The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

My first Murakami novel! YAY! I have wanted to read him for years, and finally, I have done it.

This book was very strange, but I really liked it. On GoodReads, I gave this a 4, but really this is a 4.5 for me. A lot of my books are probably half points on that site, but I digress.

I do think there are elements of amazing 5 in it, but I found it dark that I am doubtful to pick it up again soon. I usually reserve 5 stars for books I want to really reread.

Let’s preface this by saying I like literary fiction and yes, I do like magical realism. While magical realism is often linked with postmodernism, I find some post modernist books and authors hit or miss with me. For example, I’m not a big fan of Albert Camus.

I do like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially One Hundred Years of Soltitude. For a long time, I really loved Louis de Bernières’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, but it hasn’t lasted in my reader memory as well as some other books for some reason. I do know that this genre an be polarizing and many people won’t like Murakami’s style. That’s fine; this is why I only ever offer personalized book recommendations. I may really like this book, I know many others who would hate magical realism.

While magical realism does link up with fantasy, I am not one of those people who considers magical realism to be fantasy per se. As Marquez says:

“My most important problem was destroying the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic.”

In this weird way, I share a similar view to magical realist writers. They put to prose and poetry with how I have experienced life. Feelings and dreaming are not concrete and real life is often too strange as well. As a result, the best magical realist books are those which I can relate to the feeling of how they portray life. I am very much a dreamer, and even lately, I have been experiencing that thin line with what is real and what is fantastic. I do not mean to say that I am living in a dream world or that I am out of touch with reality, but there are definitely moments in both dreams and reality that influence the other. You can not have something without it being defined by its opposite as Neil Gaiman once wrote in his Sandman series.

“fact not be true, and truth may not be factual” (p 525)

It has been a long while since I read anything this literary. I won’t really try to explain this work, but I will say it was at times funny, erotic, introspective, strange, dark, meta, sensual, and violent. I am not sure how much war and violence feature in other Murakami works, but like Kurt Vonnegut and even Joseph Heller, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle has a theme focusing on collective trauma from war and violence. The book does deal heavily in that, but also in the violence of the mind. While some of the acts are not physical and Murakami deals heavily with the subconscious and the other, it still makes an impression.

I often look for characters to attach onto in books. At first, I didn’t really attach onto anyone in this drama. This is difficult in magical realism books sometimes. Characters are transient, hard to reach and mysterious in these kind of works. Indeed, most of Murakami’s characters in this novel appear and then disappear leaving the reader wondering where they are. I got a sense of the protagonist and rooted for him, but I wouldn’t say I cared for him deeply like I would Elizabeth Bennet or Harry Potter. Even so, I find with really great magical realist works, the settings, the situations and moments stay. It’s as if one attaches onto aspects of the story and concepts rather than the characters.
This is not really a book about characters or rather, it’s more than that. I did grow to like the protagonist, he is very much an everyman. I think that makes Murakami really stand out because his settings and writing can set up the most ordinary things and then twist it easily.

“I mean, this is not a movie or a novel. We can’t really do that sort of thing.” (p. 429)

While reading this book, a voice in my head kept saying “This is good”. I can’t necessarily go into many details about why I found it so good; the book even made me uncomfortable at times. It really is almost epic. There are several stories. I am impressed with the amount of things Murakami crammed into this novel. Some people will consider it bloated, but I did not mind. He was able to deftly weave many threads. When I finished reading the book, I felt a bit tired because I felt I had absorbed so much and yet in not that very much time or pages.

I have many questions regarding the ending, but that’s ok. In this instance, I feel like I am suppose to really think about what I read and some books are like life, there is no closure. In any case, I think it did end rather well all things considered. It certainly doesn’t annoy me that I didn’t know what happened to character XYZ.

Finally, I must applaud the translator Jay Rubin. Translation is not easy especially for such prose and style. I once did work where I had to translateand summarize things from one language to another and it was not easy. I appreciate the work of translators  especially those of prose and poetry. If you are interested in translation, Japanese and/or Murakami, there is an interesting email roundtable from Murakami’s English translators.

My first Murakami was a success. I think I will try to go from chronological order for his books now. I picked up Wind-Up Bird because it called to me at the library, and I took it out at least two times before. I couldn’t manage to find the time to start it until now. I’m really glad I finally did.

Read August 19-24th 2012.

6 comments

  1. The Classics Club says:

    Very interesting review…. I haven’t attempted Murakami yet myself, but I am a fan of magical realism so this may be one to consider. I’m glad you enjoyed the translation too – that can sometimes make or break the book, you know? -Sarah

    • athena says:

      Hi Sarah! I’m not a good judge of translations so I am not always aware of the good and bad, I do think this was great because Japanese is much more different than English. I felt the English was written really well. I actually read a snippet of another translated version of this book, and it wasn’t as good. I hope you attempt Murakami too since he seems a necessity for those of us who do like magical realism. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Brona says:

    I’ve also just started my first Murakami – 1Q84!
    Like you I’m loving it, surprised by it, amazed by it….I’m keen to get onto his backlist, with this one high on the list.
    Great review by the way – very thought provoking.

    • athena says:

      Hi Brona! I hear IQ84 is slightly different than his other books. It’ll be awhile before I get to read it as I want to go back to Murakami’s earlier works. He is a fascinating author. Thanks for the comment! Have a good weekend!

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