Murakami’s “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle”

Natalie Schermer

Do you read a lot of fiction? Fantasy, perhaps? Are you a closet mystery addict? Do you just really like anything with a good story, original ideas and an unpredictable plot?

Chances are, then, you’ll probably enjoy Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” which has all of these things and more. No guarantees, though — I can’t promise you won’t find Murakami just too darn weird.

“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” starts off pretty normally: Toru Okada, an unemployed 30-something, is making spaghetti at home while his wife Kumiko is at work.

Toru is normal, unexcitable, content with boredom — his very being embodies calm. Toru’s day consists of a few errands: grocery shopping, picking up the dry cleaning and whatever else he can find to do.

 

But the descent into madness begins quickly. In the midst of his spaghetti-making, the phone rings. Toru answers it, assuming it’s Kumiko. To his surprise, it’s a mysterious woman, who kicks off a train of strange and nonsensical events that never really make sense.

The phone call leads to a meeting with a woman called Malta Kano, whose confusing and disturbing predictions don’t do much but leave Toru nonplussed.

Things get a bit more sinister when, one day, Kumiko just doesn’t come home. No call, nothing taken or packed — she just disappears. And so begins Toru’s quest to find his wife, not to mention his cat.

Along the way he meets a teenager named May Kashara who works at a wig factory, discovers more about Malta Kano and her sister Creta and learns some disturbing things about Kumiko’s brother, the famous television personality Noboru Wataya.

As the novel progresses, reality recedes. Much of the action takes place in dreams, and it’s always uncertain whether something is actually happening at any given time — Murakami himself doesn’t even seem to know.

At one point, Toru — desperate for solitude — climbs to the bottom of a well, pushes his way through the wall and finds himself in a sort of hotel-dream world where he is seduced by — yet another — mysterious woman. That encounter leaves him with a black mark on his cheek, which grants him strange healing powers.

Toru eventually reestablishes contact with Kumiko, but the novel remains largely unresolved. The beauty of it, however, lies in how Murakami has presents these disparate stories — I’ve only scratched the surface here — in one big, sprawling novel — and gotten away with it.

Readers accept his weird, whimsical, only semi-related tales without question — or at least not much. He’s broken all the rules and succeeded marvelously.

Part of it is his writing. Even though “Wind-Up Bird” can at times be challenging in its lack of cohesion, each plot point is fascinating enough on its own that it doesn’t matter if you’re not quite sure how the page you’re reading relates to the one you read before.

Murakami covers a wide variety of subjects, serious and fanciful, from Japan’s ruthlessness in WWII to red vinyl hats. And part of it is the wonderful, whimsical journey that Murakami’s novel promises.

If you’re willing to accept the flaws, enjoy the bizarre, and just tag along for the ride, wherever it takes you, “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” will prove to be a fantastic read.

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