Japanese author Haruki Murakami once again lays out an amazing spread of character intrigue and panoramas of the mental landscape in this 600 page marvel. The story is held tightly together by a mass of the threads which seem so tangled and obscure that your unconscious mind unravels them before you can consciously comprehend how it moves forward. This makes for an interesting, if not compelling, read. A book this complicated could only come from one with the subtle skill to translate his own theories of the workings of the mind into tangible and beautiful tales of human lives. This novel may be considered Murakami's first attempt at taking a political stance in his fiction, which is generally conciously apolitical.

The basic premise is that the main character, Toru Okada, after his cat, and then his wife, abandons him, embarks on a quest to find them. Toru is quite an ordinary guy, and even as he searches, he hardly leaves his home in suburban Tokyo. His search eventually takes him through the stories of a range of characters who all share some strange, dark connection. Some of the characters include a spiritual medium named Malta Kano and her impeccably 60’s style-dressed sister, Creta; the girl down the street; retired Lieutenant Mamiya who survived 10 terrible years on the Continent; and Noboru Wataya, an infamous politician who is also Toru’s strangely unsettling brother-in-law. The stories are so detailed that it is hard to believe that they are fiction.

Even if you read this book and are still a little confused about the plot and its resolution, it is still worth the read just to hear the amazing life stories of these characters, and to try to make the connections between them as the main character does.

The themes explored in this book include:

  • Continuity of human experience
  • Perceptions of reality
  • Circular time
  • The forces of the mind on so-called physical reality
  • The role of the Japanese in Manchuria during the Pacific War
  • Sexuality

“Anyway, it seems to me that the way most people go on living (I suppose there are a few exceptions), they think that the world of life (or whatever) is this place where everything is (or is supposed to be) basically logical and consistent. ... It’s like when you put instant rice pudding mix in a bowl in the microwave and push the button, and you take the cover off when it rings, and there you’ve got rice pudding. I mean, what happens in between the time when you push the switch and when the microwave rings? You can’t tell what’s going on under the cover. Maybe the instant rice pudding first turns into macaroni cheese in the darkness when nobody’s looking and only then turns back into rice pudding. We think it’s natural to get rice pudding after we put rice pudding mix in the microwave and the bell rings, but to me that’s just a presumption. I would be kind of relieved if, every once in a while, after you put rice pudding mix in the microwave and it rang and you opened the top, you got macaroni cheese. …

So then one disconnected thing led to another disconnected thing, and that’s how all kinds of stuff happened. Like, I met the boy with the motorcycle and we had that stupid accident. The way I remember it – or the way those things are all lined up in my head – there’s no “This happened this way, so naturally that happened that way.” Every time the bell rings and I take off the cover, I seems to find something I’ve never seen before.”

Vintage 2003 ed., pp. 460-461. Within the limits of E2 Fair Use Copyright rules.

The above quote is, I think, a rather good example of what the book is about. That is, you can never really assume anything about what will happen next. This particular quote is an excerpt from a letter from May Kasahara, the 17-year-old girl who lives down the street from Toru.

The original text of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was first published, in Japanese, in three volumes by Shinchosa Ltd, Tokyo from 1994 to 1995. The Japanese title was Nejimaki-dori kuronikuru. The English translation was done by Jay Rubin, “with participation of the author,” and so it is copyrighted by Murakami (1997,1998). Murakami graduated from Waseda University and is now a professor at Tufts University in Boston. He is also the author of other notable works, including: A Wild Sheep Chase; Dance Dance Dance; Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World; the nonfiction book Underground; and his breakthrough novel, Norwegian Wood (1987).

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