Thursday, August 28, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Posted by Yuma County Library

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Tsukuru Tazaki's close-knit group of friends abruptly cut him out of their lives nearly twenty years ago. He never asked why. Now he's finally feeling ready for a relationship with someone else, but she believes he needs to track down his former friends for closure.

What I Thought: I went into this book expecting a quietly reflective atmosphere and was not disappointed: Murakami's style sucks the reader in, combining precise details with slightly surreal encounters between highly intelligent, introspective people. I wasn't expecting it to be quite so compulsively readable. Much as I enjoyed reading 1Q84 and especially Murakami's memoir about marathon running, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, neither had me flipping pages quite as quickly as Tsukuru Tazaki. I read the book in one sitting and the actual act of reading it was a joy, between Murakami's easily-flowing writing style (it rolls off the page so the reader can absorb it) and the unusual physical design of the book - it's smaller than a standard hardcover, making it easy to hold and fun to tote around. Chapters were short and designed to leave the reader wanting more. Why did Tsukuru's friends cut him off? Was having such a super-close, super-structured group of friends a good idea? What happened to all of them since he's seen them last? The novel ends with most but not all of its questions answered, but even that's satisfying. Maybe not having all the answers just yet is okay.

Tsukuru himself was a breath of fresh air despite his self-professed "colorness" nature - he's an engineer, a thinker, someone who sells himself short but, once he commits to an idea, has a great knack for assessing a situation and building a sensible plan of action from there. Maybe it's just the books I've been reading lately, but I'm sick of impulsive, overly-emotional immature protagonists. Tsukuru definitely has been carrying a lot of baggage around with himself for years, but I enjoyed "being" in his company. I wanted to hang out with him and his maybe-girlfriend Sara and especially Haida, the one friend he managed to make in the years between the novel's action and his break with his former group, and talk Big Issues with them the way they freely discussed them with each other. Murakami also cleverly withholds aspects of Tsukuru's life from the reader that Tsukuru himself doesn't think about, so we don't know his full situation until other characters point out that their perceptions of him and his own don't line up. Tsukuru isn't a very vibrant guy, no, but that's the point. He's still fine just the way he is, and what he dislikes about himself, others admire. That's the kind of message everybody needs to hear at some point in their lives and I enjoyed watching him discover it.

This isn't to say I don't have any quibbles with the book. One of Tsukuru's female friends felt more like a construct than a person - though given what ultimately ends up happening to her I wonder whether this was on purpose, driving home the fact that nobody can really know what's going on in anybody else's head - and although reading the book left me with a pleasant haze in my head I can't say I feel too strongly about it now, days after finishing it. I would still recommend the book for a quiet afternoon, however, if anybody wants to take a break from their own lives and spend some time in the company of decent people figuring out their place in the world.

Readalikes: Anything else by Murakami, The House on Blossom Street by Gail Tsukiyama (introspective Japanese men coming of age, albeit in a very different setting)

Or look this book up on NoveList!