Booked Up

The Enigma of Haruki Murakami

The world-famous Japanese novelist’s latest book offers another strange and mysterious tale.

By - Oct 17th, 2014 12:22 pm
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami’s new novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, is my recommended reading this week. It comes with a proviso, however: You must be able to complete the first chapter without sinking into deep despair. If you are able to buck up and brace yourself, then I think you’ll be able take the leap into this provocative and challenging work.

I must admit I’ve read very little of Murakami’s oeuvre and have not been compelled to follow him throughout his career. His books are always fascinating in their portrayal of obsession and alienation, but I did not find them pleasant reading. Colorless is in keeping with my previous impressions, but Murakami is a genius that must be acknowledged and experienced for yourself.

The simplicity and poetic beauty of the English translation of Murakami’s laconic prose makes me wish I knew Japanese. We are indeed fortunate that a translation of each of Murakami’s novels is published so quickly in America, a land where much of the world’s literature goes untranslated. The English is spare and classic, with very little slang or colloquialism. This creates an impression of timelessness that adds to the impact of the story.

This strange and mysterious novel takes us on a true spiritual pilgrimage. Tsukuru Tazaki is a young Japanese man dealing with a trauma from his adolescence. His name has no color in it, unlike his friends, Red, Blue, Black, and White. This curious fact leads him to think of himself as colorless, almost transparent. Depressed and isolated, Tsukuru drifts through life on the edge of suicide.

The sadness that envelopes Tsukuru is all too prevalent for adolescents the world over. But the art of this portrayal is in its universality. The tale becomes one of human struggle in a confusing and alienating world. We have all dealt with the harshness of daily life, no matter how insulated we are from physical want or suffering. The shadow of Kafka looms over the story as if watching on in affirmation.

The novel moves forward again after Tsukuru meets a fellow student at his college in Tokyo. Younger than him, Haida (also called Gray) has a vivid life with interests in many areas. He introduces Tsukuru to Franz Liszt’s epic piano work, Annees de Pelerinage (Years of Pilgrimage). This haunting work colors their relationship and underscores their disturbing dissolution. Before he goes, Haida tells Tsukuru a story of death and color that he claims happened to his father.

One of the many surreal dreams that Tsukuru has marks the end of this section. These dreams are disturbing and disorienting. Where does the “real” begin or end? These are questions that become more and more frequent for our protagonist. The fact that there are few answers adds a dreamlike quality to Tsukuru’s daily journeys.

A love interest, Sara, enters Tsukuru’s life. Like him, she has no color in her name and becomes his guide through the painful relationships of his past. Lies, deception, and murder figure in his mysterious history, but resolution is not meant for our anti-hero. Murakami seems to be telling us that living is in telling the story, making it up as we go along. So put a little Liszt on and enjoy this dreamlike tale for yourself.

Spotlight on Local Writers is looking for local authors who would like to be featured in our weekly column. Please send information and published copies to the site address. Feel free to recommend a local favorite we may have missed.

Upcoming Book Events:         

Friday, October 17 (7:00 PM): Reading featuring Deborah A. Mirandaat Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 East Locust Street, Milwaukee. (414) 263-5001$6-$8

Saturday, October 18 (2:00 PM): Randy Soudah, author of the children’s book Freddy & Betty and the Halloween Rescue, at Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee. (414) 332-1181                 

Saturday, October 18 (4:00 PM): Book signing/reading with David Pratt, author of Looking After Joey,at Outwords Books, Gifts & Coffee, 2710 N. Murray Avenue, Milwaukee.(414) 963-9089

Saturday, October 18 (7:00 PM): Reading featuring Merrill Gilfillan and Daniel Grego at Woodland Pattern Book Center. $6-$8

Saturday, October 18 (7:00 PM): Jim Peterik, co-author of Through the Eye of the Tiger: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Life of Survivor’s Founding Member at Boswell Book Company.

Monday, October 20 (7:00 PM): The He Said, She Said Tour! with Wendelin Van Draanen, author of Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye and Mark Huntley Parsons, author of Road Rash at Boswell Book Company.

Tuesday, October 21(4:30 PM): Mequon Nature Preserve Event with Judy Schachner, author of Skippyjon Jones Snow What at the Mequon Nature Preserve, 8200 W. County Line Road, Mequon. Co-sponsored by Boswell Book Company.

Tuesday, October 21 (7:00 PM): Ticketed Villa Terrace Event with Alessandra Branca, author of New Classic Interiors, at Villa Terrace Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Avenue, Milwaukee. (Doors open at 6:00 PM) Tickets available at Boswell Book Company.

Wednesday, October 22 (7:00 PM): David Finkel, author of The Good Soldiers and Thank You for Your Service at Boswell Book Company.

Wednesday, October 22 (7:00 PM): The Friends of the Elm Grove Library present Let Him Go by local author Larry Watson at the Sunset Playhouse, 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove. Co-sponsored by Boswell Book Company. To purchase tickets, contact the Elm Grove Library (262) 782-6717. $5. Cash bar available.

Wednesday, October 22 (7:00 PM): Dancing with Words: An Evening with the Woodland Pattern Wednesday Writers at Woodland Pattern Book Center. FREE

Thursday, October 23 (6:30 PM): Ana María Shua: A Bilingual Reading & Conversation; UWM, Golda Meir Library, 4th Floor Conference Center, 2311 E. Hartford Avenue, Milwaukee. Co-sponsored by Woodland Pattern Book Center.

Thursday, October 23 (7:00): Jack Bishop, editorial director of America’s Test Kitchen and co-editor of The Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book: An Authoritative Guide to Selecting and Cooking Today’s Meat and Poultry at Boswell Book Company.

Thursday, October 23 (7:00): Peter Rock: Author Visit & Reading, UWM Hefter Center, 3271 N. Lake Dr., Milwaukee. Co-sponsored by Woodland Pattern Book Center.

Friday, October 24 (7:00 PM): Will Boast, author of The Epilogue and Hannah Pittard, author of Reunionat Boswell Book Company.

Send your book club picks and author event information to me at or on Facebook at And good reading!

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