In a deep well, reflections on reading Haruki Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-up Bird ChronicleIt is a rare writer who can combine the spectra of recent history in its full horror, the dreams of love, and the mysteries of the soul. So is Monsieur Murakami.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was published in Japan in 1995, and once again, I regretted my inability to read the novel in the writer’s language. Yet Jay Rubin’s translation is a wonder on its own right. This was perhaps, for this reader, the most difficult Murakami’s novel so far, considerably harder reading than 1Q84 or, my all-time favourite, Kafka on the Shore. Kafka’s influence, among many others, is there, for the central character, Toru Okada, has to endure a metamorphosis of his own, once the house cat disappears, shortly followed by mysterious and fragile Kumiko, Toru’s wife.

However I won’t spoil this read for my followers, those who haven’t yet read this extraordinary work. The story is rooted in the memories of the atrocious war fought on the periphery of the Asian continent, in the country Imperial Japan named Manchukuo. There the Japanese army faced the might of the Soviet Union, from the late thirties, before the war extended to the whole of Asia and Europe.

Perhaps uniquely in its descriptions, the Wind-up Bird Chronicle is pitiless in plunging the reader in the depth of man’s inhumanity to man, and nature. Toru, surrounded by strange women who may not all be human, just about survives the metamorphosis imposed on him, through the grace of friendship, and the skills of his protector, unforgettable Nutmeg. The truth, factual or not, is to be found at the bottom of the well.

In the strange loops that link the characters, across time and spaces, humble objects such a red vinyl hat, or a baseball hat, there resides the mystery of the human soul. And a small cat’s tail…

 

5 thoughts on “In a deep well, reflections on reading Haruki Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle

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  1. Haruki Murakami is a very talented writer. I love how his writing style draws and lulls us into the story. He certainly has a way with stringing together words and giving his readers beautiful imagery. Jay Rubin’s translation is beautiful as well. And haunting, in a good way.

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  2. There are so many, many books to read that I feel sometimes overwhelmed. But this novel sounds like a must when I read your post. And the influence of Kafka can only convince me to read it. Thank you for sharing your favorite books with us.

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  3. Definitely the one that sticks out for me. Not that I’ve read a lot of his work. My wife’s fan and has everything he’s written (that’s been translated). Hoping to get into more of his work sometime in the future. Tried Banana Yoshimoto? My favourite Japanese author, at present.

    Nice review.

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