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Book Review : The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

2nd August, 2016

Book Review : The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

A cat disappears. A marriage trembles with secrets. Phone calls from an unknown  woman, visits from psychic ladies in dreams, a screeching bird aptly named “The Wind-Up Bird” and a dry well. A man’s ordinary life, spent cooking, reading, listening to jazz  and drinking beer at the kitchen table, turns unapologetically interesting as he embarks on a bizarre journey, guided  by various characters, each with a peculiar story.

Doesn’t make sense? Well, when has Murakami ever made sense?

Review :

My first Murakami was Norwegian Wood. Though considered a big favourite of many readers, I wasn’t impressed. I liked the read but not loved it. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is my second Murakami and I am swept off my feet by the read. Yes, I prefer the surrealist in Murakami, not the realist in him.

If lazy mornings, slow pleasures of cooking and savouring your meal in a warm kitchen are your thing, then pick up this book. The book opens with the protagonist cooking spaghetti for brunch, finding contentment in the repetitive tasks that go into making a meal when an unknown woman with lewd intentions calls him on the phone, disrupting his routine. And off we go on a strange journey with this 30- something man in this giant book split into three parts.

Book Review : The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

The story of ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle revolves around the protagonist-narrator, Toru Okada. Our hero has left his well paying job for no relevant reason, is happy being jobless and is a cog in a failing marriage.  His cat has disappeared and after a few days, so does his wife without giving him any hint of her intention. He consults a pair of psychic sisters named Malta and Creta Kano, who visit him in his dreams as often as in reality, sometimes in a sexual way. He finds a friend in an adolescent girl named May Kasahara, a high-school dropout obsessed with death, who works for a wig factory. It is from May Kasahara that Toru learns of the Miyawaki house, the curse upon it, and the dried-up well that becomes central to the novel’s story. Toru descends to the bottom of a dry well seeking solitude, and while he’s down there, he has a bizarre experience that helps him transcend dreams (or perhaps not). Peppered with several sub persona, each with strong character build up; the story proceeds through different voices, often interconnected with one another and sometimes strangely isolated.

“Memories and thoughts age, just as people do. But certain thoughts can never age, and certain memories can never fade.”

There are many stories inside the novel as well which was delightful. The villain Noru seemed to be a complex person. There is a veteran who talks of the horrors of war that befell the Japanese during war. The story of Cinnamon and Nutmeg is the most intriguing as Murakami paints a “Kafkaesque” shade when he writes of the boy waking up one day to find that he is no longer himself  –

the room seemed unchanged. It had the same desk, the same bureau, the same closet, the same floor lamp. The hands of the clock pointed to 6:20. But the boy knew something was strange. It might all look the same, but this was not the same place where he had gone to sleep the previous night. The air, the light, the sounds, the smells, were all just a little bit different from before. Other people might not notice, but the boy knew.”

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

The characters in the novel arrive and leave at the most unexpected times. Yet Murakami binds then with a thin thread that lures the readers further into the vortex. Murakami masterfully weaves surreal themes of anonymity of identity, duality of existence, mysticism that defines dream and reality as well as realistic themes of violence of war and humdrum routines that define life. The reader wonders until the last page whether Murakami will be able to bind all the characters and sub plots to a main core and towards the end realizes it is impossible to do that. And also that it doesn’t matter. By the time you finish the book, you will be in a trance like state, happy with the experience of it all; not bothered about where it started and how it ended.

The first chapter was published as a short story called The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women (later included in the collection The Elephant Vanishes). If interested you can read an excerpt here. Some minor changes were incorporated when it was adapted into the novel.

Final Verdict :

At the end I didn’t know who the main character in the story was. Sure, Toru is a convincing narrator. But what about the mysterious bird with a screeching cry that never makes an appearance, yet makes its presence felt at every turning point in the story? Or the cat? That’s where the story begins – because the cat disappears. This is a book that doesn’t constrict itself to one that begins with ‘Once upon a time’ and finished off with ‘The End’. Yet it is one delightful read. It sucked me right into the world that Murakami created and I enjoyed every bit of the journey.

