The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was the first book by Haruki Murakami I ever read. My father picked it up in a used bookstore and we did battle over it until we had both finished, discussing it every evening over dinner. I would consider it my introduction to modern Japanese fiction; after I read this book, I tracked down more Murakami, and I got into Junichiro Tanizaki and Kenzaburo Oe. It was the beginning of what I think will be a life-long love affair with Japanese fiction, so it seemed appropriate to return to it this week, when I found an inexpensive copy at the bookstore.
This book is extremely hard to talk about because it’s so complex and surreal. I can’t even really tell you what it’s about, and this is what I like about Murakami. To understand it, you’re going to have to read the book for yourself, and you probably won’t get it then, either. I’ve probably read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle over ten times, and the book is a total mystery to me, at once minutely detailed and then sweeping.
You could call this book a journey into darkness, but that wouldn’t really be quite accurate. It’s sort of about finding yourself, but not precisely. What I love is the complex tapestry of strange characters, unusual names, conflicting motivations. There’s a sense of mystery that fills the book and the people in it. One of the reviews of the book describes it as a “labyrinth,” and I think that’s really accurate. I do have the sense of wandering, confused, through a meandering trail I can only really see a part of when I read this book.
If you hadn’t gathered, I like this book. A lot. I have a soft spot for surrealist fiction, but it’s really hard to do well, in a way which is gripping and enjoyable, and I think that Murakami is a master of it. Japanese fiction in general often has a note of surrealism about it which I like, but Murakami has brought it to a whole new level. There are some things about this book which are very fixed, precise, and clear, and that’s what makes it all the more delightful and perplexing. I think it’s kind of like using a big telescope; you sweep across the sky looking for something, see it for an instant in perfect focus, and then lose it again and wonder what it was you just saw.
If I ever decide to write fiction, I hope I’m half as talented as Murakami.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami. Translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin. Published 1994, 607 pages. Fiction.