From the very first line of The wind-up bird chronicle : a novel by Haruki Murakami, translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin, there is something off, something askew. As the story and characters unfold, this becomes crystal clear and truly drives the intrigue to keep the reading momentum going–at least for me.
Toru Okada lives a quiet, uneventful life, especially now since he left his measly job running errands for a law firm. He’s looking for work but not very hard these days, enjoying reading at home, sitting on his porch, and keeping the household in order. He’s content and stable but the people he encounters are not. His wife Kumiko is distracted, not home often, and then disappears. The 16-year-old neighbor girl fixates on death due to her crash and injury, stays home from school, and willing works bizarre jobs to fill her time. Strange sisters contact him and have disjointed conversations on random meetings that they arrange, and who also travel with their minds to other people’s minds. Mr. Okada runs into another odd woman and her mute son, who help people through energy work and good thoughts. A former solider during the Second Sino-Japanese War visits him and proceeds to tell his heart-breaking, brutal story of the War and as a POW in a work camp. And, saving the best for last, Kumiko’s brother Noboru Wataya mutually hates him, even though Mr. Okada is and has nothing compared to Mr. Wataya’s life of high political and media standing and public adoration; looking back now, this mutual hate drives the whole story, despite the lack of their encounters.
In this world of odd characters who take action and many who manipulate and control circumstances with Mr. Okada, he does not act nor do much of anything. At the beginning, there is a sense of uncertainty, a limbo in which he lives that harbors despair and stagnation. He is stalled, as it were, in a state of in action. When he realizes his wife has disappeared, after not coming home for some time, he does nothing. After he admits to himself that she is truly gone, not to return anytime soon, he decides that her brother took her away and holds her against her will–yet, he still does nothing. Nothing! Not even call the police because he knows how well liked Mr. Wataya is throughout Japan. However, he ruminates about his life, his wife whom he loves dearly, their lost cat that she found when they were dating, and this situation. This once quiet, stable, void of a character begins to act, albeit in bizarre, extreme ways. The story, along with him, shifts.
Actions, events, and the plot change course as Mr. Okada becomes involved in metaphysical healing and astral projection/travel. The serious tone in which the book is written clearly places this novel in magical realism as a genre, along with Salman Rushdie, but Haruki Murakami does not invoke Fantasy as Rushdie does, making this a novel of an entirely different form of magical realism. Murakami’s novel is very realistic with the added in elements of the use of the mind as a powerful tool, so this would be a great book to explore the genre of magical realism for those readers who don’t know it.
The turning point in The wind-up bird chronicle is when Mr. Okada ventures down into the well, which is one of his first actions and is a ways into the novel itself. From there, the plot builds until it reaches the peak when he makes it to the hotel room and the action-movie action begins for an easily 30-page rush towards the end in which Mr. Okada’s odd adventures neatly conclude and he is left basically as we met him at the beginning, although we know how much he and his life have changed. The manner in which the story wraps up is odd but I suppose that is fitting for such a tale, and it is a very good ending, especially for the character of Mr. Okada.
As evident by the date of my last post in mid-June, this book takes a while to read simply because of the various stages of the book (monotonous, stagnant, odd/brutal passages now and then). Yet, those stages serve a purpose because they convey what Mr. Okada is like and feeling, so it’s brilliant. I love Haruki Murakami’s writing style, with elegant and visual sentences that make the entire novel a joy to read. His writing helped me persevere with a mildly annoying and depressing Mr. Okada, at least that is what he is like during the beginning portion, which is the point of the novel and Murakami’s chosen writing style; part of me finds it difficult to believe that this is translated from Japanese because it is so perfectly conveyed and captured in English by the translator.
Recommended?: For adult readers who want a challenge and a unique read that will likely take a while to get through; it is too advanced for young adults and has some sexual passages and brutal, violent ones as well throughout. One piece of advice, if you do begin reading this novel, you have to finish it no matter what because the middle and ending are worth whatever effort it takes you to get there.