“Murakami is a charming travel companion. Though we know where we’re going, and must endure plenty of bumps in the road, the trip is rarely boring, his company is amiable, and we can rest assured that he will take us to strange places we’ve never been before, except perhaps in dreams. . . . [In Colorless Tsukuru] there is only a single moon in the Tokyo sky. Yet we’re undeniably in Murakamiland. Nobody else could have written this novel, or dared to try. Then again, given the remarkable continuity of his fiction, nearly every Murakami novel feels like a new volume of the same meganovel, a vast saga that is now approaching 7,000 pages in length. . . . In Murakamiland, death means merely traveling across a ‘threshold’ between reality and some other world. It is not necessarily the end. In fact, as we soon learn, Tsukuru’s obsession with death is only the beginning. . . . The mesmeric pull of Murakami’s fiction lies in this tension between the narrator’s perfectly ordinary existence and this shadow world, which might reside in our subconscious or even in an alternate universe, where we are free to enact our darkest, most violent, most perverse fantasies. . . . [He] writes genre fiction—formulaic, conventional, with an emphasis on plot. But it is a genre that he has invented himself, drawing elements from fantasy, noir, horror, sci-fi, and the genre we call ‘literary fiction.’ . . . The tone [in this new novel] is wistful, mysterious, winsome, disturbing, seductive. It is full of gorgeous, incongruous imagery. . . . Murakami is balletic, evoking metaphysical realms and a fine sense of the grotesque.” —Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic
"A devotional anticipation is generated by the announcement of a new Haruki Murakami book. Readers wait for his work the way past generations lined up at record stores for new albums by the Beatles or Bob Dylan. There is a happily frenzied collective expectancy—the effect of cultural voice, the Murakami effect. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru] is a book for both the new and experienced reader. . . . The book reveals another side of Murakami, one not so easy to pin down. Incurably restive, ambiguous and valiantly struggling toward a new level of maturation. A shedding of Murakami skin. It is not ‘Blonde on Blonde,’ it is ‘Blood on the Tracks.’ . . . [The book’s] realism is tinged with the parallel worlds of 1Q84, particularly through dreams. The novel contains a fragility that can be found in Kafka on the Shore, with its infinite regard for music. Hardly a soul writes of the listening and playing of music with such insight and tenderness.” —Patti Smith, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)
“[A] remarkable novel [that] takes us on a spellbinding descent through the rings of hell in Tsukuru Tazaki’s young life. . . . A virtual symphony of literary and musical referents. Murakami’s wizardry lies in his ability to pack all that cultural and spiritual resonance into a book that is as tightly wound as a Dashiell Hammett mystery. . . . Murakami can herd the troubles of a very large world and still mind a few precious details. He may be taking us deeper and deeper into a fractured modernity and its uneasy inhabitants, but he is ever alert to minds and hearts, to what it is, precisely, that they feel and see, and to humanity’s abiding and indomitable spirit. . . . A deeply affecting novel, not only for the dark nooks and crannies it explores, but for the magic that seeps into its characters’ subconsciouses, for the lengths to which they will go to protect or damage one another, for the brilliant characterizations it delivers along the way. . . . A page-turner with intervals of lapidary prose and dazzling human comprehension.” —Marie Arana, The Washington Post
“Intoxicating. . . . It's hard to think of another writer who is as popular, as strange, and as lionized as Haruki Murakami is. . . . At first glance, you might think that Murakami has no overlap with that other writer whose work gets people lining up at midnight, J.K. Rowling. And yet they do have something in common. Both of them are comfortable creating their own specific and elaborate house blend of fantasy and reality. And as a result, they each shape a world that is recognizably their own. . . . The mystery of the spell that the great Murakami casts over his readers, myself included, [in Colorless Tsukuru] goes, as ever, unsolved. The novel feels like a riddle, a puzzle, or maybe, actually, more like a haiku: full of beauty, strangeness, and color, thousands of syllables long. . . . Weird and inviting.” —Meg Wolitzer, NPR
