The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the novel that made author Haruki Murakami one of the world’s most popular writers. Today he is undoubtedly the most famous writer of Japan. Ever since the novel was published in 1995 it has been considered a modern classic. The novel is actually split in three different books, therefore it is one of those novels that is very difficult to retell, but hang in there. I will do my best.
Toru Okada’s cat has gone missing. Toru himself has just quit his job at a firm and is enjoying unemployment by listening to the radio, performing chores and listening to a weird bird in their garden that chirps as if it were mechanical – the wind-up bird. But Toru’s life is about to change forever. In connection to his cat’s disappearance he starts receiving uncanny phone calls from an unknown woman claiming to know him. Looking for his cat he befriends a morbid yet cheerful girl in the neighbourhood and meets two sisters named after islands in the Mediterranean. It is the young girl, Mei Kasahara, who introduces him to a strange and abandoned house across her garden.
One night a couple of weeks after the cat’s disappearance, Toru’s wife Kumiko doesn’t come home from work. Through her brother he finds out that she is demanding a divorce. Toru is of course devastated and is convinced that Kumiko has not left him voluntarily. Trying to get some sense of reality Toru starts spending time in the dried out well that belongs to the neighbourhood’s abandoned house. After spending more and more time in this well he is able to enter a different world, a place he believes is the darkness that is keeping Kumiko away from him. If you have seen the tv-show Stranger Things this is somewhat similar. He notices things that are strikingly similar to his regular life and as more time passes, the more certain he is that Kumiko is being held captive.
After about a year Toru’s seemingly normal life in Tokyo has been flipped upside down where his struggle to get his wife back intensifies. In his desperate search to find her a lot of peculiar characters come into play. Amongst them a malicious and morally disgusting relative trying to make it in politics, a fashionable woman and her son who refuses to speak and an older veteran who fought in the Second World War. It is clear that nothing will ever be like it was.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an astounding novel for various reasons. The story is intricate and thoughtful. From the very beginning you know that everything is intertwined somehow; I believe that Murakami has done a great job creating the storyline in that sense. The plot is like a beautifully woven piece of fabric, with a large pattern that contains small yet important details. In common Murakami fashion, he leaves a lot to the imagination, never explaining anything and only narrating. At the end, the theme of the novel is clear. What Murakami wants the reader to think about comes down to a fairly prominent question: What is reality and how do we perceive it? In the beginning of the novel, Toru has a clear view of what his reality is. Bit by bit, his reality is stolen away from him and he is left in a world where different yet similar realities and worlds start overlapping. Toru’s life has at the end of the novel become a mix of past, present and prophesy. Everything has been twisted and turned to the point where he doesn’t know what to believe anymore. His reality has been plucked apart and then puzzled back together. Still, the questions remains. Is reality the world media and politicians are portraying? Is reality only what we confine it to or is it something bigger than ourselves? Is it necessary to leave our own reality in order to understands ourselves?
What Murakami is exploring is the possibility that sometimes you have to step back from reality in order to achieve perfect control over it. In the novel, it is the wind-up bird that allows reality to happen; the wind-up bird also what guides us from our reality to another – the one Toru is so desperately trying to access. But what the wind-up bird truly is, is a metaphor. Because when Kumiko goes missing and Toru’s life as he knows it starts dissolving, the wind-up bird stops chirping in his garden. His reality as he knows it ceases to exist.
Murakami also provides through the wide range of characters a very wide range of realities. One example is the reality of the indescribable and horrifying things that happen during war. One that you endure silently. Another example, perhaps more simple, is the reality of family, love and marriage which is something that almost everyone can relate to. Of course this is all very abstract, and Murakami never provides us with a concrete answer. If you have read this novel or any other Murakami, you will understand what I’m talking about when I say that he leaves a lot of explaining to the reader. You yourself have to figure out what the story truly meant.
The character development is thoroughly planned and meticulously executed. In the beginning of the novel Toru Okada seems like the world’s most ordinary man. When you finish the last page he is one of the most complex characters I have ever read about. The supporting characters are exceptionally developed, Murakami dives into each and every one of their stories. As they all reveal their stories to Toru, the more he understands his own – possibly one of the most brilliant things about this novel.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is as captivating as it is long. You are never able to put the book down. I am completely mesmerized by Murakami’s creativity, thoughtfulness and storytelling. It is in no way surprising that this is one of his most celebrated novels. Every event that occurs is difficult to grasp and is usually something you have to ponder on a while to understand, yet the storytelling seems to come naturally from Murakami and the plot is easy to follow. There is never a lack of communication between the author and reader. The story flows like a river. From the very first page you are intrigued and Murakami manages to keep you interested and curious until the last page. Which is in a lot of cases very difficult.
To say the least, I highly recommend reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It is a rarely exceptional book, and even though it is long you get really caught up in it. This is definitely a must read.