Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Review: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Salutations, all! I am very sorry for my lack of updates, but life decided to kick me in the ass. I’ve been busy with work, school, family, and when I can fit them in, my friends, and I’ve been avoiding the internet as much as possible. But here I am! And I feel it is time for another review.

In contrast to my last review, I’d like to discuss Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I started my Murakami odyssey with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World last year, and I was a smitten kitten after that. I didn’t have access to any of his other books, but I decided that, this term, I’d do an independent study in modern Japanese literature, and the teacher I chose to help me with it happens to LOVE Murakami, so it all worked out for the best. The second book I read by him was A Wild Sheep Chase, and while I originally thought it was lacking something, after having read Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and currently being enmeshed in Kafka on the Shore, I’m partially convinced that it’s simply a facet of his style to leave loose ends and to at times be vague and not necessarily satisfy the questions he himself has created within his own stories. There’s nothing wrong with that; I think that I was just more into the story of Wind-Up than I was Sheep.

Anyway, Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was a remarkable tale of…wow. I’m not even sure how to describe it. It begins as a story of a missing cat, migrates to a missing wife, delves into the mysteries of the mind, makes a few brief detours into grisly war tales, returns to Japanese suburbia, and then, much like Hard-Boiled, dances in and out of what is “real” and what is “of the mind.” In my pursuits online, I’ve found many people using words like “MurakamiLand” and “MurakamiWorld” in their descriptions of his books, and those are charmingly accurate. Murakami doesn’t just write novels; he has created an entire universe in which characters come and go, have sex and murder, wax philosophical and…talk to cats. He is a compelling and unique author in both his style and voice.

But focusing on Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (that’s what this is supposed to be about, right?), I felt lovingly drawn to all of the characters in the book, especially the main character, Toru Okada, whose cat has mysteriously gone missing, and whose wife, Kumiko, goes missing soon after. Wait, scratch that – I was never lovingly drawn to Noboru Wataya, Kumiko’s brother. He’s a nasty piece of business. But I did love May Kasahara, and the strange mother and son known only as Nutmeg and Cinnamon. The colorful array of characters Murakami has created populate another part of his universe and dance in the hauntingly surrealistic ballet that is the chronicle of the wind-up bird.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to get into Murakami or Japanese literature in general. It can be a difficult read – surrealism and hard-boiled detective stories are not everyone’s cup of tea – but it’s worth it.

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