The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

This was a strange one – I did not read it so much as inhaled it, desperately and frantically trying to move forward, skimming over huge swatches of prose, then retracing my path. Seldom have I been so gripped by so long and unwieldy a tale!

This story starts out normally enough with Toru Okada, a young lawyer who’s recently lost his job and then his cat, and finally his wife, Kumiko. Then it becomes progressively more complex and weird as his search for his wife leads him to encounters with a bizzare cast of characters. This includes two psychic sisters [one of whom is having spirit sex with him in his dreams] a teenage girl who is mentally unbalanced, a Japanese veteran who relives the horrors of war as he experienced them during Japan’s occupation of Manchuria, spirit healers and their clients, and the strange people who populate his dreams.

The book builds up Kumiko’s brother, Noburo Wataya as an utterly evil villian, but we hardly encounter him in person – Toru’s search for Kumiko puts him in direct conflict with her powerful brother – a conlict cast in moral terms, with Kumiko’s soul in the balance.

Murakami infuses ordinary events with portentousness, as if something important is being revealed in the subtext that I could not grasp the significance of. Whereas he meanders casually into the utterly bewildering things such as mystics and clairvoyants entering Toru’s dream/life, and how Toru begins to spend hours in meditation at the bottom of a well. The novel is glutted with the image of two: there is Toru and Kumiko, the couple, whose marriage goes unnoticably sour. There are the two sisters. Every person is divided into two – the self that the malevolent Toburo Wataya has a talent for sundering. And reality itself is two – the one that is apparent, and the “underworld” that is running beneath the placid surface of modern-day Tokyo.

This book is much like a zen painting, interesting from a perspective, but hardly an explanation for anything. Bizzare. Gripping.

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2 Responses to “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”

  1. Kumiko’s brother’s name is Noboru Wataya.

    I also enjoyed this book (:

  2. hi, Noelle. Thanks for the heads up! Duly corrected. 🙂

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