The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Sprawling, odd, complicated, scary, these are the words that come to my mind when I say the name, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I tried to keep an open mind and take it all in. But still at times I had to stop and think,

‘What on earth is this?’

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Nejimaki-dori Kuronikuru, 1994-95) is a novel by Haruki Murakami. I read the Jay Rubin translation, first published in 1997.

An unemployed man called Toru Okada leads a perfectly mundane life. Its quiet flow is interrupted when his cat runs away from home. Things take an increasingly bizarre turn as his wife disappears and it becomes apparent that nothing is as simple as it seems.

In this story, many rather bizarre events come as a surprise to no one. After a while these events didn’t feel weird even to me. But the most ordinary things (for instance, Ushikawa’s visit to Toru’s apartment) made me feel uneasy.

This book has many bizarre elements but none as bizarre as the part ‘wells’ play in it. A dried up well takes the life force way from a young man, another dried up well leads to a sinister world of dreams, different characters climb or fall into wells and it changes them irrecoverably. But as I said after a while none of it feels weird anymore.

The character of Toru Okada just goes with the flow of things. He hardly ever reacts to anything but in the end becomes something of a saviour, a hero even. Its strange how disconnected he seems. Yet Toru Okada is strangely real.

The enigmatic Noboru Wataya is the main antagonist in this story. He is everything Toru isn’t. His fortune keeps rising as Toru’s goes down. And yet he is the one who is troubled and anxious. His shadowy presence looms large. He is not present ‘in person’ for most of the narrative and yet he is everywhere.

As Toru himself admits he has too many women in his life. The principal among them is his wife Kumiko. I had a hard time understanding her character. I think that is because we primarily see her from the point of view of her husband. As she doesn’t truly open up to him and keeps most of her feelings to herself, we also don’t get to really see her.

The psychic sisters Malta and Creta Kano are interesting. But how much influence they have over the incidents that take place in the narrative is never very clear. How much good do they really do with their powers, I found myself wondering. The character of the teenage May Kasahara felt superfluous to me.

Nutmeg and her son Cinnamon are really the ones who provide the final clues that bring Toru closer to solving the riddle of his wife’s disappearance. Their past stories, especially the silent history of Cinnamon, really grabbed my attention. For me Cinnamon is the most interesting character in the whole book.

The first part of Lieutenant Mamiya’s narrative I found to be very engrossing. It is the most shocking part of the book. The second part of his narrative disappointed me.

Haruki Murakami is a brilliant writer. Even though I had a tough time with the book’s length and complexity, I felt the undeniable power of his prose.

One down side to this book is that it felt really long. At times I had doubts whether I would be able to finish it this month.

In the end I have only one thing to say, read it only if you can give your undivided attention to this intricately plotted, puzzlingly complex and multi-layered book. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is not a book to be trifled with.

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