Carlos Bean, 127 YinD
Review of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Do you like normalcy? Do you like your regular life, living day after day content in your existence? So did Toru Okada, until the day his cat didn’t come home. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami follows the story of Toru, a thirty-something, unemployed, regular guy, on his decent into a labyrinth of eccentric characters, Japan’s suburban landscapes, and vivid dreamscapes.
My friend, Abby suggested I read Murakami several months ago, and to be honest, I didn’t think much of it. I had never heard of Murakami before and I was in the middle of reading Bolaño and Cixn, two authors that, like Murakami, came to me translated from other languages.
Murakami, who became a writer in his early thirties, has many awards under his belt. Also, I would say that there is a definite “Murakami Craze” surrounding his many novels, mostly fictions. Abby, who suggested The Wind-up Bird Chronicles as,“the first Murakami to read,” also suffers from this Murakami Craze and is fanatical about her favorite author. As more and more fans flock to his books, there is now a hashtag, #mymurakamimoment, which asks readers to share those things that inspire them. Murakami’s fans show their love of his work with book-inspired #mymurakamimoment hashtags, fan artwork, and even tattoos.
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, originally three separate books in Japan, is sold as one novel in the English edition. Just like the fan-inspired artwork, I have seen many covers of this book while browsing Kinokuniya, as well as small privately owned book vendors, in Bangkok.
I started The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle after finishing a fantastical novel by Neil Giaman, Neverwhere. Despite the similar suburban and urban setting, the main character seeking a “normal” life, and the supernaturalness of the two novels are nothing alike.
Murakami introduces this world from the first person perspective of the main character, Toru Okada. Toru, a relatively boring character at first, is a normal man (who I imagine looks like Murakami himself). Toru and his wife, Kumiko, live together in a small house with their cat. And although he had just left his job at a law office, the most concerning thing in their lives is that their cat is gone. As Toru finds himself with more free time, Kumiko spends increasingly more time at her job at a magazine company. Throughout the day, Toru does different house chores in addition to searching for the cat. Kumiko doesn’t think Toru is taking the search for the cat seriously (As he believes that cats will always make their way back when they want to). She implores him to search where they had often seen the cat jump, the small alley behind their back yard. This alley runs between the backyards of the houses in their suburban community. While traversing the forgotten passageway he stumbles on a well-known abandoned house.
Here he meets the first of many eccentric characters, May Kasahara, a troubled teenager with a limp and a story. Little by little his search for the cat unveils more characters and pieces to a looming puzzle; from fortunetellers, to fashion designers, to World War II veterans, to a ‘prophecy,’ and to a dry well. Old memories emerge and he asks himself how he could have forgotten such important things.
As his unemployment turns from days, to weeks, to months, Toru comes across something that he himself finds troubling, that he has free time. Again and again, characters ask him if they are ‘wasting his time,’ or if he has ‘something to do.’ Because of this free time people slowly open up to him and divulge their innermost secrets. From these he sees that the world around him is more connected than ever.
Toru’s own lack of character, own lack of “things to do,” pulls people toward him, even when some of these characters are eccentric and overbearing.
The three books, although having similar tones, characters, and themes, have different feels throughout. The first book, The Thieving Magpie, was difficult for me to get through. Many of my friends may remember me messaging them about the writing style itself. I explained that the writing was like walking in the darkness, in an alley, along a dark road, where you constantly look around while you walk. There was always a sense of someone, or something, watching. However, I came to enjoy that feeling. The pacing of the writing, the flow of the story, became more and more vivid and I felt myself becoming Toru – though his first person experiences. However, I am not sure if this is unique to Murakami himself, unique to translated Japanese, or just how my environment affected me during the time I was reading the novel.
The second book, Bird as Prophet, consists of mostly a unique “meditation.” As he is trapped “meditating,” he is forced to change his perspective of the world. As the last of the normalcy he built around him falls apart, he begins a new path with a new objective. It also delves deeper into his brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya; an academic-turned voice of Japanese society – Noboru is anything but normal.
The third book, The Birdcatcher, is a fitting end to the Chronicle. Toru overcomes the forces around him in a battle of the minds – connecting the last pieces of the puzzle and discovers the truth that had eluded him.
Overall, I would suggest this novel to any lover of fiction and any lover of World War II history (which is built into the fabric of the story). In the end – like Toru, it gave me a new perspective on challenges I face in my own life. The novel itself is extremely well-written. And the second book was by far my favorite. I could not put it down, staying up to all hours of the night. I needed to know what was going to happen to Toru, what was going to happen to me. That is not to say I did not have problems with the book. Some of the major plot developments, the choices that Toru makes, I found to be almost out of character. This may be because I would not have made the same choices. But it all led to the pieces of the puzzle falling into place – and allowed Toru to take on his greatest enemy.
I now admit, upon reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, the Murakami Craze is well deserved. I will be continuing with the next book Abby suggested, Kafka on the Shore. And I suggest if you are looking for something different and inspiring, pick up a Murakami.
Check out more at: http://www.harukimurakami.com/