Think of your closest circle of friends. Think of how much time you spend in one another’s company. Think of how long you have been friends and how well you all get along. Now imagine that this group has cut you off. Completely. Without any explanation. You can’t think of any possible reasons as to why this has happened or what could have caused this.
Such is the main premise of Haruki Murakami’s thirteenth novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage, in which the reader follows the main character’s experiences of personal exile from the group of high school friends from whom he was once inseparable. After accepting the group’s decision and severing all ties with them, Tsukuru learns to live with his situation and maintains distance in his subsequent friendships and relationships. Sixteen years later, he is encouraged by someone he is dating to confront his past and discover the reasons behind his treatment by his former high school friends. This leads Tsukuru to seek answers and a sense of closure.
Although novel’s plot is not very complex or elaborate, it allows Murakami a foundation on which to construct the lonely, introverted and passive character of Tsukuru Tazaki, against the backgrounds of modern Tokyo, Nagoya and, at one stage, Finland. The novel depicts the protagonist as he exists in the world, with nothing to mark him as particularly unique or special save his fascination with train stations. Throughout this novel, Murakami effectively reminds us of many aspects of life that are often beyond our control, such as drifting apart from or losing those closest to us. Through Tsukuru we are given an emotionally detached and melancholic response to the continued disappointment that experiences and interactions with others might lead to.
Paced similarly to the steady motion of the trains which so fascinate Tsukuru, and with plot turns which are never too sharp, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage delivers an intimate insight into isolation, physical and emotional exile, and the aftermaths of emotional and mental setbacks. Murakami juxtaposes such responses with an individual’s desire to find a sense of belonging, purpose and identity.
Without seeming pessimistic or nostalgic (although there are undertones of both in the text), Murakami also celebrates the fact that life tends never to go to plan. The novel makes a point of addressing, with subtlety, the fact that there is no magic formula for achieving happiness. Almost all of Tsukuru’s friends’ lives take unexpected turns; they pursue careers completely unrelated to their academic backgrounds and, as a result, lead lives in which they are very much happier than they might have been. Interestingly, we see that Tsukuru’s fascination with trains and train stations also finds a career outlet as an engineer responsible for designing train stations; yet the job by no means fulfils his dreams.
With the revelation of his friends’ past actions, Tsukuru is impelled to empathise with their difficulties. Murakami brings a moral dimension to the novel and the reader’s sympathies begin to shift from where they may have been at the beginning. The Franz Liszt piece, Years Of Pilgrimage “Le Mal Du Pays”, on which this novel’s title is partially modelled suggests a comparable narrative arc: a melancholy score interrupted by exciting but short-lived moments of happiness, only to return to the original, quiet, unnoticed self.
This is my first experience of a Murakami novel and it leaves me curious for more. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage presents deeper explorations of themes that are not always immediately apparent. It is a novel that that does linger, promoting reflection for some time after reading its closing sentences.
Hamzah M. Hussain