The Autistic Experience & ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki’ by Haruki Murakami

TW for discussions of ableism, suicidal ideation, and bullying.

First things first, this is not a review. I did not finish Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage; not because the book is bad, but simply because it touches a little too close to home while being incredibly alien. As a result, this can’t be a fair review – instead, it’s a blog post about why the book upset me so much.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is a novel about a man who, during his first year of college, finds himself abandoned by his childhood friends with no explanation and no reason. Suddenly and with no warning, they stop returning his phone calls, refuse to see him, and finally tell him only that ‘they do not want to see him anymore’ – and that he should ‘know what he did’. Tsukuru spends a good portion of the next year in a suicidal haze, surviving mostly through automation, and several years later, is encouraged by a new girlfriend to find out exactly what happened.

I could not continue past this point. I knew already that this book would trigger me beyond what I could handle; reading about Tsukuru’s expulsion from his friend group and his inevitable place as the ‘fifth wheel’ and the scapegoat was already upsetting. Even more so was his girlfriend’s insistence that this event must have shaped his life. As an autistic person, this pattern of friendship, expulsion and scapegoating isn’t new. In fact, it’s horrifically familiar, and not only has it shaped my life; it’s been the constant undercurrent of it. When I make new friends, I am immediately on guard if any of them get along better with each other than with me; I assume, despite myself, that they spend conversations with each other mocking the way I talk, the way I act, my beliefs, or my mannerisms. This doesn’t come from paranoia or self-centeredness either – it’s something I’ve come to expect as a natural byproduct of being autistic, and it’s something I’ve seen happen with a lot of other autistic folks as well. It isn’t the One And Only autistic experience (nothing is) but it is very, very common.

It’s not that a single event like this can’t be horribly upsetting for just about anybody, autistic or not. Quite the opposite. I’ve been exactly where Tsukuru Tazaki is at the beginning of Murakami’s book. But this is a book that needs a very particular, very specified trigger warning, and it’s one that many people who aren’t on the spectrum, or who haven’t spent most of their lives as neurodivergent, aren’t going to pick up on. That being said, what I find triggering to the point of unbearability, others may find cathartic. Kudos to Murakami for tapping into such a gut-wrenching experience; I’m just sad to say I couldn’t make it through it.

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