Review of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

ImageNote: The Book Stop is on vacation!  This post was written in advance.  But please feel free to comment.

This was my second book by Haruki Murakami, and it blew me away.  There’s so much in this book, I don’t know where to start. Last year I read Norwegian Wood, which was very good.  I started there because bloggers said it was an “easier” Murakami read – more linear, less weird.

Wind-Up Bird was definitely weird.  Much of this book was like reading a dream – if I could put my dreams into writing, which I can’t.  But Murakami clearly can.

The story, briefly, is that Toru Okada is searching for his wife’s beloved cat, when his wife Kumiko goes missing as well.  It appears that she’s left him, but he’s not sure, and all he knows is that he has to figure out what went wrong to get her back.  Only figuring this out seems to involve some very strange women with psychic powers, the sixteen year old girl down the street, the dried-up old well down the street, and Kumiko’s strangely evil brother.  Oh, and two World War II veterans who fought in China.  Okada goes on a strange, mystical journey to figure out what happened to his cat and his wife.

I have to say I have no idea what a lot of the book meant, but I really like the way Murakami writes and the way he thinks.  There’s something really clear and honest about it.  I may not get the symbolism, and I certainly got lost in all the Japanese/Chinese war history, but Murakami’s writing about basic human emotions, like love, betrayal, abuse, people’s need to connect with others, and the ability to feel too much or too little.

For example:

What most moved me in his letter was the sense of frustration that permeated the lieutenant’s words: the frustration of never quite being able to depict or explain anything to his full satisfaction.

This person, this self, this me, finally, was made somewhere else.  Everything had come from somewhere else, and it would all go somewhere else.  I was nothing but a pathway for the person known as me.

And my favorite:

What happens in between the time when you push the switch and the microwave rings?  You can’t tell what’s going on under the cover.  Maybe the instant rice pudding first turns into macaroni gratin in the darkness when nobody’s looking and only then turns back into rice pudding.  We think it’s only natural to get rice pudding after we put rice pudding mix in the microwave and the bell rings, but for me that’s just a presumption… Maybe the world has two different kinds of people, and for one kind the world is this completely logical, rice pudding place, and for the other it’s all hit-or-miss macaroni gratin.

This was a huge book, something you really sink into.  And sometimes Murakami’s divergences were hard to get into (he likes his characters to tell long stories) but most of the time I was completely enthralled.  And “enthralled” is a word I rarely use about a book.

In the end, I can’t say enough about this book, nor can I adequately say anything meaningful.  I can say this: Wind-Up Bird was the rare book that I highlighted again and again (electronically, that is) because there are parts I want to experience again.

One thing about Murakami is he does seem to have strange views about sexuality, from both of the books I’ve read.  His female characters seem to be completely overwhelmed sexually, like it’s either something painful or horrific, or they can’t get enough of it.  I’m not sure if this is a weird distorted view of women’s sexuality or Murakami’s trying to make a more subtle point.  For the record, I do understand that defilement in this book isn’t generally about sex.  But I still think he portrays women’s sexuality very oddly.  Thoughts?

I really liked the main character – sometimes a character is so passive it’s annoying, but in this book, Okada isn’t really passive at all.  He’s following his instincts even when that means taking action by doing nothing (say, by climbing into an empty well to meditate).  He never stops searching, never gives up faith that he’s on the right track.

My favorite character was May Kasahara, the teenage girl down the street.  He writes her with such a unique voice, unlike the other characters who seem to blend into each other at times.  Most of the quotes I’ve used in this review come from her character.

I haven’t read a lot of Japanese writers, so at times the writing style seems very foreign – and at times not at all.  I know some of that comes from the translation, and some of it may just be cultural differences.  Regardless, I enjoyed this step outside my comfort zone, and I will definitely read more of Murakami’s books.  This may have been my favorite book of the year so far.

  3 comments for “Review of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

  1. June 5, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I joined in the Wind-Up Bird readalong hosted by Ti of Book Chatter and read this with an online group this spring. It was definitely a “trippy” book as someone commented somewhere! I’ve only read Kafka on the Shore and this one. Norwegian Wood is next, or else IQ84!

  2. Laurie@ What She Read
    June 8, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Love this novel myself. It requires an investment of imagination and time, yet one reaps copious rewards from Murakami.

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