The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
December 4, 2009 § 15 Comments
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.
Challenges: Lost in Translation 2009, TBR Challenge 2009, Japanese Literature Challenge 3, Random Reading Challenge