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4.4 out of 5 stars
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2000
When I was 12, Madeleine L'Engle's fantasy, "A Wrinkle in Time," effected me in a way no other book did - bridging the gap between childhood stories and grown-up novels. Like "A Wrinkle in Time" the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a fantastic tale in which a certain amount of the story occurs in places that are not of this world. We are given to suspect that some of these places might be in the protagonist's mind, or, they might not be. Set in Tokyo, this is the story of a young married man named Toru Okada whose cat and wife both disappear (under different circumstances). The reader follows Toru as he searches for them both (as well as his search for "self"), and in the process encounters oddly "re"named mystics, an endearing if somewhat depressed teenage neighbor girl, an old war veteran with horrible memories from Japan's engagements in Manchuria, and a megalomaniacal brother-in-law (by far the scariest character in anything I've read in a long time). The tale gripped me and was a great read. Murakami does fantastic things with both the physical and psychological details and has a way of drawing in the reader to feel (s)he is in Toru's head.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
We can all marvel at the sheer creativity Marakami wields in this book. But be warned, all ye fans of straightforward fiction.
Sure, it's fun to read. The main character is a kind of average-joe underacheiver whose life is thrown into a kind of cartoon-choas. But like free jazz, the virtuoso solos lead nowhere but confusion and . . .
In the end, unanswered questions abound. We never really figure out what the sinister "tendency" is that overcomes the main character's wife and turns his life upside down.
It's got something to do with sex and human brutality - but the plot is never resolved so we have little more than a sketch of a bizarre and twisted tale of modern Japan and the lingering legacy of WWII.
I'd recommend this book to those interested in modern Japan and to fans of literary art who might dig deeper into the book's symbolism.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 4, 2010
First, the good: This is a highly readable book. I started The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle about 6 weeks ago, and read it through to the end. Also good: The story is complex and multi-layered, and the action never flags. Now for the bad: Murakami writes this book almost entirely in the passive voice. This can be very effective when describing action sequences, but it is less effective when describing the main character's thoughts. Also, the main character is so riddled with doubts that he seldom understands when he is in the "real" world (i.e. the world we currently inhabit) and a dream or subconscious world. Another issue I have with this book is Murakami's overuse of simile's - specifically, overuse of the words "kind of" and "like". I prefer reading books where the author describes things as they are, not what they might be, "sort of are", or are "kind of like". While some might say this adds to the book's level of intrigue and sense of mystery, I got the feeling the author (and through him the protagonist, Toru Okada) was simply unwilling or unable to develop the ideas proposed in the book. Having said that, the story itself and the questions it asks are intriguing enough on their own to keep me reading through to the last page. I recommend The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle if you're looking to read a book that holds your attention all the way through with good story and pacing, even if the book as a whole leaves you with more questions than answers.
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on January 12, 2003
Overall, I thought the stories contained in this novel were quite fascinating and occasionally beautiful. I enjoyed nearly all of the characters, but my favorites were probably May Kasahara, Kumiko Okada, Noboru Wataya and his delightfully repulsive henchman Ushikawa, Cinnamon, and of course Mr. Wind Up Bird himself.
Despite the fact that I enjoyed reading this novel very much and think very highly of it, I do feel somewhat unsatisfied with a number of plot elements in the intertwining stories that I think were not properly explained.
1.) Regarding the nature of Noboru Wataya's dark power, which Kumiko and her sister were also tangled up with: It seems to me Noboru Wataya is a sort of black magician who has learned to harness this innate ability, and yet it is hinted at that the entire Wataya bloodline is somehow affected by this evil power. This evil entity is central to the plotline (It was in some way responsible for Kumiko's horrifying streak of extramarital [affairs] which in turn triggered her disappearance), yet the phenomenon surrounding it is kept extremely vague. This mysterious something was almost certainly behind Noboru Wataya's defilement of both Kumiko's sister and Creta Kano, but as for the purpose for these defilements we are kept in the dark. When Toru finally does battle with this evil entity, it still is kept extremely vague and we never get to see it. I found myself wishing Toru would ignore Kumiko's requests and turn the flashlight on it, just for curiosity's sake.
2.) Regarding the story of the young boy who I assume is Cinnamon who hears the wind up bird and then proceeds to witness two shady looking characters burying a certain something on his property. Judging from his descriptions of these two shady characters - one tall and one short - I can only guess that they are indeed Noboru Wataya and Ushikawa. In the dream sequence the boy experiences after watching the real life events, the buried object is a human heart, which leads me to question #3...
