Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a wonderful, almost Alice In Wonderland tale, of a young newly unemployed legal asssitant from Tokyo whose wife walks off and disappears (apparently for another man) and who struggles to find and rescue her, even as he slips into an increasingly surreal world populated, among others, by ex-Japanese soldiers with dark secrets; a prophetic sister team; a mysterious mother-and-son psychic-healing duo; an evil politician (his hated rival and brother-in-law); and a troubled, smart, teenager who seems to have a special bond and relationship with her older friend, as well as a mysterious plot of land. Some people might even compare Murakami to Vonnegut, with his mix of historical events, humor, and unusual events. The strongest parts of the book, I feel, are the stories told by Mamiya and Hondo, and the enjoyable letters from young May. I don’t ant to go into the story, which follows a lot of different paths, and unfortunately, does not tie up all the loose ends. I know some people don’t like that. But it is an intriguing and enjoyable story to follow, nonetheless. I do not want to give away too much of the story.
The book struck many chords with me, which gave it even more punch. I sympathized with Toru after his wife left, and he struggled to understand why she had gone to the one individual that she could never have expected her to. Murakami masterfully details Toru’s confusion and hurt, and it brought up painful feelings for me. The author also touches on historical events that, to the best of my knowledge, are little discussed and (from what I heard from many Japanese students) not taught about Japanese activities in Manchuria during World War II (shades of Slaughterhouse 5?) and the trials of Japanese POWs in Russian Siberia. There is a sweetness in the relationship between the older man and younger woman. Murakami also mixes in a little erotica, a dash of mystery, dreamlike sequences, odd behavior, and brutal imagery.
Murakami is a great writer, but some things confuse me. I can’t tell if he is writing the books for a Western audience or just includes what he enjoys about Western culture. Although the story takes place in Japan and the characters are all Japanese, you get the feeling that it could just have easily been located in the Midwest. Surely some of the characters would have liked something of Japanese culture? Do all Japanese drink, smoke, and wear western items, and listen to western music? Murakami is constantly inserting references to western literature (is he showing off that he is well read?). It does not take away from the story in any fashion, but it made me wonder. I also at times feel that he is a bit too repetitious, too frequently reminding his readers of events that they should be fully aware of. Despite this qualm, I really enjoy his storytelling.