Emily and I (Serena) have been friends since the first week of freshman year of college. Other than a lost purse (I did the losing, Emily did the calming), take a wild guess as to what we bonded over? Yes, that is correct: books. And the fact that we both had plans to be English majors and would go on to coordinate our schedules to have as many similar classes as possible! All that said, Emily has agreed to be a semi-regular contributor to our blog, so keep your eyes open for posts from her in “Emily’s Corner” on random Mondays going forward!
Book: “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami
Publishing Info: Originally published in three parts between 1994 and 1995, the English translation was published in 1997
Where Did I Get this Book: A gift from a friend in book club
Book Description: In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria. Gripping, prophetic, suffused with comedy and menace, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a tour de force equal in scope to the masterpieces of Mishima and Pynchon.
Review: My book club did something a little different for our January read. Instead of reading the same book, we each picked out our favorite novel and did a book swap. (My pick was The Blue Castle, of course.)
The book I received was “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” by Haruki Murakami. Our book club had read his earliest work “Wind/Pinball” together, so I was delighted to receive a more recent publication. Murakami is one of those maddening geniuses who knocked it out of the park on his first try writing a novel. I had high expectations for “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and it did not disappoint.
A word on Murakami’s writing style; he takes the most mundane, ordinary situations and makes them riveting. Case in point, I started the book during Christmas break while visiting my parents. My dad asked what I was reading and I said something along the lines of “it’s about a guy and his wife, and the wife has a cat, and it goes missing, and she’s upset with the husband for not caring, so he goes to look for it, and it’s all about this tension in their marriage . . .”
Dad cut me off. “That sounds boring.”
Boring this is not! Murakami takes this story and twists it, wrenches it, in fact. It turns into this surrealist, cerebral adventure that takes on an otherworldly quality without losing its grasp on reality. It was exhausting trying to keep up and yet I couldn’t put it down.
The story twists and turns from the perspectives of the man and his search for his wife who mysteriously vanishes along with the cat, a precocious teenager so fascinated by death that she almost commits murder, bloody flashbacks to the power struggles and mind games of war-torn Manchuria, eerie sisters whose magical talents are the hub of the story, a villain who controls his victims by mentally raping and trapping them in an otherworld, and a wealthy but strange mother-son duo named after baking spices.
I get it. This sounds like an acid trip. This is not a story that you can explain by saying “and then such-and-such happened.” And for sure it is a far cry from the “man looks for lost cat” opening.
That is what is magical about Murakami; he takes you on such a slow and winding journey, where everything makes sense until it doesn’t. You look back to see how far you have come, almost unable to believe that a story about a lost cat could turn into the most violent, most beautiful, most moving thing you’ve read in years.
This book isn’t so much about the story, though it is truly a riveting story. It’s about Murakami’s way with words. He is unlike any author I’ve encountered, writing about daily activities like boiling pasta and ironing shirt collars in such a way that they become intensely beautiful rituals. Something as simple as climbing down a dry well becomes an out-of-body experience, for both the protagonist and the reader. I was gasping by the end of that chapter.
There is a horrifying torture scene, and while I normally have a very low tolerance for this sort of thing, I couldn’t help but be entranced by how Murakami achieved a level of grace and beauty in it. I was trapped between being appalled and being fascinated.
For me, Murakami’s work is about experiencing his way with words just as much as it is about getting caught up in a good story.
Rating 8: While this is one of the most incredible books I’ve read in a while, my squeamishness over the aforementioned torture scene and some terribly awkward phone sex kept this from getting a higher score. Still, this is a must-read for anyone who appreciates the cerebral/magical realism genre.
“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Magical Realism” and “Mind Twist.”
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