Book review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki
and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki

Checked out at my local public library
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki
and His Years of Pilgrimage
Haruki Murakami
Translated from the Japanese by
Philip Gabriel

Pub. Date:
August 12, 2014
Knopf Publishing Group
Fiction / Japanese Literature
local public library

This book counts for the following Reading Challenge:

   Japanese Literature Challenge 8  


new eiffel 5

For some authors, very few actually, I’m ready to read any new book they write, whatever it is about. Murakami is one of my few elect. In fact, I even refrained from reading any book review or even the synopsis of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage, to dive any too with a totally fresh look. And it was a wonderful dive indeed, just too short: with only 386 ages, it was over in two sittings. Here is why I liked it so much:

Let’s look at it first from the cover, one of the best cover ever, illustrating so well the novel.
It looks like a hand, with four colored fingers, and a thumb through which you can see names of Japanese train stations.
In his late teens, Tsukuru had four very close friends. They were as close as five fingers of the same hand. Each of his four friends had a color in their name: red and blue for the two boys, white and black for the two girls.
Tsukuru felt a bit left aside, as he was the only one without any color in his name. He felt colorless, with nothing special to him, and no big drive, except his passion for trains.
His colorlessness is also represented graphically throughout the book on top of the pages: the page numbers are given in black, but each time a number 4 is given, it’s white, not black like the others.

Then one day, out of the blue (sorry, couldn’t pass that one), the group rejected him. He still has no clue why. But he really felt hurt by it, even physically, and was at the edge of death for a long time after that. As a new person, he started experiencing colors, sounds, and the world around him differently. And he started having the most bizarre dreams, until a very dramatic one.

He is now 36, working for a company designing train stations, and trying to build a relationship with a new friend, Sara. But aware of his unresolved issues, she invites him to try to reconnect with his four former friends and finally understand why they rejected him so suddenly without any explanation.
That sends Tsukuru on a quest, an inner and real pilgrimage. Will he be able to reconnect with his friends? What will he discover about them, about himself?

His Years of Pilgrimage are awesomely associated with the great piece by Franz Liszt, especially by the passage entitled Le mal du pays, Homesickness. As soon as this was mentioned in the book, I listened to it, and kept reading with the music in the background. I have rarely found a book and a tune that go so well together: by listening to it, you feel like you are really in Tsukuru’s company, and understanding what he is feeling.

What I consider to be the great characteristics and strengths of Murakami’s writing  are all here:

  • great flow in dialogs. You don’t feel you are reading, you feel you are there, listening to the conversations going on
  • strongly defined, real life characters
  • cool association with music, here mostly Liszt
  • mysterious zone between what’s real and unreal, and the confusion caused in oneself by the discovery of this area. This zone was more geographic in 1Q84. Here it’s the realm of dreams: where is the border between reality and dreams? How far can dreams penetrate and influence our life and personality?

I really enjoyed a lot how all these themes were treated, as well as the theme of homesickness, to one’s country, one’s past, one’s former relationship with friends, and to oneself.

The book is open ended, and I have since then discovered some readers didn’t like that too much. I actually think this fits perfectly Tsukuru’s personality and journey. Indeed, aren’t we like him on an endless pilgrimage to discover who we really are?


VERDICT: Are you curious about the giant Murakami, but hesitant to dive into his 900 plus pages 1Q84? This most recent novel will do it: meet Tsukuru and accompany him on his inner pilgrimage. In the process, you will discover typical aspects of Murakami’s writing  and  new territories between reality and the world of dreams that may send you on your own journey. Enjoy the ride as much as I did!


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. 





haruki-murakamiHaruki Murakami (Japanese: 村上 春樹) is a popular contemporary Japanese writer and translator.
His work has been described as ‘easily accessible, yet profoundly complex’.
He can be located on Facebook at:
Since childhood, Murakami has been heavily influenced by Western culture,
particularly Western music and literature.
He grew up reading a range of works by American writers,
such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan,
and he is often distinguished from other Japanese writers by his Western influences.
Murakami studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yoko.
His first job was at a record store, which is where one of his main characters,
Toru Watanabe in Norwegian Wood, works.
Shortly before finishing his studies, Murakami opened the coffeehouse ‘Peter Cat’
which was a jazz bar in the evening in Kokubunji, Tokyo with his wife.
Many of his novels have themes and titles that invoke classical music,
such as the three books making up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: The Thieving Magpie (after Rossini’s opera),
Bird as Prophet (after a piano piece by Robert Schumann usually known in English as The Prophet Bird),
and The Bird-Catcher (a character in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute).
Some of his novels take their titles from songs: Dance, Dance, Dance
(after The Dells’ song, although it is widely thought it was titled after the Beach Boys tune),
Norwegian Wood (after The Beatles’ song) and South of the Border,
West of the Sun
(the first part being the title of a song by Nat King Cole).




