The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle * Haruki Murakami Book Review

From the series of books that are filled with double-meanings and not everything is as it seems (like 1Q84 and Kafka on the shore) comes another story so convoluted that it took me three weeks to finish it and a paper to mark who was who and who could be who.

In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria

If someone told me this before I read the book, I would have told them to stuff it, there is no way a book can handle so many subplots. But it did.
Toru Okada is unemployed, his wife is the one that brings the dough in the marriage but she has an affair and much like the cat that disappeared, she walks off one day and never returns. Her brother, a famous politician, is the creepiest person in this story. Why creepy? Because he was caught masturbating to his dead sister’s panties shortly after her suicide. Because he played games with his sisters that might have caused the suicide in the first place. Because he rapes a prostitute.

The last one was pretty horrible. Creta Kano and her sister Malta Kano are two very different and eccentric females. They work together to find missing things. They both took the names of Greek islands and their powers are of being able to step into people’s dreams to find out what they know. (And have sex with them there).

The female characters in the story are all seedy. The wife is cheating, the two Kanos are prostitutes, the 16-year-old next door is the “Lolita” and the business woman with the money is the one that tops them all – grabbing this guy off the street and making him her toy.

Like so many of Murakami’s previous stories, “Wind-Up Bird” is part detective story, part Bildungsroman, part fairy tale, part science-fiction-meets-Lewis Carroll. Like “A Wild Sheep Chase” and “Dance Dance Dance,” it features a very ordinary man as its hero _ a passive, affectless sort of guy with a lowly job and even lower expectations. Like those earlier novels, it sends its hero off on a long, strange wild goose chase that turns into a sort of Kafkaesque nightmare.

There are two stories within this story (and probably why the book is called a Chronicle) – one was the Manchurian invasion, the second was the shooting of all the animals in a zoo. They are all linked by a man with a stain on his face. And they are both gruesome.

What I liked about the story: The motif of the well. Descending into the darkness of a dried-up well is similar to sinking into the subconscious. You remember things you thought you had forgotten, you see your life and people in it in a different light, you are sitting in a sensory deprivation chamber and you can then go to your inner self. In Toru’s case, he can go through the walls of the well into a sort of a hotel, where in room 208 he finds what he thinks is his missing wife. He beats her brother there and he has a cerebral attack in real life. Both worlds are worlds of the mind.

What I didn’t like about the story: The hero – or anti-hero – is just floating from place to place. He has no drive. He is more like an object than like a person. There are loads of questions that go unanswered.
What role does Kumiko’s sinister brother, Noboru, have in her disappearance? Is Noboru’s political career somehow connected to bloody events that occurred in Manchuria so many decades ago? And what is going on at the mysterious estate down the alley from Toru’s house?

While Murakami teases the reader with the suggestion that the answers to these questions will complete his jigsaw-puzzle story, it turns out that he is equally intent on pelting the reader with portentous red herrings. No doubt he means to subvert the conventional detective story and, in doing so, suggest that the world is a mysterious place, that the lines between reality and fantasy are porous, that reason and logic are useless tools in an incomprehensible world.


Read chapter one online:

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