A Reflection on ‘Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki’ by Haruki Murakami


I got the book out of the library on an impulse. It was one of those perfect accidents you might say. Almost like the alignment of a particular group of people that results in a chemical bonding of elements, the meeting of two minds, a once in a life time event like the Big Bang, that may never be reproduced. Kind of like these five friends.

Translated from the original Japanese novel by Philip Gabriel, I never once felt that I was missing out on anything but I do wonder if the words sound better in Japanese. If my limitations as a person have hindered me in absorbing their meaning. Tsukuru in Japanese means ‘to create’ but it can also have the simpler meaning ‘to make or build’. In choosing to give his son the simpler character, his father did not want him to feel like he had to strive to fulfil his name and buckle under the pressure of having to create something. He let him know that he was loved, regardless of what he did. It was only fitting that Tsukuru grew up with a love of train stations and went on to become an engineer and build train stations.

Despite the role they all played in their group of five, their cohesive unit – ‘an orderly harmonious community’ – Tsukuru always wondered if the others would miss him if he was gone, and if he was a valuable member of this unit or not. While the others all had colours in their names – Shiro, Kuru, Ao and Ake, he was the only one who did not. He was colourless Tsukuru Tazaki’.

The novel begins with Tsukuru on the brink of death, only hesitating to step through its door as he was unsure of the method he should choose. The language that Murakami uses is simple yet descriptive “Like Jonah into the belly of the whale, Tsukuru had fallen into the bowls of death, one untold day after another, lost in a dark, stagnant void”. Like the blurb on the back of the book promised, Murakami’s writing is extremely Kafkaesque in the way it points out the absurdity of our world and the way we relate to one another.

Tsukuru grew to depend on his friends group and although he was studying in Tokyo after high school they were still an invaluable part of his life and his only friends. When they ruthlessly cut him out of their lives and disowned him, this ostracising affected him deeply. It is only when his new girlfriend Sara hears about his past that she forces him to confront those demons and go back to meet his old friends and find out what happened. I identified deeply with Tsukuru particularly his ostracising and the not knowing. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything close to the chemistry that all five friends had together but I have certainly had deep friendships with people which I have lost, at times organically and at times abruptly. So it’s easy to understand what he must have gone through when those friends were the only thing he had.

What do you let yourself think and feel, how do you explain the last sixteen years of isolation to yourself, when you find out that one of your friends accused you of raping her, and although the others knew it to be untrue, they went along with it as they had to accept one person and reject the other. How do you rationalise the sixteen years of your life you spent alone – the metamorphosis your mind and body went under like a rock being crystalised under intense heat and pressure – how do you come to terms with the fact that that needn’t have happened if you had only asked – if you had only reasoned. And then to realise that perhaps it was the only alternative, perhaps it had to be either him or Shiro and that his friends accepting that he had in fact raped her was the only thing they could do to protect her fragile mental state.

The novel ends ambiguously and in a way this works best as one finishes with a feeling of catharsis, like the outcome does not in fact matter. Although his friends left him, and Haida left him, he is not an empty vessel. As a young man he had truly believed something, he was a person capable of believing something with his whole heart, a heart full of hope – and despite what will happen in the future he will keep on hoping. Sara may choose to be with him, or she may choose the other man – and tomorrow he will know and there is nothing he can do about it. But he has been through the worst, he has swum through the cold water, and at some point, Kuru had loved him. He is not just a colourless nothing, he – Tsukuru Tazaki – is full of colour.

Top 10 Fictional Crushes

Wednesday 1st July 2015

Long before I knew what love was I was falling in love with fictional characters, as most people do. I have always been a voracious reader so it seemed only natural that I would discover perfection, or lovable imperfection in the dream worlds of my favourite authors.

Here’s my top 10 fictional crushes (in no particular order):

1. Sorensen Carlisle in ‘The Changeover’ by Margaret Mahy

With his youthful good looks, powerful charisma and not to mention – magic powers – Sorenson Carlisle was quite the teenage heartthrob when I was 15 years old. I used to fantasize that he would help me ‘changeover’ and then I would become who I was truly meant to be – A Witch. And we would live happily ever after.


2. Rhett Butler in ‘Gone with the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell

I watched Gone with the Wind years before I read the book so by that stage I was already in love with Rhett Butler. It had less to do with Clark Gable than the rambunctious charm and silver-fox appeal of Rhett himself. If I were ever stuck in the middle of a civil war with a sick woman and a new-born baby, there is no man I would want but Rhett. I feel like he would accept my wild impulsive nature, and encourage me to be independent and seek my own fate. Maybe he would grab me passionately in his arms and say ‘You need to be kissed and by a man who knows how’. Sigh.

