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…

 

#WritersWednesday: November 7 – 1Q84

 1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s latest book, and a universal best seller. I don’t intend to reveal anything of the plot, since some followers of these posts may not have read the book! 1Q84 is several books in one, a love story in the tradition of Haruki’s previous novels, especially Norwegian Wood (the love story that created the literary phenomenon Murakami for the world audience) and Kafka on the Shore, but also a reflection on modern Japan, its cities and landscapes, and human relationships.

The two central heroes of 1Q84 are ordinary people, though with special gifts. They are also failures, or at least they believe to be, for some twenty years – until one night they look at the moon. The book is full of musical and literary references, beautifully woven in the daily lives and thoughts of the characters. Some critics have pointed out that the novel mixes genres unashamedly: for this reader, this is one of the many charms of the book, which straddles highly speculative fiction and poetry. That the world we see is only an appearance created by our limited physiological abilities, sight, longevity and cultures, is a fact admitted by most writers. That there may be many variations around us is nothing more than a strong probability: but it only takes a walk along an expressway to discover one of these variations…

The novel was published in Japan in three books, the latest one year later than the first two. The UK publisher , Harvill Secker, has continued the tradition with books one and two in one volume followed by book three. I found book three in some way different in tone compared with the other two. Is it intentional, or the result of different sensibilities on the part of the two translators (Jay Rubin for books one and two, and Philip Gabriel for book three). Those translations are impressive but I wish I could read the original.