In 2011, JC and I had a massive 3-part discussion of Haruki Murakami’s 624-page 1Q84. It was one of the last Three Guys discussions that we did, our signature feature was petering out and our last several talks were more like two-guy dialogues. I recall also having one of those with JR on photography. It was becoming impossible for the three of us to agree on a single book to read. We were moving apart.

I always thought of the Three Guys site as magic: It was keeping the 3 of us together as friends and colleagues. We were originally colleagues in the same company back in the 20th century. Three Guys started as conversations in the company lunchroom.

I still see JC once a year if he is visiting NY. He is still going to BEA, the bookseller’s convention. I haven’t seen JR in 7 years, but he did send me a beautiful print of a photograph of my choice from his work recently. I believe he prints his own photographs, which I greatly respect.

I loved 1Q84 but after I finished it, I was so wasted with Murakami that I vowed never to read another of his books. I broke that pledge when I finished Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is about a group of close-knit friends who ghost one of their number. The five have been friends since high school, the group consisting of 3 guys and 2 women. They do everything together, banding up against the world, a clique that admits no outsiders. Their names allude to specific colors in Japanese; those hues become their nicknames. But Tsukuru’s name lacks that potential, so he is “colorless”. He also seems to be the nicest person in the group, if lacking in a distinct or intense personality. He’s non-charismatic so the adjective “colorless” seems to fit. Everyman.

One day all of his friends from the group become unavailable. They don’t return his phone calls. He is told they don’t want to talk to him and won’t see him again. When he asks why, the answer is “Don’t you know?”

The personal shock is severe and, 16 years later, he still hasn’t recovered from losing his 4 best friends all at once. And he never figured out why it happened. By this time Tsukuru has fulfilled his occupational ambition and become an engineer. He designs or plans the renovation of railroad stations. His name in Japanese happens to mean “maker”.

There’s train-watching in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. In one scene, moving, poignant, in an emotional register that I haven’t sensed in Murakami’s work before, Tsukuru sits in Tokyo’s main railroad station near midnight and watches the last trains pull out for distant Japanese towns that he has never visited.

His last and most serious relationship is with Sara, a woman several years his senior. Sara tells Tsukuru that she won’t sleep with him again until he looks up his old friends from the group and finds out why he was rejected. Sara feels that Tsukuru will never be whole and ready to move on until he confronts his old friends; it’s lingering, unfinished business.

Seeing the friends that turned him away results in self-discovery. But the lessons learned about life are complex. Tsukuru is advised to make every effort to win over Sara. If he doesn’t succeed with her, he will be alone for the rest of his life. Questionable? Maybe. There’s a dark fatality hanging over the characters that they fight to steer clear of. That’s Murakami for you! The noir is never far away!

Much more concise and not as surreal as 1Q84 or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is major, mature Haruki Murakami. Overall, it’s become my personal favorite of his works, exhibiting a command and eloquence in those classic elements of his literature that his readers have all come to love. My interest in reading Murakami has been restarted by Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Three Guys discussion anyone?