“[Murakamai] has opened his vision, his sensibility, to reflect the distances implicit in being alive. . . . More than just a story but rather a meditation on everything the narrative provokes. How do we connect, or reconnect, to those around us but also to the very essence of ourselves? Where, in the flatness of contemporary society—which in this novel, as in so much of his work, Murakami evokes with a masterful understatement—do we find some point of intersection, some lasting depth? . . . There is a rawness, a vulnerability, to these characters, a sense that the surface of the world is thin, and the border between inner and outer life, between existence as we know it and something far more elusive, is easily effaced.” —David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“Mesmerizing, immersive, hallucinogenic. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru] calls to mind Murakami’s career-defining 1987 novel, Norwegian Wood.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Bold and colorful threads of fiction blur smoothly together to form the muted white of an almost ordinary realism. Like J.M. Coetzee, Murakami smoothly interlaces allegorical meanings with everyday particulars of contemporary social reality. The shadows cast may be larger than life, but the figures themselves feel stirringly human. . . . This new novel chronicles a spiritual quest that might also be a love story. But here the author strips away the magical quavers of reality and the mind-bending plot structures that have become hallmarks of his work. . . . Readers find themselves propelled along by the ebb and flow of an internal logic that feels as much like a musical progression as it does an unfolding of events. The steady calm of the prose, the ambient rhythms of recurring motifs like Fraz Liszt's ‘Le Mal du Pays,’ and the close attention to repetitive patterns in characters' lives bring readers into a carefully measured cadence like that of Tsukuru's pared-down lifestyle. . . . Thanks to Philip Gabriel's discerning translation into subtle yet artful language, the novel[‘s] . . . ease and obviousness convey an internal complexity that you ‘get’ without realizing it. . . . Tsukuru's situation will resonate with anyone who feels adrift in this age of Google and Facebook.” —Christopher Weinberger, San Francisco Chronicle
“[A] feeling . . . lingered with me for days after I read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, a feeling of having experienced some extreme vividness, some extreme force of emotion. I'm still not sure exactly what it was. ‘An encounter with genius’ may be the answer . . . . Murakami is like Edward Hopper or Arvo Pärt, his simplicities earned, his exactingly artful techniques permitting him a higher kind of artlessness. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru is a] sincere, soft-spoken story. . . . There is an intoxicating mood of nostalgia. . . . Tsukuru's pilgrimage will never end, because he is moving constantly away from his destination, which is his old self. This is a narrow poignancy, but a powerful one, and Murakami is its master. Perhaps that's why he has come to speak not just for his thwarted nation, but for so many of us who love art—since it's only there, alas, in novels such as this one, that we're allowed to live twice.” —Charles Finch, Chicago Tribune
“In Japan, and increasingly abroad, Murakami has become a publishing sensation. . . .Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is one of his most coherent [novels] and, in its tight and tidy way, one of the most satisfying. . . . The relative ordinariness of the plot notwithstanding, the story has pace and suspense. We want to find out what happened and what is going on in Tsukuru’s head. Dreams figure prominently as the protagonist tramps through the Freudian undergrowth. . . . Murakami can find mystery in the mundane and conjure it in sparse, Raymond Carveresque prose. . . . Those who miss the goat-heads and the demons and the parallel worlds in which anything can happen shouldn’t worry. There’s enough unresolved human mystery in this novel to suggest that they’ll be back.” —David Pilling, Financial Times
“Hypnotic. . . . Colorless Tsukuru spins a weave of . . . vivid images around a great mystery. . . . In the past decade, James Wood has convincingly argued that what the novel does best is show us what consciousness feels like. Murakami, in his own oblique way, has sharpened that objective to a mystical cognitive science: This, so many of what of his books tell us, is what perception feels like. . . . [He] elegantly describes how emotional trauma can lead us to disassociate. . . . The story flows along smoothly, wrapping around details like objects in a stream.” —John Freeman, The Boston Globe
“A reader opens a Murakami book with the expectation that anything can happen and that a story begun in realism will soon take off toward dreamlike realms. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki alights in some mysterious places but doesn’t settle there. . . . [It] is replete with emotionally frank, philosophical discussions. It’s a gentle ride, without the depictions of violence that sometimes occur in Murakami, and any traumas are recounted in retrospect, now covered with the tempering blanket of time. . . . Reflective.” —Jenny Shank, The Dallas Morning News
“[Colorless Tsukuru is] beautiful, rich with moving images and lush yet exquisitely controlled language, reverberating, like that piano music Tsukuru cannot forget, with elusive emotion. . . . Murakami's last novel, 1Q84, was a gripping, complex, surrealistic thriller that weighed in at over 900 pages. This one is less than half that length, far more streamlined in structure and essentially realistic, but no less compelling. . . . Fans of elegant, intelligent fiction will welcome this book.” —Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times
