The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

Article published on June 23, 2011.

Toru Okada’s life is a calm, quiet procession of predictable events. Stay-at-home husband to the lovely Kumiko, he cooks, cleans, and takes trips to the dry-cleaner. The only niggle in his life is the disappearance of the cat they’ve had since kittenhood, and the anonymous sexual phonecalls he keeps getting.

But his carefully ordered life is slowly spinning out of control. Invisible at first, as Toru’s life begins to rip itself loose from its moorings he becomes more and more aware of the strangely twisted tales that wind their ways through his every waking moment, and he is helpless to do much other than watch a procession of strangers march through his life, each making his or her own subtle changes and complicating matters in their own way.

Seeking seclusion in the abandoned well down the street, Toru reaches an inner part of himself that few ever become aware of, and changes himself and his life forever.

Few languages are as difficult to translate as Japanese is, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle bears this out. However, the translation is quite good and the sense of missing some ephemeral quality, common to most or all translated Japanese books, serves here to deepen the sense of strangeness that runs through the tale.

Murakami spins a tale that both enchants and disturbs, confusing even as it pulls you deeper in. Trying to entangle all the stray strands of story, as you might in a more conventional novel, is useless and the only way to enjoy this novel is by surrendering yourself completely to the post-modernism and accepting it for what it is.

That said, with engaging characters and accomplished story-telling, Murakami provides something akin to modern-day magic that will pull you into Toru Okada’s world and give you no choice about whether or not you want to see it through to the end.

Mixing modern-day Japan with enlightening insights about World War II, the historical implications of this book are unexpectedly deep, and provide a look into this era that most Westerners are unaware of while retaining relevance to the storyline at hand at all times.

Murakami is not a writer. He is not an author. What he is is a modern-day magician, making insights appear and disappear at will and leaving his audience gasping in admiration with every delicately crafted page. With his sorcerer’s apprentice, Jay Rubin, translating that which cannot be translated, he makes an unstoppable contribution to the current literary world.


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