I am an avowed fan of Haruki Murakami. I look forward to his new books like they’re Harry Potter sequels. But besides my usual excitement, I had especially good feelings about this one. I loved the title. I loved the cover art. And best of all:
It’s about a third the size of 1Q84. Domo arigato, Murakami-san. While I liked 1Q84, at 925 pages it did feel a little flabby. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki went the opposite route in that it left me wanting more.
At face-value, Tsukuru Tazaki is another one of Murakami’s passive male protagonists. In high school, Tsukuru is haunted by the fear that he is an uninteresting person. He’s smart but not brilliant; he doesn’t play a sport or an instrument; and he is not artistic, funny, or charming. The only thing that seems to set him apart is his love of railway stations.
Tsukuru also feels “colorless” in a more literal sense. He and four other students form a complementary, inseparable group of friends. His friends aren’t just talented, they all have colors in their last names: Aka (red) is a brilliant student. Ao (blue) is an energetic rugby player. Shiro (white) is a beautiful pianist. Kuro (black) is a sarcastic bookworm. Tsukuru loves these friends but is unsure why they accept him, as he doesn’t have either a special quality or a color.
One day, Tsukuru is shut out from the group without any explanation. They tell him they do not want to talk to him or see him ever again. In typical Murakami-fashion that is both maddening and understandable, Tsukuru doesn’t protest. He moves on as best as he can, but the damage has been done to his psyche. Now an unmarried 36-year-old living in Tokyo, he has a job designing and renovating railway stations. He avoids forming close relationships until he begins dating a woman named Sara, who urges him to seek out his former friends and gain some closure.
Every Murakami novel I’ve read has a wonderful dreamlike quality, and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is no exception. In this case, the tone is more similar to Sputnik Sweetheart than the what-the-fuckery of Kafka on the Shore. These touches of magical realism provide depth to what is a pretty simple story. Murakami also has a gift for taking the mundane and making it seem precious. Take the protagonist. For all his proclaimed colorlessness, Tsukuru has some rather endearing traits. What do you do when you have time to kill and no desire to go back home? Some people might go a bar and get drunk. Tsukuru goes to the nearest railway station and watches the trains arrive and depart.
I can’t write an unbiased review of this book. Everything about Haruki Murakami’s writing that I love is present, and everything that I would make fun of is kept to a minimum. This is my first 5-star book of the year.