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[317] The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

” Everything was intertwined, with the complexity of a three-dimensional puzzle—a puzzle in which truth was not necessarily fact and fact not necessarily truth. ” [3.27.527]

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a puzzle. The many realities and “unrealities” that slip into the narrative demand some rumination of thoughts long after the last page is turned. The meandering novel, probably Murakami’s most ambitious to date, doesn’t seem to offer a clear-cut plot—more a labyrinth with national and historical details. But it does have a story trimmed to the bone: Toru Okada is recently unemployed by choice. His wife Kumiko urges him to consult Malta Kano, a woman with psychic power, for the whereabout of their cat, which has gone missing for over a week. The search for the cat brings Okada into close interaction with his teenage neighbor May and Malta’s sister, Creta, who became a prostitute and was defiled by Okada’s brother-in-law, a rising politician whom Okada deems as the incarnation of evil. Then suddenly, Okada’s wife leaves him for an unknown lover and disappears without a trace.

Down in the pitch blackness at the bottom of the well, though, far removed from reality, the memory came back to life with searing vividness. [2.11.267]

For one hallucinatory moment, I felt I was dreaming. But no, this was the continuation of reality. [2.4.211]

The novel takes a wild turn into the cyberspace, as Okada spends time sitting at the bottom of a well, pondering and searching for personal and universal truths. As he enters a state of consciousness that entails an alternative reality, his perception, and more surrealistically, his identity fuse with what he sees, hears, and feels. His life becomes a hodge-podge of strange things that happen to him. Bits of his life identify with a skein of people whom he meets: the aging lieutenant who witness man skinning during the Japanese campaign in Manchuria, the fashion-snob woman whose father has a scar-face, a psychic prostitute whose experience would mirror that of his wife.

No thinking. You are not allowed to think. You are not allowed to use your imagination. Imagining things here can be fatal. [3.35.584]

I couldn’t help but feel that reality resided for him not so much in the earthly world but in his subterranean labyrinth. [3.19.467]

The novel is a walk around Okada’s brain. The people and incidents he encounters during a disintegrating marriage provoke some dormant, undefinable anxiety that has been the run of his life. Meditation in the well initiates him into some alternative reality in which he is constantly on the edge of discovering why such alternative reality exists. In other words, imagination takes over and becomes his reality. Phantasmagoria of pain and memory come into full play. The return of the prodigal cat is just a minor event that is not suffice to make light of the consequential unease. At the end the truth about his wife just gives one a disturbing view of human nature. Despite it’s being somewhat overwritten, the book is worth the effort put into reading it.

607 pp. Vintage trade paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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23 Responses

  1. This is a new one for me. I have read Murakami before but this one sounds a tad overwhelming for me.

  2. For some reason i continue to be intimidated by this author and most especially this book.

  3. I bought this book and it has been sitting on my shelves for at least a year (Kafka on the Shore has been on my Kindle for about that long too). I think I am waiting for a chunk of time to appear so I can sufficiently get into it, but I rarely have that. Maybe next summer on the flight to Poland?

    • It’s certainly wise of you to reserve a block of time for this one. You cannot read this novel on the go, between picking kids up from school and your son’s football game. 🙂 You’ll completely be lost between his dreamscape and reality, which he doesn’t make the effort to distinguish in the first place anyway.

  4. I loved this book – it was my first Murakami! I’m glad you enjoyed it! And I agree with you that it is worth reading.

  5. I’m so glad you continue to enjoy Murakami so much! This was the first book of his that I heard of and it’s what got me interested in reading him. I still haven’t read it yet, but it sounds pretty awesome!

  6. This was the first of his novels that I read and I loved it, even though I had that unsettled feeling, on finishing, that I really hadn’t understood most — or any! — of it. ::lol:: Glad to hear that you found it worth the time.

  7. This is almost certainly Murakami’s best book. It’s also his most difficult – as you said, it’s a walk around Okada’s brain and it gets a little messy at times. Still, it’s such a great book, probably one I need to reread one of these days.

    • Compared to the first one I read, After Dark, this is indeed very difficult. But they explore the same issue of isolation beneath everyday life in Tokyo. Subterranean truth and subconscious thinking. Wind-Up Bird goes all the way, dappling into incidents over time.

  8. A friend of mine loves this author and she says this book changed her life. I haven’t discussed the book with her but would love to read it only to get more insight about my friend.

    I am leery because I have heard others say it is not one to pick up and put down and I don’t know if I have the time to focus solely on a complex book.

    Some what torn…

    PB

    • My advice would be to allocate a block of time to peruse this complex book. Multiple plots over dimensions seem to be taking place and the everyman of the narrator tries to embrace all these happenings into his life crisis.

  9. Hi! Good to see there is at least one book I read and reviewed before you :-). My review is at this link incase you are interested – http://bookcrazy.wordpress.com/2008/08/11/murakamis-magical-madness/

    I loved this book. Absolutely. I can see what you mean when you say it is a difficult read. Somehow, I believe it also depends when the book finds you. It found me when I wanted to be surprised. And boy, did it surprise!

    I have since read Norwegian Wood and loved it to the core. It is more mature, very real, and amazingly touching. If you have not, you must read. That’s vintage and probably the best Murakami.

    If you have heard the song Norwegian Wood by beatles, you will see how in many ways the book is an adaption of that song – in feel, in where it takes you. I don’t know if I am making sense 🙂

  10. In my opinion, there’s absolutely no need to be intimidated. Here, if you haven’t already, try this: the book’s delightful and not remotely heavy or convoluted opening.

    “When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie,” which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.”

    And how perfect is that?

    I devote too much of my online writing to Murakami-san, but then I’m the kind of fan that flies to New York to here the guy speak at the New Yorker Festival and who re-reads his books on a fairly regular basis. Either way any fan of Murakami’s…

    Lastly, at the risk of negating much of what I said above, if you are new to Murakami, you may want to start with something slimmer and less expansive than “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” – the Japanese author’s written some 12 novels (and that’s not including books (plural) of short stories and his extensive collection of non-fiction books as well. There is, as Matthew’s post makes clear, a remarkably complex structure to “Wind-Up’s” plot,; so If you want to know where a good place to begin is in terms of novels, you’re welcome to visit my site any time. I have a post exactly on where to begin with Murakami.

    -Probably Because I Have To

    And thanks, Matthew ,for the write up. Cool site, muchacho. Can’t wait to delve deeper in the coming days.

  11. Hi Matt, This was the first book by Murakami I read and it was a number of years ago; it got me started and I have read read three more so far and have one in to be read stack. My favorite so far was “Kafka on the Shore;” if you are interested in ready more by Murakami, I would reccomend it.
    Tom

  12. […] hardest book you read in 2010 (topic or writing style): The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Haruki […]

  13. […] was the last book you borrowed from the library? The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. That was last fall. You can tell I’m not that into him, he’s very […]

  14. […] Norwegian Wood lives up to its hype, the equally famed (and acclaimed) The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a puzzle. The many realities and “unrealities” that slip into the narrative demand some […]

  15. Hi, This (the Wind-up Bird Chronicles) was also my first read from Murakami. It was difficult sometimes to get through, but my curiosity kept me going and I’m still here. Plus I have since read a few more of his offerings such as Dance, dance, dance, which also had some metaphysical qualities about it. I am, at the moment, reading The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of short stories. The short, from which the Wind-Up bird chronicles was birthed is also in this book.
    His stories get in my head rather than under my skin!

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