3.) Regarding Nutmeg's Husband and Cinnamon's Father, who died in a certain hotel room under very bizarre circumstances. Nutmeg confirms that the assailants removed several of his organs and smeared his blood on the walls, etc. Again, I can only guess that Noboru Wataya, Ushikawa, and the evil being are involved here too. But there is never an explanation as to the connection between Cinnamon's father having his heart removed in a type of ritual killing, and Cinnamon Witnessing two men burying something which in the dream state is revealed to be a live beating human heart, shortly afterwards resulting in the loss of Cinnamon's voice.
4.) Regarding the dark hotel. I find myself wishing this place was explained a bit more. Who is the No Face man, or the "hollow man" as he refers to himself, and why does he decide to ally himself with Toru? Who is the whistling waiter? What is the significance of room 208? The dark hotel is obviously the domain of the dark entity with which Noboru Wataya is aligned. I can speculate that this is some type of spiritual prison maintained for Kumiko by Noboru Wataya, but I find myself wishing that the reason for this place's existence were more clearly defined.

Despite the (as I see them) loose plot ends, I still was quite happy with my overall reading experience. I really enjoyed Nutmeg's/Cinnamon's/Lt. Mamiya's war stories, May Kasahara's stories and letters, and even all the trivial details of Toru's house activities and such. I really was able to connect to Toru, I find him quite a loveable character, and I sympathize with him a great deal. Needless to say, I am more than happy that finally, good triumphed over evil.
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on December 31, 2002
I recently finished reading Murakami's 'Wind-up Bird Chorincle' and frankly I felt a little empty as I put the book on my shelf. Not that the writing was bad or the book wasn't thematically rich, it's just that well . . . the third part of the book is too loose.
I'll refrain from a full plot summary here as there are many good ones already posted. In the third part (or book) the main character is supposed to become even more lost and confused. Murakami reflects this by having him fade out of the narrative most of the time allowing letters, others life stories, or dreams to fill the pages. While I don't doubt this is in interesting, and occassionally successful technique (the war stories are impeccable), it leaves the text too fragmented and without a satisfying resolution (Kano sisters?).
As a proponent of the book I'm certain you'll respond "That's the point!" Okay perhaps. I understand cool cynicism and often engage in it myself. Here is something to keep in mind though, I have read that this translation Vinatage International publishes is severely cut and this probably leads to my dissatisfaction with the text. I can see the outline of what Murakami wants to do but the execution is flawed. Since I am a fan of Murakami's other work I'll say this is a result of the cuts. Unfortunately I cannot read Japanese well enough to see if I am correct here. If you are truly a fan of Murakami please write to Vintage and tell them to restore the book to Rubin's complete translation.
I am not putting this book down completely - bare in mind I gave it four stars. The first two parts are very well done, almost reminiscent of the great book Paul Auster is incapable of writing. Even if I do consider the third part somewhat of a failure, it is an interesting one, not quite Tolstoi's view of Hamlet but as close as you'll get here.
Note: Those new to Murakami read his short stories, Norweigan Wood or the Wild Sheep Chase first to see what he can do.
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on September 2, 2002
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle engages your attention from the first line. The novel is humorous, tragic and disturbing all at once. I must admit, I found myself dozing a bit at intervals when either the main character Toru Okada or his friend Lieutenant Mamiya would discuss the war in Manchuria (honestly, IÕm not a fan or war stories), however I thought that the book was interesting and exciting to read.
This novel is brimming with symbolism. Toru Okada pays meticulous attention to detail and notices everything including the weather, the time, the strange lack of reality in his world, water, pleasure and pain. Throughout the book, Okada searches for something real, tangible, and "concrete" (as he puts it) so that he can have something to hold on to in his world that is sadly deteriorating and becoming more dream-like and less real every moment. For me, this book was mostly about OkadaÕs search for the concrete in an abstract world.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle tested my patience to see how long I could stand a book with a main character who hid himself in a well for about one hundred pages and reflected on life. After finishing the book, I thought about my impatience at that interval and attempted to see where it came from. This book is unlike any other I have ever read; although it is obviously fantastical and mostly unrealistic, it almost seems like the most realistic book I could imagine. I believe that if someone was at the bottom of a well, in the dark, that it would be a time of reflection and contemplation and not a point where the plot needed to take over and propel the story. I suppose that I simply expected for it to end neatly packaged, for it to have a classic resolution, but it did not. It was a pleasant surprise though, because it left me with much to think about.
I really enjoyed MurakamiÕs style, and use of symbolism and intricate details in this story because it left me with a very fulfilling experience both while I read and after I finished. However, I must admit that I was a little disappointed that I never got to know what happened to the little boy who heard the Wind-Up bird from his bedroom window, or what KumikoÕs secret was. I got so interested in what would become of them that it was a tremendous let down that I never found out. In the end, I was both happy and confused. I think I might try picking up another Murakami book, but IÕll have to wait a while. I need to recuperate.
