The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

December 4, 2009 § 15 Comments

035

Until that moment, I had always thought that the earth on which I stood was a solid object that would last for ever. Or rather, I had never thought about such a thing at all. I had simply taken it for granted. But in fact, the earth was nothing but a chunk of rock floating in one little corner of the universe: a temporary foothold in the vast emptiness of space. It – and all of us with it – could be blown away tomorrow by a momentary flash of something or a tiny shift in the universe’s energy.

Most, if not all, of Murakami’s books that I’ve read dwell on un-concrete things; things we cannot see, touch, feel, smell. We can only sense them, in some way or other, at the back of our heads, or at the tip of our toes, or just that little spot at the back of our necks. There is nothing solid to stand on, no proof to rely on, no evidence to be shown.

Like his description of earth, reading his books tend to throw me into this vast space of nothingness, where nothing and everything seems to happen at the same time. Though entirely impossible, it is absolutely believable. Though nothing can be explained, everything is understandably so.

*

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle explores the life of one man, Toru Okada. Having lived a more-than-normal life, things are suddenly thrown into disarray when his cat disappears. His wife, Kumiko, is so attached to this cat, that she gets Okada in touch with a strange woman, Malta Kano, who claims to be able to help.

From here on, the story only spirals into more weirdness and confusion. Many other odd characters appear, making life for Okada (or also known as Mr Wind-up Bird) rather difficult.

Who is this Malto Kano, and her sister Creta Kano? How does Creta Kano keep re-appearing in Okada’s dreams? Why do his dreams feel more real and vivid, compared to his real life? What special powers does that well in the vacant lot possess? Why is Okada drawn to it? How are Mr Honda and Lieutenant Mamiya related to Okada? What do their stories represent in Okada’s life? What influence does Okada’s brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya, have on his life? Why does he refuse to disappear? Who exactly, are Nutmeg and Cinnamon? How important is May Kasahara in the entire story? What role does she play?

And then there’s the cat, and it’s bent tail. How significant is that tail? Or the cat for that matter?

*

It is almost impossible for me to write something, anything, that could in some way summarise the story. Made up of fragments and individual stories told by different people at different times, the book almost feels like a smogasbord of feelings and emotions. And yet, so many of the characters are people who seemingly have no emotions whatsoever to speak of.

Putting the book down after finishing it, there is this sense of accomplishment, like as if the story has been properly ended, all loose ends properly tied-up. But in fact, how many of those loose-ends have been tied up? In the end, how many of those questions have we truly answered?

I am tempted to say, not many. But perhaps a more truthful answer would be, none.

I almost feel like it is acceptable to have those loose ends lying around. You don’t remember them unless you look specifically for them. And at any one time, there is only that one loose end you see. I want to know. And yet, I don’t want to. There is a strange voice in my head, telling me that to not know is better.

*

Reading this book, it was easy to get drawn into the labyrinth Murakami laid out for Okada. I would put the book down to have dinner, and throughout the meal I would have a very subtle thought in my head, like I was having a conversation with someone just a minute ago that I had forgotten. And then I would remember, I was reading.

*

Some very memorable quotes:

Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another?

_____

“I’m only sixteen,” she said, “and I don’t know much about the world, but I do know one thing for sure. If I’m pessimistic, then the adults in this world who are not pessimistic are a bunch of idiots.”

_____

But knowing what I don’t want to do doesn’t help me figure out what I do want to do. I could do just about anything if somebody made me. But I don’t have an image of the one thing I really want to do. That’s my problem now. I can’t find the image.

_____

Perhaps this could be called “pale darkness”, but pale as it might be, it had its own particular kind of density, which in some cases contained a more meaningful darkness than perfect pitch darkness. In it, you could see something. And at the same time, you could see nothing at all.

_____

.. it was so much easier to kill humans on the battlefield than animals in cages, even if, on the battlefied, one might end up being killed oneself.

*

Rating: 5

Challenges: Lost in Translation 2009, TBR Challenge 2009, Japanese Literature Challenge 3, Random Reading Challenge

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§ 15 Responses to The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

  • Susan says:

    Wow! Wonderful review, Michelle! It seems that this book left you thinking and wondering about the very nature of things.