“So taut and approachable—though it still retains [Murakami’s] cool fabulism—that it may expand the Japanese lit icon’s fan base even further.” —Boris Kachka, Vulture
“Moving. . . . Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki may be Murakami’s most human novel yet. . . . [When it] was released in his native country of Japan, it sold a million copies in its first week. That number is astronomical, especially here in the states, where Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices had a ‘strong’ opening week with only about 100,000 books sold. Calling Murakami a ‘universally respected author’ or even a ‘paragon of literature’ is no longer apt. The man is a cultural force unto himself. . . . [In Colorless Tsukuru] the staples of his work (stories within stories, sexual perversity, mysteries without real answers) all come together to form a beautiful whole. . . . It’s quiet in the same way Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is, leaving the reader with that nostalgic feeling one gets when putting down a truly captivating story.” — Noah Cruickshank, A.V. Club
“Colorless Tsukuru had me hooked from the start. . . . A piercing and surprisingly compact story about friendship and loneliness. . . . Murakami skillfully explores the depths of Tsukuru’s isolation and pain. His nervousness when he begins to suspect that friends have shunned him—and his anguish when it is confirmed—are chilling. No mysticism needed.” —Jeremy Kohler, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Questions beget questions in this brilliant new novel by Haruki Murakami. . . . The premise is simple enough, but in the works of Murakami, nothing is simple. The endpapers for [Colorless Tsukuru] make this clear. A partial map of the huge, complex Tokyo subway system surrounds the text. Thousands of travelers pass through central stations on these heavily traveled lines. People intersect without ever meeting. Perfect for Tsukuru. . . . [It is] the gray area[s] Murakami explores so brilliantly. His characters’ lives spin out in the shadow of accidents and natural disasters that have plagued Japan in the decades since Hiroshima. . . . Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki has a strong storyline and sharply drawn characters whose motives are ambiguous: a perfect introduction to Murakami’s world, where questions of guilt and motivation abound, and the future is an open question.” —Kit Reed, The Miami Herald
“Murakami has a knack for swift, seamless storytelling. . . . Don’t be surprised if you devour Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage in the course of a night or two. Despite having an achromatic enigma as its protagonist, it’s shockingly seductive. . . . A quietly thought-provoking book, but some of its most charming and unexpected moments come in nicely observed nuggets that seem to be far removed from the main narrative, at least at first glance.” —Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Accessible and often moving. . . . One of Murakami’s most endearing and enduring traits as a writer is an almost reportorial attention to detail, the combined effect of which gives you a complete picture while still feeling a little ethereal. Because, like many of the award-winning novelist’s best books, Colorless also is rooted in dreams.Tsukuru relates dark fantasies involving the people in his past in such a matter-of-fact way that the character himself isn’t sure they’re not real. As always with Murakami, it doesn’t really matter if they are real: It’s the feelings they evoke that matter.” —Chris Foran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Spare and contained . . . so the few hints of emotional color stand out. . . . Because it’s clear that Tsukuru’s conscious and unconscious lives are almost totally separated, it’s impossible to trust his memories or his interpretations of events. That gives the novel an unsettled, unresolved quality that continues to hum after its disquieting conclusion. . . . Like many of Murakami’s books, this one has an implicit soundtrack. In this case, it’s Liszt’s suite for piano, Years of Pilgrimage, and particularly the ‘Mal du Pays (Homesickness)’ section of the suite. . . . Quiet, with disturbing depths.” —Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
“Murakami confronts big themes (friendship, forgiveness, the betrayal of loyalties) with a sombre eye. His gift as a novelist is to locate the moment of crisis when a character loses faith, religious or otherwise, and life is exposed in all its drab wonder. Colorless Tsukuru, a work of lapidary and suspenseful mystery, goes to the heart of questions about human solitude and yearning to connect. Admirers of Murakami’s previous novels—Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle—will not be disappointed.” —Ian Thomson, Evening Standard (London)
