Finding Yourself by Losing Yourself: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

09/10/2014 4:00 AM |

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
By Haruki Murakami
Alfred A. Knopf

It’s hard to imagine a more acute teenage pain than being told your longtime group of friends has decided, suddenly and without reason, that you are no longer needed. This is where Haruki Murakami’s deeply empathetic new novel begins, and it’s such a quiet and resonant scenario that the book seems destined to become a deep-cut favorite. Murakami is one of the most beloved modern writers, and here he explores loneliness with as much insight as anyone since Vonnegut.

The title character of Colorless (it feels wrong to refer to this embodiment of passiveness as a “hero”) is deliberately named, with Tsukuru translating as “builder”—his father didn’t think the infant son merited the more ambitious “creator”—and as a Tazaki he is the only character whose surname doesn’t reference a color. The name is a double-barreled literary device, in other words, but no less effective for being obvious. Tsukuru sees himself as colorless, adding nothing to the world. He, simply and poignantly, “has nowhere to go,” and it’s a considerable achievement that Murakami is able to render such a meek and acted-upon character so compellingly.

Murakami’s most frustrating habit, introducing compelling ideas that don’t pay off, continues here, and while one can find thematic parallels in the underexplored insinuation that dream events have waking-life repercussions, digressions involving “death tokens,” or a pair of Lynchian severed fingers, never amount to more than admittedly effective atmosphere.

Still, while the high-concept elements feel like a riff on familiar themes, the emotions at the core glow. “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone,” he writes. “They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds… There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.”

Looking superficially, Colorless feels like a step back after the mammoth 1Q84, but this is not a minor work. To the people it will speak to, the voice will be clear, loud, and true.