3. Gilbert Blythe in ‘The Anne of Green Gables/ Avonlea etc series’ by Lucy Maud Montgomery

It’s strange that my mum read me a picture book version of Anne of Green Gables when I was 6 or 7 and I thought nothing of Gilbert Blythe. I think I was glad I didn’t have long hair so that no annoying boy could pull it and yell carrots. It did not occur to me that I didn’t have red hair so the insult carrots would have been redundant. Somehow, re-reading it years later, and later Anne of the Island, I fell in love with Gilbert Blythe. I sensed his shy soulfulness and his devotion to Anne and part of the attraction was wanting someone to want me like that.


4. Gabriel in ‘The Secret Sacrament’ by Sheryl Jordon

The Secret Sacrament was my favourite book in year 8. I lived, ate, breathed The Secret Sacrament. It basically lived in my desk even though we were meant to return it to the SSR shelf in the class. Later when I won a voucher to Dymocks it was the first book I bought. My mum tried to convince me I would get sick of it in a couple of years but I insisted I would always love it and you know what, I still do. Gabriel will always be the face I imagine when I hear the hymn ‘Eagles Wings’, I imagine his golden high cheekbones giving way to feathers and angels wings beating behind his shoulders. His self-sacrifice and his vulnerability, his courage and love for Ashila, will always have a special place in my heart.

5. Rahel in ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy

Forced to witness the death of a man they loved as a child for no fault of his own, Rahel breaks the love laws again as an adult, the only way she knows how. They are the laws that dictate who she can love, and how and how much. Perhaps because I have broken the love laws myself, perhaps because in her I see my vulnerability and hunger for love, perhaps because I sense a connection with her unreachable depths, I love Rahel and want to save her from herself.


6. Rudy Steiner in ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak

I read The Book Thief in late November last year and couldn’t put it down. It was such an endearing, heart-wrenching book about the friendship between Liesle and the young Jewish man hiding in her basement as well as her friendship with Rudy Steiner, her ‘Saukerl’. Rudy stood by her when she had no one, he understood her need to drop bread crumbs for the Jews being marched to concentration camps, he stopped her from going out into the crowd and getting whipped, he stole books with her when he didn’t know why she was taking them. Rudy was the boy who was with her no questions asked and would have stood beside her and in front of her if he thought her life was in danger. He died thinking of her and she wished she could have kissed him while he was still breathing. I will always wish I had a blonde-haired blue-eyed Rudy beside me.

7. Dicey in The Tillerman Series by Cynthia Voight

The first book I read in The Tillerman series was ‘A Solitary Blue’. In fact I read it 3 times in a row as it was the only book I had on a one week holiday in Fiji. I was moved by Jeff and his relationship with his mother, everything he had gone through with her manipulation. But more so by the girl who pulled him back – Dicey. Dicey is strong. She is resilient. She is protective of her family and loves fiercely. She is everything I want to be and so perhaps it is my ego that loves her more than my body does. In her I see the woman I want to be one day and parts of myself, parts of someone stronger. It’s easy to see her Achilles heel is her family and in that I want to save her from the hurt this will bring.

8. Sonia in ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Sonia was also something of a Mother Theresa, role-model figure to me. Forced into prostitution at the age of 17 or 18, she is one of the redemptive figures in the great Russian classic. I read it at the age of 15 and it was a really hard read for me but so rewarding. Sonia was one of the main reasons I finished the novel. She sees the good in Raskolnikov and finally at the end of the book he begins to treat her the way she has treated him all along. She’s an inspiration and an aspiration and I saw something saintly in her, an adulation to someone I could never be.

9. Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys’ by Truman Capote

I fell in love with Holly Golightly the moment she walked out of her bedroom in the body of Audrey Hepburn and said she had the mean reds, wearing nothing but a man’s dinner shirt and an eye mask. Audrey Hepburn brought Holly Golightly or Luna Mae to life on screen, but she stayed true to the spirit of the Holly Capote wrote of. When I read the book, I saw her through Frank’s eyes – this tired broken lonely girl who was trying desperately to find some meaning in her life and latched onto anyone who could pull her out of this sorry existence. She looked for love in all the wrong places and like Frank, I felt like maybe I could save her too. I would have loved to sit in the library with her, have parties and escape through fire escapes, window-shop at Tiffany’s and even shop lift an animal mask from a store if that’s what she wanted to do.


10. Robert Kincaid in ‘Bridges of Madison County’ by Robert James Waller

The Bridges of Madison County was a name I heard a lot as a kid but I never knew the reference, or if people were talking about a movie or a book. When I first read the novel as a teenager, I was swept away by Robert Kincaid, this independent nature photographer who treated a lonely housewife like she was something special, who respected her as a human being and gave her the attention she deserved. Their short-lived romance was one that kept them alive and hoping for a reunion, at some point in the future. I would love to meet a man who could make me come alive like that.