I’m going to be haunted by this book for some time and I don’t know why. I’m not really
sure what this book is about. I may not even know what really happens in the story but I keep thinking about it.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami tells the story of Toru Okada who is looking for his wife’s missing cat. But this is just a McGuffin, to borrow Hitchcock’s term, to throw the reader off track from the real story. Or maybe it’s the key to everything that happens afterwards.
Okada lives a rather secluded life in a Tokyo suburb with his wife who is the breadwinner. Okada spends his days trying to figure out how to spend his days. His search for himself is interrupted by three events, the missing cat, the disappearance of his wife, and a phone call from a strange woman.
The novel becomes a sort of detective story as Okada looks for the cat which he believes will help him get his wife to return and tries to figure out who the woman that keeps calling him is. Soon several women enter Okada’s life and the story takes a turn towards David Lynch territory. The first woman, Malta Kano and her sister Creta Kano are both sort of psychics who give Okada clues to both his past and his future. They are strangely involved with both his wife and his brother-in-law, and may have the ability to find the missing cat. The mother-son team who Okada calls Nutmeg and Cinnamon find Okada has psychic abilities himself and use these to further their own goals. The neighbor girl May Kinsahara traps Okada in a well on a friendly whim and sets in motion a series of events that end with the possibility that Okada has murdered his brother-in-law, a powerful up-and-coming politician. All of these events seem to be connected to what happened to Okada’s friend Mr. Honda in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation and after.
Confused? I certainly was at many points while reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle but I felt compelled to continue reading. Haruki Marakami is certainly a wonderful story teller. In The Wind-up Bird Chronicle he keeps several story threads going throughout the novel, giving the reader just enough to keep you interested, without telling you what is really going on, which actually makes you more interested. Along with the story telling, there are many scenes and images that haunt the reader: a man who goes into a well to find a good spot to think and ends up trapped there for days, a massacre in a zoo in occupied China, an internet conversation between a man and what he believes is his lost wife.
I admit that I am still trying to figure it all out, puzzle it all together. I will be for several days at least. For that reason, I am giving The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami five out of five stars.
Eaten by Dakota, March 2009.
This is a rambling mess, but I kind of enjoyed rereading it. I first ran this review over at my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. back in 2007. I’m slowly migrating the reviews and posts I want to keep here to my new blog.
In the years since reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle I have just about forgotten all of it, so much for the book’s ability to haunt me. What I do remember is having fun reading it. I am okay with being confused while reading. It’s not something that puts me off the way it does many people. As long as the book remains entertaining in some fashion, I see confusion as just another emotional reaction to the book. I like books that make me react.
But too bad Dakota ate this one. I would like to reread it.
9 thoughts on “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami”
James, this was one of my favorite books of the year the year I read it. Unfortunately, my Murakami follow-up, Kafka on the Shore, was one of my least favorites of the year the year I read it (too much bad sci-fi and shoddy characterizations for my tastes). One of the things I particularly liked about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle‘s extravagant storytelling was the way the violence from the extremely powerful WWI scenes informed Okada’s own confrontations with violence in the present day of the novel. By the way, hope you’re enjoying your new blog location!
Correction: “WWII scenes” above (accidentally submitted before editing, arghh).
Thanks, Richard. I am having much more fun setting up a new blog than I thought I would. It’s really made me get back “into” blogging when I thought I was heading towards retiring from it altogether.
I had the same reaction as you; loved it, confused by it, long after thinking about it. For some reason, when Murakami confuses me, I’m never as frustrated as when another opauthor does the same thing. I think it’s because he taps into some of my deepest emotions, and while he doesn’t explain them, he’s touched their chord.
We are on the same page, Belleza. I wonder if my comfort with confusion comes from reading so many detective novels and espionage novels where confusion is par for the course. Could be the other way round, too, I guess.
I wasn’t really confused by the first 2/3 of this book, but that last section lost me completely! I have forgotten most of the details, but I think I’ll always be haunted by the war scenes in this book. And I always love a good stuck-in-a-well scene. It is interesting to see how our thoughts on a book change over time.
After all these comments from people who remember the book in much more detail than I do, I’m going to have to reread it now. I really want to see what I think of it the second time around and if the details all come back to me before I finish the book.
I love Murakami, and Wind up stays with me as a bit of a favourite. Thanks for the refresher. It’s always interesting what one reader picks up and what another misses. I think you’ve just enlightened me on something that challenged me in the past. Thanks – I’ve just posted by JLC7 reviews – another great challenge!
Thanks for your comment here. Nice to hear that I “enlightened” someone one. Jim is sending me his copy, so I will be rereading the book later this year.
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