If you’ve read anything by author Haruki Murakami, you’ll have noticed that he likes to write about 3 things:
- people with very specific routines for daily chores
- men who are visited or contacted by mysterious women
All 3 of these topics pop up within the first 9 pages of his acclaimed 1994 novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This is the 5th Murakami book that I’ve read, and at this point his writing style and preferred subjects are familiar and comforting, like a warm blanket, even though he also likes to constantly surprise his readers with wild revelations (like, for instance, a villain who is trying to enter another world via the souls of cats or a place where you see two moons in the sky).
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about an unemployed, passive man who begins searching for his wife’s missing cat (and then his wife) throughout Tokyo. He meets many weird and mystical characters along the way- some of them sinister.
Mild spoilers ahead.
What The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle does right: This book is like a Japanese Twin Peaks with a healthy side helping of The Shining: neurotic characters, long backstories, mysterious disappearances, claustrophobic hotels, struggles between bodies and souls, and a world beyond the regular one we know. I’d love to see David Lynch make a movie out of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Just like in a Lynch film, you never fully know what’s going on in a Murakami book (or at least, I don’t. But that’s part of why I enjoy them so much).
You can tell that Toru Okada (the narrator and protagonist) is up against something big- possibly even something supernatural or paranormal- but, like Toru himself, you’re not really sure of what he’s fighting against or how he has gotten involved in this vague battle of good vs. evil. It’s exciting to try and unravel the mystery as the book continues and more information is slowly revealed.
The book’s climax had me on the edge of my seat. I’ve never read a book that was so dreamlike and yet so gripping. It was stressful, but ultimately I enjoyed the ride.
What The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle gets wrong: It’s a bit of a slow start, but it does keep you wanting to know more about the characters and what’s going to happen next. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is divided into 3 “books” or parts, but I didn’t realize that at first. The structure of the book makes more sense once you know how it is segmented.
There are a few sexual scenes that I found unnecessary, but I knew to expect them going in. Murakami uses sexual expression in his fiction as a gateway to parallel worlds and understanding other people’s souls; it’s rarely used as a means of procreation or recreation.
While I reveled in how the book finally concluded, it took so long to get there. I think parts of the book could have been shortened or streamlined. And while I enjoyed the historical narratives about events in the second Sino-Japanese war, their connection to the main story was only a vague one, and sometimes I wanted to skip ahead.
Who should read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Readers who are fans of magical realism (i.e. pairing everyday things and settings with characters or events that are out of the ordinary or practically impossible). Nobody does contemporary magical realism like Murakami, in my opinion.
Readers who are interested in Japanese history, especially their involvement in WWII, may also enjoy this book.
Who shouldn’t read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: With any Murakami book, things are going to get really, really weird. If you don’t like bizarre or uncomfortable scenes in books, then don’t pick this one up. There were several scenes that, while pretty brief, were shocking. In particular, the scenes from the war period are disturbingly violent and described in detail.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is not currently available at the library, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan.
Content note: suggestive scenes, war violence, emotional trauma. If this book were a movie, it would be rated R. Reader discretion is advised.