Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami
Tsukuru Tazaki is an engineer who designs railroad stations. Professionally concerned with ensuring the flow of commuter traffic, he has been personally devastated by the passing of relationships in his formative years. While growing up in Nagoya, he and four other high school students became as close as platonic friends could be. Aka ("re"), Ao ("blue"), Shiro ("white") and Kuro ("black") and Tazaki ("the only last name that did not have colour in its meaning") lived in each others' pockets until the day when the others expelled Tsukuru from the group. "They gave no explanation, not a word, for this harsh pronouncement. And Tsukuru didn't dare ask."
Banished to Tokyo, Tsukuru falls into depression before, as per his aptronym ("Tsukuru" is written with the Chinese character that means "make" or "build") he sets about rebuilding his life. After a series of unfulfilling relationships he meets Sara, who prompts him to confront the mystery he has been trying to avoid: why did his friends reject him?
The premise of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is as direct as its prose. The novel was translated by Philip Gabriel, who also worked on South of the Border, West of the Sun. Any effect that he or fellow translators Jay Rubin and Alfred Birnbaum has on Murakami's prose is a larger discussion: it's my impression that Gabriel smooths things out but the author's frankness still startles. Tsukuru can't picture Shiro "sticking her hand up the anus of a horse"; later, "These insistent caresses continued until Tsukuru was inside the vagina of one of the girls."
Tsukuru's dreams are also shockingly vivid and anthropomorphic, like manga. But it is only when the locale shifts to Helsinki that he becomes a foreigner. "Are you Chinese?" asks a local. "I'm Japanese," he replies: "It's nearby, but different."
Murakami's Finland is like Shusaku Endo's France in Foreign Studies (1965): uninformed, quaint, filtered through other fictions. The methodical tone of the action and the protagonist's tendency for conjecture and tangential self-examination is more than a little Auster-esque, as is the naming of characters after colours and the incidental mysteries. (What is in the box the jazz pianist carries with him everywhere? The answer may be a symbol of Tsukuru's ostracism.)
In a story of colours, music also assumes significance but, like a crime writer, Murakami makes easy reference to art and literature that may well have been enjoyed by someone not unlike himself. It's another casual touch in a novel lacking the conventional turns a marketing department might demand from someone whom the Observer describes as "the best author on the planet." Colorless Tsukuru has been written in spite of such hype. It's a graceful story of a life in transit. The novelist watches: his subject passes by.
– Sunday Star Times, 2014