    I know that I MUST read Murakami in the new year. I have fallen in love with Japanese literature, although I have taken a short break from it. (I’ve been s-l-o-w-l-y reading short fiction by Banana Yoshimoto, and Natsuo Kirino’s Out patiently waits for my attention.)

  • Sakura says:

    A very interesting review. This was the first Murakami I read years ago and I was bowled over by the vast canvas he had created in which so many strange yet compelling things happen. And I still can’t get that episode in the desert with the Japanese lieutenant out of my mind…

  • su says:

    @ Susan: Thanks. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book, and his other books that I’ve read so far. I hope you do too.

    @ Sakura: Yes, that scene in the desert is quite disturbing. Another scene I can’t quite get out of my head is the well that Okada went down. FOr some reason or other, the darkness that is described stays with me..

  • Mel u says:

    Great review-I hope to read a number of Murakami novels in 2010-including this one for sure-so far I have read After Dark and Dance Dance Dance-both of which I enjoyed a lot-so far my favorite Japanese authors are Tanizaki, Yoshimoto, and Oe but I good see Murakami joining that group in 2010 once I read his major works-

  • Bellezza says:

    Agh! I have forty pages to go, and I’ll have finished this novel. I can’t wait to come back and read what you said…as it is, I just saw the title of your post, got all excited, and came over to tell you that I’ll be back as soon as possible. I’m sure we’ll have a lot to talk about! XOXO

  • su says:

    @ Mel U: Murakami and Tanizaki are definitely on my list of favourite Japanese authors. Haven’t read any of Oe’s work yet, but am planning to in the very near future. Hope you enjoy this book when you do read it.

    @ Bellezza: =) Looking forward to talking about the book with you!

  • mee says:

    I’m glad you loved it. It’s definitely one of my favorite book! 😀

  • Mark David says:

    Beautiful review. I agree that “reading his books tend to throw me into this vast space of nothingness, where nothing and everything seems to happen at the same time.” There’s just no easy way to describe Murakami, even with his “realist” pieces. And yes, his works do tend to feel like “a smogasbord of feelings and emotions”. More than anything, I believe, a Murakami experience is about emotions.

    You gave it 5. I think I’d give it the same rating when I get around to reading it 🙂

  • Mark David says:

    Oh by the way, this book just might get picked for the Japanese Lit Read-Along hosted by Tanabata. When it finally becomes the book of choice, please do hang around with us to discuss 🙂

  • su says:

    @ mee: =) It is now one of my favs as well.

    @ Mark David: I’ll definitely join in for the discussions about this book. The plot is a very interesting one, and like what I said to Bellezza, there’s much to talk about.

  • I like the review. I love the quote about the 16 year old + pessimism as well. This has been on my list forever, but I have two Murakamis I intend to read prior to this one.

  • su says:

    @ anothercookie: Thanks. And the quote about the 16 year old; one of my favourite quotes to date.

  • Bellezza says:

    Okay, I finally finished it. It took me weeks to read this book, but I think that’s because I want to go slowly and not miss a single nuance. (Clue?) Like you, I don’t know the answer to many loose ends, and I think it’s okay not to know. I suspect that Kumikyo had to leave because her brother had damaged her so completely; I suspect that Lt. Mamiya and Toru are similar because of the extremely painful circumstances they suffered emotionally (one in war, the other in marriage). I have no clue about Nutmeg or Cinnamon, and just what their bizarre business was in the fitting room. (Do I want to know? Probably not!)

    I really enjoyed reading your post more carefully. You picked out completely different quotes than I did, but they are also very insightful and meaningful.

    Just as I reread Kafka On The Shore, I’m sure I’ll be rereading this one day as well. As Mark David suggested about Tanabata hosting it as a read along, that day may come sooner than later.

  • su says:

    @ Bellezza: We did manage to pick up on completely different quotes, didn’t we? It’s interesting how differently we viewed the book, and yet managed to enjoy it just the same.

  • tanabata says:

    Thanks for stopping by the discussion post, and I’m sorry I’m so late to comment both there and here. It’s been quite a few years since I first read this so I’m thoroughly enjoying the re-read.

    I completely agree with you about Murakami’s books seeming to be about both nothing and everything, impossible and unexplainable but completely believable, all at the same time.
    And so many memorable scenes.

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