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Literature / Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年 Shikisai o motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, kare no junrei no toshi) is a 2014 novel by Haruki Murakami. It focuses on Tsukuru Tazaki, a man dealing with isolation and his adulthood. After leaving for college, all of his friends from high school mysteriously stopped talking to him. He felt lost, drifting through life alone, contemplating suicide and his value as a person. After avoiding the issue for several years, Tsukuru has finally decided to find out what drove his friends away. In his attempt to find the truth, however, he'll discover that there is more to them - and himself - than he ever realized.

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The novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adorkable: Sara certainly thinks this of Tsukuru.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Four of the original group had one as a pun on their family names: Yoshio Oumi, Kei Akamatsu, Yuzuki Shirane, and Eri Kurono are referred to as Ao, Aka, Shiro, and Kuro (Japanese for Mr. Blue, Mr. Red, Ms. White, and Ms. Black) respectively.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Tsukuru thinks this is going on because he's not as special a person as his friends. However, it's revealed that they kept him Locked Out of the Loop, with the best (albeit misguided) intentions in mind.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Haida, to the point of Tsukuru having a very explicit (and possibly real) Homo Erotic Dream about him.
  • Breaking the Fellowship: Tsukuru's inability to confront this part of his past is what kick-starts the plot. His friends abandoned him for seemingly no reason, and he's been avoiding the issue for years.
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  • Broken Bird: Tsukuru, who is introduced as deeply depressed and lost in life. Yuzuki suffered even worse. She had a mental breakdown, was raped and traumatized, miscarried the child, developed anorexia, and became a recluse. Then she was murdered by an unnamed assailant.
  • Colourful Theme Naming: Nearly every character has a color in their name. Kei Akamatsu's is "Red Pine," Yoshio Oumi's is "Blue Sea," Yuzuki Shirane's is "White Root," Eri Kurono's is "Black Meadow," Midorikawa's is "Green River," and Fumiyaki Haida's is "Gray Paddy." Tsukuru Tazaki's is "to make or build," which causes him think of himself as colorless and therefore less of a person than his friends.
  • Cool Car: Yoshio sells Toyota's Lexus luxury cars in Nagoya.
  • Darkest Hour: Tsukuru is actually introduced at his lowest point, completely alone, starving, depressed, and likely suicidal. The rest of the book is about him climbing out of the abyss and confronting his problems.
  • Didn't Think This Through: As adults, everyone admits that getting rid of Tsukuru was a huge, shortsighted mistake, and they feel incredibly guilty about what happened in the fallout.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Tsukuru gives a subtle version of this to his friends when he finds out why they abandoned him. Yuzuki told the group that Tsukuru had raped her, even though everyone knew it couldn't have been possible. She was raped by someone, had a miscarriage, and developed anorexia. In order to prevent Yuzuki's insanity from escalating, the group decided to ban Tsukuru, believing he was the only in the group mature and emotionally stable enough to handle it. Needless to say, the plan failed miserably.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Dogged Nice Girl: Eri was crushing hard on Tsukuru in high school, but he never noticed. Consciously, anyway.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Tsukuru thinks that, due to his "colorlessness," he is not as special or worth as much as his friends. This self-doubt haunts him throughout the book, until Eri reveals that his friends abandoned him because they thought he was the most mature and emotionally stable of the group. After hearing this, he returns to Tokyo a much more confident individual.
  • The Fellowship Has Ended: Intentionally enforced by the group on Tsukuru when he comes back from college, much to his bewilderment. Though it was seen as a way to keep Yuzuki's insanity from escalating further, it becomes permanent when Yuzuki is murdered and the entire group grows apart.
  • Gayngst: As an adult, Kei privately admits to Tsukuru that he's gay, and he feels miserable and stifled in their small, traditional town.
  • Growing Up Sucks: None of the characters end up where they expected to be in life, with varying degrees of happiness and satisfaction.
  • Happily Married: Eri and Edvard, who are successful pottery artists and raising two children in Helsinki.
  • Homo Erotic Dream: Tsukuru has a dream that starts with Eri and Yuzuki, but ends with Haida.
  • Left Hanging: Tsukuru finally confronts his friends and learns why they abandoned him. He gains more self-worth and decides to return to Tokyo...and confront Sara over her heavily implied infidelity. He declares his love for her via phone call, but the story ends before she gives him a decision.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Inflicted on Tsukuru by the rest of the group. The story is about him finding out why.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: The titular "Years of Pilgrimage" (Années de pèlerinage) by Franz Liszt. It reminds him of Yuzuki's piano playing, thus giving him another reason to seek out the truth.
  • Lovable Jock: Yoshio excelled in basketball in his high school years. When we see him again as an adult, he's running a Lexus car dealership.