Lovers of magical realism, surrealism and the like would adore this read.

wind-up-4

About the edition :

This is a beautiful centenary edition by Harvill Secker. It is a wonderful addition to your shelf if you are a book collector. The page quality is excellent and it looks stunning both with and without the jacket

Title : The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Author : Haruki Murakami
Publisher : Harvill Secker
Published : 2010 (Originally 1994)
Translator : Jay Rubin (from Japanese)
Language : English
Pages : 624
Rating : 4.5/5

 

 

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Do you enjoy Japanese fiction? Have you read The Wind- Up Bird Chronicle? Are you a fan of Murakami? Which other books of his would you recommend? 

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

About the Author

Haruki Murakami is a contemporary Japanese writer. His books and stories have been bestsellers in Japan as well as internationally, with his work being translated into 50 languages. His works of fiction and non-fiction have garnered critical acclaim. He has won many prominent awards  including the World Fantasy Award (2006) and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award (2006). Murakami’s most notable works include A Wild Sheep Chase(1982), Norwegian Wood (1987), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle(1994-1995), Kafka on the Shore (2002), and 1Q84 (2009–2010).

This Post Has 49 Comments
  1. Definitely reading this ASAP. I’m currently waiting to finish Night Circus so I can read Norwegian wood or Strange library which I’ve heard a lot about. I had completely forgotten about this book! Thanks for reminding me Resh. Beautiful review.

  2. Very good review. I keep trying. I’ve found him hard going. I read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki it was “ok”. My brain needs more training on Japaense fiction. I recently read The Diving Pool by Yōko Ogawa and was left in massive darkness. A friend is passionate about Japanese lit so I will keep at it.

    1. I read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa and recently liked it. If you didn’t like the unexplainable things happening with Murakami try Norwegian Wood which is realistic fiction

  3. The only Murakami I’ve read is South of the Border, West of the Sun. It was okay. I told myself I’d try another one of his novels but i haven’t yet. I might have to try this one. I enjoyed your review!

  4. I really got into this, I liked the dreamy magic realism, the well, the blurred boundaries of reality.
    My first read of his was Dance, Dance, Dance and then I read this one and then when 1Q84 came out I read those, which I really enjoyed as well. Totally unique really.

    Yoko Ogawa is excellent, The Housekeeper and the Professor is a beautiful read and then her novel Revenge is just one story after the other of an incredible imagination, totally in awe, you have read past The Diving Pool and try her other works, none of her work is the same, she’s capable of all kinds of things.

  5. I might shock you but i always feelMurakami falls short. like not taking his stories to the end. i might consider this one though. And there is no such thing as magical realism. I know Colombia. Think India. Take care dear. Brian.

    1. Many people dislike Murakami. I have seen people either love him or hate him. There is no middle ground. Magical realism is one of my fav genres and I do think Murakami incorporates those elements in his stories. 🙂

    1. Hehe. Thanks. I don’t know. I don’t watch TV except for very specific shows or movies that I am keen about. And few months ago I lost my craze for frequenting malls. So my visits are cut down now. Plus it is monsoon here so it isn’t possible to do anything much other than reading. I do not review as soon as I read a book. This book was read in Feb of this year.

  6. I keep meaning to read more Japanese novels. I read Another Note, which is a light novel based on the Death Note manga, and I really liked the style of the writing. Maybe I should keep this one in mind.

  7. Have to confess that i haven’t read a Murakami. I think it just intimidates me. This sounds intriguing though.

    1. I’m with you, Vijayalakshmi. People either describe his books as so whimsical you can’t tell up from down, or the books are about a man walking around and just being alive, which sounds like a lot of the pretentious novels coming out of 20-somethings from small self-started presses in the U.S.

      Funny side note: the other day I was thinking about how much I love the name Lakshmi, and I hear it a lot because one of the reporters on NPR is Lakshmi Singh. Then it dawned on me: holy crap, it’s in your name! Hooray! It was just a funny moment in my day, so I thought I would share 🙂

  8. Another excellent review. I have to admit that I struggled with this book when I read it. I’m happy that you were able to appreciate what I couldn’t though. I have IQ84 in my TBR pile so maybe I’ll give him another try sometime soon.

  9. I don’t read enough Japanese authors, I think. I read Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the end of the world and I was blown away. Isn’t just the title so magical sounding? Wind-up Bird Chronicle will be my next Murakami read for sure!

