Sometimes I love a book so much, it’s hard to know what to say about it without the effusion seeming insincere. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is one of those books. It was a joy to read. Once I read the tale, I realized that even the design of the cover was perfect.
Tsukuru is colorless only in that each of his four friends in high school has a color associated with his or her name—black, red, blue, and white. However, Tsukuru thinks of himself as lacking the verve of his friends; he senses that he is empty, and feels lucky to have their companionship. And the five Japanese students are the best kinds of friends, each complementing the qualities of the others. None is perfect, but taken together, they seem somehow whole, a complete individual entity. So it is strange—a weird betrayal—when the friends split to go off to college (Tsukuru goes to Tokyo) and the other four ostracize Tsukuru. At first Tsukuru tries to find out why. But the only answer he gets is something along the line of ‘you should know.’ And so he gives up on finding out.
The incident colors his colorless life—that is, everything that happens to him for years to come is filtered through the deep loss of the people who knew him best. For a time, he is thoroughly obsessed with death and has suicidal thoughts. In his mid-thirties, he is still very much alone although he is a successful engineer, designing train stations. When he meets a woman with whom he may be able to share his life, she understands that Tsukuru can never fully engage in a relationship, in love, until he deals with the inexplicable loss of his friends. And so he begins a long journey backward in time and forward into foreign lands, seeking a peace of mind that will allow him to connect with others. He is truly on a pilgrimage. And by engaging in his story, the reader, too, takes a metaphysical journey into the meaning of friendships, of love, of loss and life’s purpose.
High school housekeeping: A good high school reader should have a go at Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. Much of it deals with high school connections and betrayals, as well as young adult depression. It also shows a way through the past and its pain that I think could be very valuable for teens. Many students have an interest in Japan. Reading Murakami provides insights into Japanese culture. And life—in the all-encompassing, big picture way. I’m interested in your response to this lovely novel.