Jun 22, 2010

[Books] The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleI was first introduced to Haruki Murakami in college. At the time most if not all of my reading interests were firmly locked within the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Trying anything outside of that seemed highly unlikely since I really enjoyed escaping to those far-flung worlds. So when we were made to read a variety of more contemporary authors, I soon realized that I had been missing a heck of a lot.

But of all the different authors I was introduced to during my college years, Haruki really stood out as something completely different. His style is deceptively simple in terms of words but amazingly complex in terms of concepts. His usual mix of the familiar with the strange and exotic is unlike any other I've read thus far and he manges to weave all these diverse elements together into a beautifully seamless whole.

So when it came time to try and explore his writings on my own, I relied on the recommendations of my professor at the time and picked up this particular book. I don't regret the decision one bit, no matter how expensive his books tend to be in most stores. While this wasn't one of his simpler books, it was certainly one of his most powerful and striking in so many different ways.

Jerusalem PrizeImage via Wikipedia
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was written back in 1995 with the "official" English translations hitting the market in 1997. Given his books were originally written in Japanese, much credit also has to go to the translator, Jay Rubin, for his lovely prose-like approach to adapting these books in order to retain the grace and beauty of the original books.

The story centers around Toru Okada, our narrator and also the lead of the story. Things start simply enough - Toru's cat runs away and jobless Toru decides to seek him out. Along the way his wife, Kumiko, also disappears and thus his quest expands into something far greater. Along the way he gets help from some unusual characters.

There's the surprisingly mature young girl, May Kasahara, and there's Malta Kano, a psychic or medium of sorts who is hired to help them find the cat. There's Malta's system Creta, who happens to be a psychic prostitute of sorts. And there are others still, but such strange and creative characters are just part of the fantastic worlds of Murakami.

The story starts out simply and slowly enough but piece by piece, layer by layer Murakami builds up the world of Toru Okada and the many people and events around him into a fantastic creation. The plot is not at all conventional and for someone who had never read his longer works before, it was a bit tricky to wrap my head around. But once you really get into it, oh man it's hard to explain. I can only compare it to the feeling Alice probably felt when she fell down that rabbit hole. The book just grips you and as much as I wanted to zoom ahead and keep reading, I knew I had to pause every now and then and just take time to digest what I had read. Books like this are meant to be relished and savored given enough time.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle remains to be one of my favorite Haruki Murakami novels although it's not quite what I would recommend to someone new to his works. It gets 5 almost trope-like aspects of Japanese culture out of 5.
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