lowest moments:
There was an actual event that had led him to this place—this he knew all too well—but why should death have such a hold on him, enveloping him in its embrace for nearly half a year? Envelop—the word expressed it precisely. Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, Tsukuru had fallen into the bowels of death, one untold day after another, lost in a dark, stagnant void. (p.2)But before this death, this darkness... life, and light. Light composed of the colours of his four best friends, with whom his life was intimately intertwined:
The two boys' last names were Akamatsu—which means 'red pine'—and Oumi—'blue sea'; the girls' family names were Shirane—'white root'—and Kurono—'black field'. Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a color in its meaning. From the very beginning this made his feel a little bit left out. (p.6)Not half as left out as he felt when, one day, they "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." (p.3)
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage takes place decades after this rejection.