Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Review

Japanese writer Haruki MurakamiImage via Wikipedia

If you like quirky, vulgar, enigmatic, and yet lyrical and philosophical flashes—you’ll like this novel. Listen to the sounds, for the sounds and mundane imagery of the very beginning of the novel will be give the reader a sample of the strange and surreal:
"When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini's The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta"

The voice is that of the narrator Toru Okada, an unemployed law graduate, who by resisting the call of the corporate structure becomes an outsiders—a misfit to his wife, relatives, and society. Toru Okada has quit his job as a paralegal and spends his days reading and fixing dinner for his magazine editor wife.

In no time we are introduced to odd-ball characters and odd events: an obscene phone call; Malta Kano, a weird psychic who's searching (or so we are led to believe) for his lost cat; her sister, Creta, who dresses like Jackie Kennedy and tells a painful story; next, attempted suicide, and prostitution (both of the mind and body).
And then we meet the villain: Toru's sinister brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya.

For readers unschooled in the postmodern world of simulacra (as expounded by Jean Baudrillard) will have a hard time suspending the disbelief: that a cyber-villain can cross over and interact in the real world. Then again, the real world in the novel is a world of disorder, mutation, transformations where unity, foundations and continuities are barely existent. While Toru is a post-modern antihero, his latches on figures, themes, and personalities of a by-gone era: in procession we see a sad caravan of Western cultural icons—Rossini, Claudio Abbado, De Chirico, Bach, and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.
Despite the cultural icons mentioned, Toru’s world is an alien world where darkness gets encrusted in his soul, tormenting him to no end.

And as if current memories were not enough to haunt Toru’s mind, he finds himself immersed in history. Lieutenant Mamiya (a WWII veteran) graphically tells Toru of the cruelties and atrocities he witnessed on the Mongolian front and Soviet prison camps. Of all the constellation of events that happen in the novel, the graphic depiction of Japanese cruelty in the Second World War is moving and effective. Moving, for one would have to be pathologically callous not to feel the inhumanity and savagery of war; effective, for events of that nature have been cleansed from the history books.

If the author set off to teach a moral lesson, we must agree that he did accomplish it: war makes humans inhuman, and that the inhuman make war.
As readers have their fill of the strange, and to prop up a flagging end, we are quickly introduced to a well-dressed mother-son duo that have a personal formula to make lots of cash.

Not only is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle a sprawling and at times amorphous novel, but a deliberately chaotic one. Faced with a society —high tech and postmodern— that is devoid of happiness, the narrator goes on searching for something he doesn’t quite know what— his identity perhaps?
"This person, this self, this me, finally, was made somewhere else. Everything had come from somewhere else, and it would all go somewhere else. I was nothing but a pathway for the person known as me."

Or maybe Toru —being wifeless and friendless— simply enjoys the terrorizing feeling that is loneliness:
"But even so, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness. The very water I drink, the very air I breathe, would feel like long, sharp needles. The pages of a book in my hands would take on the threatening metallic gleam of razor blades. I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning."

For most of the novel, Toru is passive, as he lets things happen to him. But eventually he will begin to act. Yet one has the feeling that Toru doesn’t have a change, that chaos, chance, and maybe even destiny will claim him.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about, amongst other things, a missing cat, a missing wife, a story-within-a-story about Japan's re-birth from the ashes of the Second World War, involvement in Manchuria, psychics, psychic prostitutes, morbid high school girls, a creepy scholar-cum-politician and —yes, the theme of the book— bird species.

Although The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is an imperfect novel, it is quite entertaining and it contains passages of moral value and redemption. It also offers —in translation— fluidity of language, rhythm, rhetorical techniques, as well as lyrical flashes. But for the serious reader, the novel is replete with cogitations about existence:
"Here's what I think, Mr. Wind-Up Bird," said May Kasahara. "Everybody's born with some different thing at the core of their existence. And that thing, whatever it is, becomes like a heat source that runs each person from the inside. I have one too, of course. Like everybody else. But sometimes it gets out of hand. It swells or shrinks inside me, and it shakes me up. What I'd really like to do is find a way to communicate that feeling to another person. But I can't seem to do it. They just don't get it. Of course, the problem could be that I'm not explaining it very well, but I think it's because they're not listening very well. They pretend to be listening, but they're not, really. So I get worked up sometimes, and I do some crazy things."

Haruki Murakami’s lengthy novel is a great accomplishment for Japanese letters. Whether it can compete with the great Western classics such as Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the Brontes’ Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, or even Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is a different matter.
All in all a great dreamy read.
Augustine, City of God
Austen J, Pride and Prejudice
Austen J, "Marriage Proposals and Me"
Austen J, Emma
Borges, The Aleph
C. Bronte, Jane Eyre
Burroughs E,Tarzan
Cervantes, Don Quijote
Chaucer, Wife of Bath
Coelho P,The Alchemist
Coyle H, They Are Soldiers
Dante, New Life
Dickens C, David Copperfield
Dostoevsky, Crime&Punishment
ConanDoyle,Hound of Baskervilles
Dubner S, Superfreakonomics

DuMaurier D, Rebecca
Ellis B. E. American Psycho
Fitzgerald S, Great Gatsby
Flaubert G, Madame Bovary
Fleming I,Doctor No
Freud S, Leonardo Da Vinci
Friedan B, Feminine Mystique
GarciaMarquez, Of Love & OtherDemons
Guerrero M,ThePoison Pill
If you are interested in seeing how I achieved personal success in the United States, you may find my book of short stories East of Tiffany's interesting. Some of the stories are based on my life as an executive, investment banker, and financial adviser to wealthy investors in the East Side of Manhattan.
Close to half-million people have read East of Tiffany's so far. Order your copy from either or Barnes and Noble.

Since English is my second language, Mary Duffy --a master of the English language-- aided me not only with the editing, but she also contributed her own stories. I love her writing in "When You Wish Upon a Star." This is a story based on a personal friend's life.

More Book Reviews...!

Grass G, The Tin Drum
Harris T, Hannibal Rising
Heidegger M,House of Being
Ishiguro K, Remains of The Day
Johnson S,Rasselas
Kosinski J, The Painted Bird
Lee H,To Kill a Mockingbird
McBain Ed,Gutter and Grave
Murakami H,Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Nabokov V, Lolita
Meyer, S, Twilight
Ortega,Dehumanization of Art
Poe E A, Gordon Pym
Prose F, Reading Like a Writer
Rushdie S,Midnight Children
Sabatini R, Scaramouche
Spark M, Prime of Miss Brodie

Stendhal, Red and Black
Sterne L,Tristram Shandy
Stevenson R, Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde
Stoker B, Dracula
Thackeray W,History of Pendennis
Tolstoy L, Anna Karenina
Trollope A, Autobiography
Unamuno M, Tragic Sense of Life
Voltaire, Candide
Webb J, Fields of Fire
Wharton E, The House of Mirth
Woolf V, To The Lighhouse

The secrets of 'no-doze' prose:
Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers

Lindsey Vonn

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