  10. Interesting. I too have had somewhat mixed experiences with this author but the other way around if that makes sense. I enjoyed Norwegian Wood but not the more surreal version of Murakami on show in Kafka on the Shore. I wonder what I would make of Wind-Up Bird…

    1. Isn’t it lovely that we all have such different tastes. If you did not enjoy Kafka I would advice you not to pick this one up. Since I have often been recommended that many readers who enjoyed this one enjoyed Kafka more. I am glad you enjoyed Norwegian Wood.

  11. Great review, and I always love the way you photo your books for the posts! I had an opposite experience to you – I read and loved “Norwegian Wood” when it first came out, then tried “Sputnik Sweetheart” and hated it so I never returned to Murakami. Maybe I will one day…..

    1. Thank you so much for that Karen. Readers of Murakami fall into two categories I guess – those who enjoy his realist fiction more and those who enjoy the surreal one. I suppose I fall in the category of enjoying weird writings. Hope you might find a book by him that resonates with you. If not, move onto another author, perhaps his kind of writing isn’t your taste in books.

  12. I really like Murakami’s writing and Wind-up Bird was by far my favorite because of the surreal journey. Your final thoughts really resonated with me… who was the main character? Murakami was able to interweave so many different stories that it was unclear. I like your idea of the cat, the whole story centers around the cat on some level. Great review!

    1. Thank you Brendon. I am glad to hear it is one of your favourite Murakami too. This is my second book by Murakami and it made me fall in love with his writing. I guess Murakami focusses on giving an experience to the reader rather than a story. And his books always make me crave for pasta and coffee

  13. The only Murakami book I own currently is Norgewian Wood, but I haven’t read it. That one is a more manageable length for me, so I may read it first. I’m intimidated by books over 600 pages but Wind Bird Chronicle sounds really interesting. And so surreal too. I love your writing, Resh. It makes me want to read every book you review – sigh, if only there were enough time and I were a faster reader. The surrealist aspects of this novel are what appeal to me most. Now I’m really curious to know why the cat and his wife disappeared inexplicably.

    1. Thanks Naz. My last month reviews were all 4.5 and 5 stars. Perhaps that is why the reviews seemed enthusiastically nudging towards reading the book. I wanted to do a list of best books read till June and realised due to my procastination habits I had not reviewed any of them. Murakami is a writer you will either love or hate. His books are full of “art of slow living” kind of writing. I am afraid you would not get definitive answers to your questions about cat and wife because Murakami leaves much to the reader. Things happen and sometimes they turn right, sometimes wrong. SO readers who love a plot based story might find it a bit intimidating.

      Norwegian Wood is his most realist work. There is no surrealism. So it is a simple story with a beginning and end. I would love to know what you think of it. I gave the book a four star but I didnt enjoy it much (Contrary to popular opinion). And when I read this I was taken aback. I fell in love with his writing style. I am not keen on definitive plots so it does work for me. If you get a copy at the library try one part of the three parts in the book and see if you will enjoy it.

      I dislike big books too. I think it was the edition and strange name that made me warm upto it

  14. Great review, and a beautiful edition! I plan on reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle so will keep my eye out for this edition. I’m a huge fan of Murakami and surreal writing but overall enjoyed the realist tone of Norwegian Wood the best out of all of the Murikami stories I have read. I’d definitely recommend Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World if you have not read it already, it’s the fantastical Murakami that we’re used to. 🙂

  15. No need to post this comment, but just wanted to let you know I’ve been trying to follow your blog for a while but the wordpress follow button isn’t responding to my clicks. I haven’t had this problem with other sites so it might be something with your interface. Just an FYI! I’m going to go ahead and sign up via email 🙂

    1. Thanks for letting me know Minelli. I do not have the pop up Word press button on the site. You can subscribe only through either the blue ‘Follow on Wordprss’ button on the side bar in the Home page or via Word Press Reader where you have to enter the site name manually and click ‘Follow’. Due to some earlier problem I was not able to have the pop up Follow button. Thank you for subscribing as well as bringing this to my attention. 🙂

  16. What a stunning edition. Some major book envy right here! I read Norwegian Wood first too, and I think it’s still my favourite Murakami. But The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is incredible.

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