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on September 2, 2002
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle engages your attention from the first line. The novel is humorous, tragic and disturbing all at once. I must admit, I found myself dozing a bit at intervals when either the main character Toru Okada or his friend Lieutenant Mamiya would discuss the war in Manchuria (honestly, IÕm not a fan or war stories), however I thought that the book was interesting and exciting to read.
This novel is brimming with symbolism. Toru Okada pays meticulous attention to detail and notices everything including the weather, the time, the strange lack of reality in his world, water, pleasure and pain. Throughout the book, Okada searches for something real, tangible, and "concrete" (as he puts it) so that he can have something to hold on to in his world that is sadly deteriorating and becoming more dream-like and less real every moment. For me, this book was mostly about OkadaÕs search for the concrete in an abstract world.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle tested my patience to see how long I could stand a book with a main character who hid himself in a well for about one hundred pages and reflected on life. After finishing the book, I thought about my impatience at that interval and attempted to see where it came from. This book is unlike any other I have ever read; although it is obviously fantastical and mostly unrealistic, it almost seems like the most realistic book I could imagine. I believe that if someone was at the bottom of a well, in the dark, that it would be a time of reflection and contemplation and not a point where the plot needed to take over and propel the story. I suppose that I simply expected for it to end neatly packaged, for it to have a classic resolution, but it did not. It was a pleasant surprise though, because it left me with much to think about.
I really enjoyed MurakamiÕs style, and use of symbolism and intricate details in this story because it left me with a very fulfilling experience both while I read and after I finished. However, I must admit that I was a little disappointed that I never got to know what happened to the little boy who heard the Wind-Up bird from his bedroom window, or what KumikoÕs secret was. I got so interested in what would become of them that it was a tremendous let down that I never found out. In the end, I was both happy and confused. I think I might try picking up another Murakami book, but IÕll have to wait a while. I need to recuperate.
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on August 22, 2001
The opening chapters of this book brought the same feeling to me as the original film of Point Blank. Why? Well, despite their superficial differences both works exist in that world of listless summers, dry concrete, abandoned houses and dusty derelict gardens, and journey through the heart of the modern city (Tokyo/Los Angeles), yet a city that seems strangely empty. Echoes of J.G. Ballard here too. Toru Okada, the novel's hero, an aimless happily unemployed everyman, has little in common with Lee Marvin's relentless single-track hitman however. Only wanting to drift, cook pasta and love his wife, the collapse of all these simple domestic pleasures, prefigured by the loss of their cat, pitches him into a wierd underworld of ill-fated war heroes, psychic healers dressed in 60s fashions, a corrupt politician who happens to be his hated brother-in-law, a strange cynical teenage girl (a kind of anti-Lolita) and more. These characters inhabit an impossible dreamspace, swirling under the surface of the sluggish Tokyo summer heat. Okada's happy mundane world becomes filled with threat and dangers glimpsed out of the corner of an eye, but is also opened up to directions that had never before seemed possible, as this space begins to infiltrate and merge with his own reality.
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle features bizarre and memorable characters and, so far as can be determined in translation, a dense realist descriptive style. Its tales of love misplaced and hopeless coincidence echo those of the great Italian writer Italo Calvino, and the sprawling muinutely detailed journeys of George Perec. In his treatment of the fear and uncertainty underneath the superficial order of Japanese society, and an acknowledgement of the long shadow cast by Japanese militarism in the first half of the Twentieth Century, Murakami has much in common with Kobo Abe. He has clearly influenced younder writers like Banana Yoshimoto in his obsessions with new age eccentriciy. As also mentioned, there are hints of Ballard and Nabokov too.
This is all very well, and all very brilliant, until about two thirds of the way through when a major change in the feel of the book occurs and Murakami appears to lose control of the plot (such as it is) and the book ceases to be deep and intriguing and starts to be aimless and baffling. If only Murakami had managed to sustain the book to the end this would have been a masterpiece. As it is, it is still well worth reading, and an exceptional display of imaginative and magical writing.
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on April 13, 1999
When the narrator of a Haruki Murakami novel--always male, 30ish, unnamed, hip, Japanese, westernized, Tokyo-dwelling, and beset with relationship problems--hears his wife tell him she's leaving him, or finds out his business is falling apart, or learns that his colleague and best friend is an alcoholic, he reacts with a surprising degree of equanimity. But when the same narrator finds himself forced by evil international agents to search in the snow country for a magic sheep with a star on its back, or receives a unicorn skull in the mail wanted by the Japanese mafia, or enters an office building on an assignment and finds himself escorted by a voiceless woman down a tunnel into the ground filled with waterfalls and flesh-eating monsters, he reacts with the exact same degree of equanimity. Murakami's heroes have been criticized for being too stiff and emotionally detached from their often shocking surroundings, but the fact is that his narrators have always fit the author's central theme--the staggering uncertainty of everyday modern life, and the bravery we exhibit just by stoically facing it.
