The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

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I’ve now put a second Haruki Murakami novel on my “read” shelf, and while I have several more to work through, I think I’ve read enough to form a solid impression of his work. I’m looking forward to reading the others, but for the time being I can comfortably say that he’s an incredible writer. His stories so successfully instill a sense of floating disconnect from reality that after reading (or listening) for an extended period of time, my perception of the world needs time to recover.

More than once, I’ve sat silently in my car at the BART station, minutes after turning off the engine, staring out of the window at nothing, thinking about the surreal world Murakami built under the nose of a normal, functional society.

Thematically, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle shares quite a bit with the other Murakami book I’ve read, Kafka on the Shore. Lost cats. Strange and disturbing events in World War II. Physical love. Romance and relationships. The fragility of sanity. Death. Healing. Distancing oneself from the rat race.

Murakami’s presentation of these issues is particularly interesting because it always rides a fine line between mundanity and absurdity. There are moments of pain and fear, separated by a paragraph or a page from moments of laughter. Reading Murakami’s books can feel like a roller-coaster in that way.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle fractures into pieces about a third of the way through, and knits itself back together into a tapestry that makes little sense up front, but eventually settles into place and seems like the circumstances have righted themselves. As Murakami gets you accustomed to the bizarre, he flips it on its head again and the most normal situations feel far-fetched and difficult to comprehend.

It may be a part of Japanese creative sensibilities, but I thought more than once of Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 sci-fi action film, while reading Wind-Up Bird. Like Murakami’s books, Akira begins within an understandable framework. A catalyst shatters the relative stillness and as the pieces come together again to form a new picture of reality, much is left unsaid. And the viewer is left to question symbolism and minutiae throughout the film.

In Wind-Up Bird, many questions are asked—most of them indirectly—and a good deal of them are left unanswered. I’ll definitely need to read the book again, or discuss it at length with someone who has read it, in order to “get” the book.

To be honest, I’m finding it difficult to fully articulate my feelings about Murakami’s writing. It is brilliant, moving, occasionally haunting, intriguing, and often beautiful. But I’m never blown away by his books the way I expect to be. When I pause to think about them, I know they are fantastic. I know that they are compelling reads written by a master of language. But something never sits quite right with me. I feel slightly put out when I read his books. And then I think that maybe I’m supposed to feel that way.

I can say that I like Murakami’s work. I can say that he’s an extraordinary, imaginative writer with an almost unparalleled skill at this quasi-magical slipstream genre. But I can’t say that I love it. Most people seem to love it, and I’d be remiss not to recommend that you read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle which, despite my personal confusion and issues, is an excellent book.

Oh well, I’m going to read more of his work anyway. I can’t seem to stay away from it.

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