“Almost without precedent in modern times, [Murakami] has combined giddy popularity—in Japan, his novels can sell 1m copies in the week of publication—with the literary prestige of admiring reviews from giants such as Updike. . . . One reason for Murakami's huge readership is that, unlike many serious novelists, he is as interested in plot as prose. . . . All the author's signature flourishes are here, including a significant piece of music (Liszt's ‘Le mal du pays’ underscores this novel), an impressive range of cultural reference (name-checks include Arnold Wesker, Pet Shop Boys, Barry Manilow and Thomas Harris) and a deep interest in sex. . . . [Kafka] haunts Murakami's fiction as both an explicit presence . . . and a general tutelary influence. . . . [Colorless Tsukuru is] as adept as ever at setting up Kafkaesque ambiguity and atmosphere.” —Mark Lawson, The Guardian (UK)
“Murakami is one of those rare novelists who can turn our ordinary lives, whether conducted in Tokyo or Duluth, into something wondrous. . . . Few authors can endow the ordinary with so much enticing oddity. . . . It is a testament to Murakami’s power as a novelist that he can moderate the ebb and flow of reality with such singular confidence.” —Alexander Nazaryan, Newsweek
“Spell-binding. . . . Strangely beautiful . . . intensely moving.” —Eithne Farry, The Independent (UK)
“The joy of [this] novels lies in taking another wander through Murakami-land where everything is suffused with an air of mystery and many questions are left unanswered. . . . Let [Colorless Tsukuru’s] peculiar beauty wash over you.” —Jake Kerridge, Sunday Express (UK)
“Oddly satisfying. . . . This kind of Murakami novel is like life, then, but less so yet somehow more so.” —Sean O’Hagan, The Observer (UK)
“A meditation on language and reference.” —Leo Robson, The Telegraph (UK)
“Hypnotically fascinating. . . . A journey of immense magnitude, both physically. . . and, of course, metaphysically, as Tazaki attempts to make sense of his own inner world and the dreams that shape his other dimension. There are always other dimensions in Murakami’s novels, and while they can seem impenetrable, they eventually feed into and help vivify the powerful personal dramas taking place on a purely human level. In the end, Murakami writes love stories, all the more tender and often tragic for their exploration of the multiple realities in which is lovers live.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Murakami devotees will sigh with relief at finding his usual memes – the moon, Cutty Sark, a musical theme, ringing telephones, a surreal story-within-a story (this time about passing on death and possibly six fingers). That the novel sold over one million copies its first week in Japan guarantees – absolutely, deservedly so – instant best-seller status stateside as well.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“One of Murakami’s more memorable protagonists . . . a testament to the mystery, magic, and mastery of this much-revered Japanese writer’s imaginative powers. Murakami’s moxie is characterized by a brilliant detective-story-like blend of intuition, hard-nosed logic, impeccable pacing, and poetic revelations. . . . [He] reveals Tazaki’s pilgrimage through stunning psychologically and philosophically charged passages that are alternately all too real and almost hallucinatory. . . Tazaki’s quest restores him to the cycle of love, loss, and resurrection that is time’s eternal flow in surprising, delightful, and sometimes frightening ways, none of which will be lost on lucky readers of this new masterpiece.” —Elle
“A return to the mood and subject matter of the acclaimed writer’s earlier work. . . . A vintage Murakami struggle of coming to terms with buried emotions and missed opportunities, in which intentions and pent up desires can seemingly transcend time and space to bring both solace and desolation.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Another tour de force from Japan’s greatest living novelist. . . . Murakami writes with the same murky sense of time that characterized 1Q84, but this book, short and haunting, is really of a piece with older work such as Norwegian Wood and, yes, Kafka on the Shore. The reader will enjoy watching Murakami play with color symbolism down to the very last line of the story, even as Tsukuru sinks deeper into a dangerous enigma. . . . A trademark story that blends the commonplace with the nightmarish in a Japan full of hollow men.” —Kirkus (starred review)
About This Guide
The introduction, author biography, discussion questions, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the eagerly anticipated new novel by Haruki Murakami.
Question & Answer
1. What is the significance of the name of the novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage? Why is Tsukuru branded “colorless”? Would you say that this an accurate description of him? Is this how Tsukuru sees himself or is it how he is seen by others? What kind of pilgrimage does Tsukuru embark upon and how does he change as a result of this pilgrimage? What causes these changes?
2. Why does Tsukuru wait so many years before attempting to find out why he was banished from the group? How does he handle the deep depression he feels as a result of this rejection and how is he changed by this period of suffering? Is Tsukuru the only character who suffers in this way? If not, who else suffers at what is the cause? Do you believe that their distress could have been avoided? If so, how?
