If there is only one word I could employ to describe Haruki Murakami’s fiction, it would be hypnotic. I was in trance going through the maze of his multi-layered novel, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. This novel was admittedly not a quick read for me. I realized that I had been lugging this quite thick book for over a month already. But neither Haruki nor the wind-up bird should be faulted.
In the space of six weeks since I started this novel, I launched a personal blog and its companion social network sites, loading those with content. My weekends were also spent discovering cultural heritages and gifts of nature. And there is the day job that is getting more demanding and exhausting. While there were times that I wanted the novel to end already essentially because I don’t like to drag a story beyond a month, the hours spent with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle were nothing short of dreamlike.
The novel’s protagonist is Toru Okada, in many respect an ordinary human being made less desirable by his preference to domestic routine and relative unproductivity over a life at a workplace to nurture a career. Though obviously lacking in drive to excel and prosper, he doesn’t leave adverse social footprints though due to his passivity and peaceful nature.
One day his life took on a different course. His wife, Kumiko, left him with neither warning nor concrete explanation. While his being unremarkable is a possible cause, a scrutiny on the evolution of their relationship and the dynamics of their daily interactions would render Kumiko’s action senseless. Kumiko’s estrangement led Toru to a whirlpool of buried events and secrets of the past most prominently the Japanese occupation in Manchuria during the second world war. He encountered and got himself mixed up with strange characters commencing with psychic Malta Kano, mind prostitute Creta Kano, imaginative 16-year old May Kasahara, war veteran Lieutenant Mamiya, manipulative politician Noburo Wataya, the cat that used to have a bent tail, Mackerel, and the mother and son tandem running an enigmatic enterprise, Nutmeg and Cinnamon.
As Toru struggles to bring his wife back, objects and occurrences reverberate across the past and his present. The mundane becomes puzzling, like a baseball bat that is now Toru’s weapon of defense whereas it used to torture prisoners of war and May Kasahara’s fascination with wigs vis-a-vis the practice of scalping by the Tartars on enemies caught in China’s northern borders. Meawhile, the weird assumes commonplace qualities. First, the titular bird emitting the sound of spring being wound, which may symbolize the cycles and repititions of events through time. Another recurring symbol in the novel is the neighborhood’s dried up well that has become Toru’s refuge in contradiction to Lieutenant Mamiya’s prison well that was supposed to be his final destination until he was rescued by a psychic comrade.
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and the first Haruki Murakami book I’ve read, Kafka on The Shore, fall under the speculative fiction, a genre characterized by supernatural and fantastical elements in the plot. As I was so intrigued, I checked what other readers had to say about this novel and unsurprisingly, some expressed frustration over plot disconnects. I myself thought that it is overlong. While the responses are understandable, I am in the opinion that Wind-up Bird should be judged on its merits under the genre notwithstanding the preferences of readers. As a speculative piece of fiction, Windup Bird is hands down a work of a true master.
The imageries and chain of events juxtaposed by Murakami in this novel would most likely bewilder readers more used to general fiction. After reading Windup Bird, I had this sense that I am inhabiting a Salvador Dali painting, particularly his Persistence of Memory. Though I am navigating a surreal environment, I am conscious that the time, space, and symbols around me, while at the moment incomprehensible, are all connected to life’s continuum.
The Windup Bird Chronicle is a grand piece of literature for its overall architecture. The strength of Murakami’s structure, the intricacy of his story’s details, the grace in which he unravels the plot, and the genuine quality of his characters all contribute in making this novel into a landmark edifice in literature. It deserves to be in the bucket list of all thirsty readers rooting for literature that audaciously illustrates man’s capacity for heroism in the face of his fears, confusions, and loneliness.