In "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," however, the narrator decides to fight back for once. In this sense, the book seems to represent a turning point in the author's career. Rather than watching his cat walk out on him, his wife walk out on him, his very identity walk out on him, the narrator (who's given a name for the first time in a Murakami novel--Toru Okada) decides to fight back and retrieve what he's lost. Not surprisingly, he doesn't fight back by physically assaulting the strange posse of psychics, faith healers, and ghosts that swarm up around him and tease him with clues about the disappearance of his wife (with the exception of one violent baseball bat attack he commits against a creepy folk singer who offered a bad omen in the early days of Toru's marriage). Instead, the narrator fights back by thinking. He fights back by hiding away in an abandoned well in the neighborhood and forcing himself to reflect back on the early days of his marriage, on the reasons that he and his wife got together, and on the reasons that might have driven her to leave him. In this sense, the narrator's self-imposed thinking sessions constitute a kind of "metaphysical psychotherapy"--therapy that's designed, not to cure some mental condition, but to help him regain his identity and to reaffirm his very existence.
The novel's atmosphere is daringly dreamlike: Characters walk through walls, get skinned alive, shoot zoo animals in their cages during WWII, have sexual intercourse with each other in their dreams, and grow strange purple bruises on their faces. Most of the supporting characters (e.g., Malta and Creta Kano, Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka) remind me of the characters in "One Hundred Years of Solitude"--vivid and lifelike, yet identifiable by a single, exaggerated personality trait (e.g., Malta's composure, Creta's physical hypersensitivity, Nutmeg's perfectionism, Cinnamon's orderliness).
This isn't a novel for overly literal-minded people. It's the type of book that gets at truths in the most indirect manner possible, so that the reader may not fully understand what has happened until after finishing the book, so that the narrator may not even fully understand what has taken place until the story is over, so that even the author himself may not have known quite where he was going with the book until he was nearly finished. Overall a colorful, ambitious, haunting, and even terrifying book, and highly recommended.
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on February 1, 1999
As a long-time reader and admirer of Murakami's, I must say I really enjoyed this book. It's his biggest, widest ranging, and I would certainly rate it his best so far. If you are a newcomer to this writer, then you are in for a real experience!
However, coming to the book with a knowledge of his previous work, I must admit to being a little disappointed at the extent to which he recycles his ideas. You could easily argue the case that this book is not much more than a re-working (expanded and improved) of Dance Dance Dance. The plot is the same (man searches for mysteriously disappeared lover), the atmosphere is the same, the central concerns of the uncanny in everyday life and the feeling of reality gone disturbingly awry are the same. Even some of the characters are the same: the intense and rather warped teenage girl, the slickly charismatic bad guy, the passive, unflappable hero who stumbles blindly towards the centre of the mystery. And the central location to which the main character is inescapably drawn seems to be more or less the same luxury hotel as in the earlier novel.
But this is what Murakami does. Each novel has the same main character going through more or less the same experience, and the unsettling worldview that emerges becomes more reassuringly familiar with each trip through the same territory.
Where Murakami breaks new ground here is in his excursion into Japanese history, unearthing the forgotten Manchuria campaign. I actually found this to be the least successful aspect of the book. Far from trying to confront Japan's wartime record honestly and clearly, he creates a sensational little story of a cartoonishly malevolent Russian soldier with his animalistic Mongolian sidekick, against which foil the nobly suffering Japanese characters appear almost saintly. While I am sure that atrocities were committed by the Soviet army, as by all sides in the conflict, and that many ordinary Japanese did suffer terribly at their hands, I can't help feeling that Murakami's account could have done more to show both sides of the picture. The execution of the 'baseball team' by the Japanese lieutenant is perhaps intended to serve this purpose, but it is of a wholly different order to the subhuman barbarity attributed to the enemy.
Plus, the whole Manchurian episode seems to me to be grafted on, rather artificially, to the main story, with which it has little connection. Compared to say, Vonnegut's 'Slaughterhouse Five', where the fantasy elements of the novel combine much more effectively and disturbingly with the historical WWII narrative, I'd have to say that Murakami's novel comes across as considerably less powerful.
So, after such a relentlessly negative review, I'd like to urge you to buy this book and read it, because it is most definitely worth it, especially if you don't know his earlier novels. I've mentioned only my reservations about the book, for the good points, see all the other reviews...
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