44 thoughts on “Book review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

  1. Nice review. I also got the book from my library. Grr, they totally messed up the cover when they put the plastic protector on it. The cut outs show only the white backing of the protector, not the colored “fingers”. Some covers should not be messed with. As for the content? I did enjoy it even though the basic premise seemed a little weak to me. After a massive struggle with IQ84, I expected more of a challenge with this and was somewhat relieved to find it a much easier read.


    • thanks. I can’t believe they would do this to that cover!! insane! glad you didn’t have to struggle with it. I actually devoured 1Q84, as there was so much suspense, going from chapter to the next


  2. Pingback: Japanese Literature Challenge 2014 | Words And Peace

  3. You’re so right, it is a real pilgrimage as well as an inner journey. I hadn’t thought about it being physical and emotional so clearly before.

    I wonder if the white 4 in the page numbers couldn’t stand for Shiro. She’s one of the four friends who abandoned him, and Murakami refers to her as Snow White near the end. Also, she’s the only one who died and moved to another “universe”. Well, just something I was thinking about.

    I can see as we read one another’s posts lots of fresh ideas will be brought up. I so love that about a shared read! Thanks for your wonderful review, and leaving links to Lizst, too.


    • ah ah, I think you got it! about the white 4. I could not see for sure why 4 would be for Tsukuru, and I missed the reference to Snow White!! Thanks so much, it’s neat to share ideas, I hope I can participate a bit in the read-along. One of these days, we also need to meet in persons, we are neighbors


  4. I have been listening to the youtube link for a few days now that you provided above as well – isn’t it beautiful? I’d be curious to listen to the Brendel version that Eri listens to as well.


  5. Great review! As you know, I didn’t love this book, but I have to agree with you that the musical references throughout the story were wonderful and I did listen to Le Mal du Pays because of the book. The mysterious happenings gave me hope that I would find something interesting about the story, but unfortunately they didn’t go anywhere.


    • for me, Murakami is a bit like Proust: I don’t read his books for the plot, but for the writing and the ambiance [though I have to admit I’m near the end of volume 4 of Proust and he’s really getting on my nerves…]. yes there are always mysterious elements


  6. Pingback: 2014: August wrap-up | Words And Peace

  7. Pingback: Sunday Post #5 – 8/31/14 | Words And Peace

  8. I listened to the music too whilst i read, i love classical music, especially piano. It was a lovely way to feel the book. I found it brought the mood out and provided depth to the experience. I really appreciate you review, youve highlighted some new things for me to ponder.


    • I read Sputnik Sweetheart, I liked it, though not his best I think, also enjoyed a lot After Dark. Unfortunately there are people I know who don’t like his writing… and why on earth hasn’t he received the Nobel? ready to start a revolution… lol


      • I think his writing may be in too simple prose for people who crave flowery and embellished prose. The sort of books that earn a nobel prize must be political, serves a bigger cause (than self pitying for example), writes about very serious topic. I think Murakami couldn’t be bothered about the Nobel Prize, he is happy with his cult followers, like us! 😀


  9. Pingback: Blogiversary #4! My reading life from A to Z | Words And Peace

  10. Pingback: Reviews of Japanese novels | Words And Peace

  11. Sorry but I disagree with your verdict. To truly get into Murakami, Tazaki is not the way to go. I would probably just dive right off the deep end and start with Wind-up bird or Kafka (my favourite).


  12. Pingback: IFFP 2015 and March readings | Words And Peace

  13. Pingback: IFFP 2015 review: By Night The Mountain Burns | Words And Peace

  14. Pingback: IFFP 2015 review: The End Of Days | Words And Peace

  15. Pingback: IFFP 2015: The Last Lover | Words And Peace

  16. Pingback: IFFP 2015 review: The Dead Lake | Words And Peace

  17. Pingback: IFFP 2015: The Giraffe’s Neck | Words And Peace

  18. Pingback: IFFP 2015 review: The Ravens | Words And Peace

  19. Pingback: IFFP 2015 review: Look Who’s Back | Words And Peace

  20. Pingback: Book review: Men Without Women | Words And Peace

  21. I love the music connection! And Liszt is one of my favorites. I did my doctoral thesis in psychology in an experiment where I presented Liszt’s Piano Sonata in A minor for repeated listening to students and then explored how their concepts of the piece changed over time. So I would definitely like to do what you did, and listen to the Liszt music cited by Murakami’s character while reading the book!


  22. Pingback: Book review: Killing Commendatore | Words And Peace

  23. Pingback: Book review: And Then | Words And Peace

What do you think? Share your thoughts, and I will answer you. I will also visit your own blog

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.