3. Do you consider Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki a realistic work of fiction? Why or why not? What fantastical or surreal elements does Murakami employ in the novel and what purpose do they serve? What do these elements reveal that strictly realistic elements might not? Kuro says, “I do think that sometimes a certain kind of dream can be even stronger than reality” (310). In considering genre, do you believe that this is true?
4. Tsukuru reveals that his father chose his name, which means “to make things.” Is this an apt name for Tsukuru? Why or why not? How does Tsukuru’s understanding of his own name affect the way that he sees himself? Where else in the story does the author address making things? Are they portrayed as positive or useful activities?
5. Why is Tsukuru’s friendship with Haida so important? What is the outcome of this relationship? How does the relationship ultimately affect Tsukuru’s perception of himself? Does it alter Tsukuru’s response to the rejection he was subjected to years earlier in any way?
6. Why does Haida share with Tsukuru the story about his father and the strange piano player who speaks of death? What might this teach us about the purpose of storytelling? How does Tsukuru react to this story? Is he persuaded by Haida’s tale? What does the story teach us about belief and the power of persuasion?
7. Sara says that we live in an age where “we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather than information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people” (148). Do the characters in the story know each other very well? Do you believe that technology in today’s world has helped or hindered us in knowing each other better?
8. When Tsukuru finally sees three of his friends again, how have each of them changed? How do they react to seeing one another after all this time? Are their reactions strange and unexpected or predictable? What unexpected changes have taken place over the years, and why are they surprising to Tsukuru? Has anything remained consistent?
9. When Tsukuru visits the pizzeria in Finland, how does he react after realizing he is the only one there who is alone? How is this different from his usual response to isolation throughout the story? Discuss what this might indicate about the role that setting plays in determining Tsukuru’s emotional state.
10. Does Tsukuru’s self-image and understanding of his role within the group align with how they saw Tsukuru and perceived his role in their group? If not, what causes differences in their perceptions? Do Tsukuru’s thoughts about his rejection from the group align with his friends’ understanding of why he was banished? How did Tsukuru’s banishment affect the other members of the group?
11. Why do Tsukuru and Kuro say that they may be partly responsible for Shiro’s murder? Do you believe that the group did the right thing by protecting Shiro? Why or why not?
12. The Franz Liszt song “Le mal du pays” is a recurring motif in the novel. Shiro plays the song on the piano; Haida leaves a recording of it behind; Tsukuru listens to it again and again; Kuro also has a recording. Why might the author have chosen to include this song in particular in the story? What effect does its repetition have on the reader—and the characters in the novel?
13. Sara tells Tsukuru: “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them” (44). What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her statement?
14. Kuro says that she believes an evil spirit had inhabited Shiro, and as Tsukuru is leaving her home, Kuro tells him not to let the bad elves get him. Elsewhere in the story, the piano player asks Haida’s father whether he believes in a devil. Does the novel seem to indicate whether there is such a thing as evil—existing apart from mankind, or is darkness characterized as an innate part of man’s psyche?
15. While visiting Kuro, Tsukuru comes to the realization “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds” (322). This, he says, “is what lies at the root of true harmony.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with his statement?
16. Why does Tsukuru seem to be so interested in railroad stations? How does his interest in these stations affect his relationship with his high school friends? Later in his life, how does this interest affect his understanding of friendship and relationships? The author revisits Tsukuru’s interest in railroad stations at the end of the book and refers to the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways in 1995 great disaster of 3/11 in Japan. Why do you think that Murakami makes mention of this incident? Does this reference change your interpretation of the story?
17. Is Tsukuru’s decision with respect to Sara at the end of the story indicative of some kind of personal progress? What is significant about his gesture? How has Tsukuru changed by the story’s end? Do you believe that the final scene provides sufficient resolution of the issues raised at the start of the story? Does it matter that readers are not ultimately privy to Sara’s response to Tsukuru’s gesture?
18. Tsukuru wishes that he had told Kuro, “Not everything was lost in the flow of time” (385). What does he believe was preserved although time has gone by? What did the members of the group ultimately gain through their friendship despite their split?
19. How does Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki compare to Haruki Murakami’s earlier novels? What themes do the works share? What elements of Murakami’s latest novel are different or unexpected?
Kobo Abe, The Woman in the Dunes
Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch
Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities
Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being
Zadie Smith, NW