Colours of life
Aug 15 2014
As the title suggests, the book is about the protagonist Tsukuru Tazaki — colourless chiefly because that’s how he sees himself: dull and unnoticeable; but also because his name has no ‘colour’ in it, opposed to the names of his four high school friends: Akamatsu meaning red pine; Oumi meaning ‘blue sea’; Shirane ‘white root’ and Kurono ‘black field’ or his college friend Haida whose name had the colour ‘grey’ in it. Tsukuru has an especially low sense of self-worth and is ever conscious of the presence of ‘colour’ in others, especially because of one crucial episode in his life: he has been unceremoniously cut out from his group of high school friends — people he felt closest to “a harmonious relationship”— without being given a reason why. The event shatters him, and this confession is how he opens the story:
“From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying. He turned 20 during this time, but this special watershed — becoming an adult — meant nothing. Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution and even now he couldn’t say why he hadn’t taken this final step. Crossing that threshold between life and death would have been easier than swallowing down a slick, raw egg.”
Tsukuru’s journey is undertaken years later, in his late 30s, when his girlfriend Sara observes an emotional knot within him, a vacant core that refuses to be filled and asks him to dig out the truth about his past. The ‘years of pilgrimage’ from the title is actually a piece of music by Franz Liszt, which he and Haida listened together, and which Shiro had always played Le Mal Du Pays: ‘homesickness’ or “a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape”. As with Norwegian Wood, music is at the heart of the story, a metaphor for Tsukuru’s nostalgia and yearning, his wounds of rejection and his desire for redemption.
Railroads and stations stand as motifs too — they are central to Tsukuru… like the inner crevices of his mind; interconnected, intricate… always fluid. The story moves in a flash-back, flash-on pattern, the magical and the mystical weaving in and out of the prosaic. We are drawn into the intriguing consciousness of Tsukuru Tazaki — his mysterious twilight and bottomless darkness.
Murakami creates distinct, unrelated images floating about with no apparent ends or ties connecting them to the story: Haida’s tale about the ‘death token’, the reference to a lost packet that contained cut-off ‘sixth-fingers’, Tsukuru’s dreams-that-are-not… each leaves you clawing for answers… but you aren’t given them. Tsukuru’s journey apparently helps him make sense of all that haunted him. And yet, none of the answers seem satisfying enough. When you turn the last page, you still feel that Shiro’s mystery isn’t entirely solved and you never find out what became of Haida. That’s what Murakami tends to do: lead you on without any answers. Knowing this doesn’t make it any better—you feel a bit cheated nevertheless.
The entire book is like a floating idea, an emotion that you can’t pin down or completely grasp. You just experience it as it passes you by.