  • Magic Realism: Everything involving Haida's story about Midorikawa's Aura Vision and the death tokens.
  • Oblivious to Love: Tsukuru had no idea Eri was in love with him in high school. Had he noticed, things would've turned out very differently.
  • Oh, Crap!: Eri's reaction when she realizes Tsukuru tracked her all the way to her home in Finland. Prior to the The Reveal, it's assumed that it's because she thinks he raped Yuzuki and has come for her, but it's quickly revealed that it's due to guilt over their falling out.
  • Older and Wiser: By the end of the book, Tsukuru has gained more confidence and a better sense of self-worth.
  • Only Sane Woman: Sara is the most well-grounded out of all the characters, due in part to her not being in Tsukuru's group. It's implied she's cheating on him, though.
  • The Piano Player: Yuzuki and Midorikawa. The former became a private piano teacher, and the latter was a jazz pianist.
  • Poor Communication Kills: If the group were willing to talk openly and confront Yuzuki's insanity, they might not have grown so distant from each other, and Yuzuki might not have been murdered.
  • Rail Enthusiast: Tsukuru has been obsessed with trains since childhood, and now works as a station design engineer for a Tokyo railway company.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The reason why the group broke up is due to Yuzuki being raped by someone, then privately accusing Tsukuru as the culprit. The others know it couldn't be true, but decide to outcast him to salvage Yuzuki's sanity. The identity of the rapist is never revealed, and Yuzuki is left a broken, neurotic shell of her former self. She has a miscarriage, then develops anorexia. Then she's murdered, thus driving the group permanently apart.
  • Reality Ensues: No matter how solid and trusting your circle of friends is, everyone has their own issues and may not want to admit them. People change and mature over time, and you might end up on opposing sides of an issue. Also, casting someone out of a group doesn't automatically solve a problem; the one leaving might develop abandonment issues, lack self-worth, and become suicidally depressed. The ones that stay might eventually realize they could've handled things differently, and live with the regret.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Kei is arguably the most successful of the original group, competently running a corporate training business.
  • Ridiculously Average Guy: Tsukuru thinks he's this, though all of the other characters consider him anything but.
  • Sanity Slippage: Tsukuru's backstory has a slow, steady burn into the depths of depression and self-doubt, with him being introduced as suicidal. Yuzuki's descent into madness happens much faster, breaking the group apart.
  • Scenery Porn: Tsukuru has never traveled out of Japan, so his trip to Helsinki is especially memorable.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Tsukuru has definitely grown and matured by the end of the story. The group's plan, however, had several long-term consequences they didn't consider. Ostracizing Tsukuru to save Yuzuki's sanity fractured the group, detrimentally affecting everyone involved. Yuzuki got worse and became isolated, culminating with her being murdered.
  • The Smart Guy: Tsukuru is this as an adult. His analytical and architectural design skills are vital to the success of his work, but he's too deep in his self-doubt to even realize it.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Tsukuru, due to is lack of self-esteem and inability to confront his past. Sara has to talk him through his problems and gives him some much-needed emotional and logistical support.
  • There Are No Therapists: All of the characters could use some sessions, especially Tsukuru and Yuzuki.
  • Title Drop: "Colorless" Tsukuru Tazaki was his nickname in high school. The "Years of Pilgrimage" is a set of piano pieces by Franz Liszt, a boxed set of which is given to Tsukuru by Haida.
  • True Companions: Tsukuru, Kei, Yoshio, Yuzuki, and Eri are inseparable in high school...until they have to grow up and further apart.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Eri and Yuzuki fit the roles in the group accordingly, so much so that Tsukuru considers the pair a single entity.
  • The Un Reveal: The identities of Yuzuki's rapist and murderer.
    • Haida's exact nature, the motive behind his friendship with Tsukuru, and his sudden disappearance.
    • Sara's decision between confession of her infidelity, or staying in her relationship with Tsukuru.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Haida mysteriously vanishes one day, leaving only his boxed set of Years of Pilgrimage behind.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Tzukuru gives Eri a subtle one when he finds out the real reason the group abandoned him. In the years since the group split, everyone realized they made a poor decision.
  • White Collar Worker: Kei has become a seminar seller in Nagoya, offering employee training - corporate warrior-style - for major companies. The others don't approve of his occasionally shady business practices.
  • Woman in White: Yuzuki's color motif is white, and she is mad, dead, and was pivotal in breaking up the group.
  • Women Are Wiser: Played straight with Sara, who gives Tsukuru some much-needed advice and resources. Less so with regards to Eri and her decisions that led to the group breaking.
  • Your Cheating Heart: It's heavily implied that Sara is seeing someone on the side when she's not with Tsukuru. He calls her on it at the end of the book, but we don't get to see her response.
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