An exploration of both human suffering and surrealist universes, Haruki Murakami’s acclaimed masterpiece, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a confusing yet fascinating experience which is sure to surprise you with every page.
“A surrealist detective story, following how one man’s somewhat pitifully mundane life spirals into a violent and erotic nightmare”
Murakami has been a prominent author for decades and his books often garner not only critical praise but also huge following from his loyal fans. This was my first attempt at reading one of his works, and I can say that now I fully appreciate why he is so immensely popular: for the uniqueness of the stories he tells.
At its core, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle appears comically simple. Toru Okada, an unemployed married man, looks for his lost cat in the alleyway next to his house.
But we soon discover it’s not just the cat: there’s the mysteriously sexual anonymous calls Toru starts receiving, the unsettling abandoned house nearby with a dark past, and an assortment of curious and utterly different characters we are introduced to, who, when seen from a distance, would seem like they would never fit into the same book in a coherent manner.
“Surrounded by a huge cast of bizarre and enigmatic figures”
From a pretty teen girl obsessed with the wonders of death, to a pair of mystic sisters who understand personal things about Toru which nobody else seems to, even to his reserved and estranged wife, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is, at its very essence, a surrealist detective story, following how one man’s somewhat pitifully mundane life spirals into a violent and erotic nightmare as he tries to recover things that have been lost, and is surrounded by a huge cast of bizarre and enigmatic figures.
I have never read a book structured in such an unconventional manner: shifting in time and location to various different settings in an unhinged manner, you progressively feel like more and more, you are reading an assortment of different stories with intriguing parallels being rolled into the same, dreamlike universe.
“You are basically lost within the huge cosmos of Toru Okada’s existence”
The story keeps getting bigger and bigger, with more characters, more subplots and more themes, until you are basically lost within the huge cosmos of Toru Okada’s existence.
“The only thing that remains persistent throughout the book is Toru’s perspective”
The only thing that remains persistent throughout the book is Toru’s perspective. Our proximity to this character, who with every page is plunged further and further into a dark and troubling underworld, is claustrophobic at times, for he is the only part of the book which we truly know and can understand in its entirety.
However, regardless of the huge number of people that Toru meets throughout the plot, his sense of loneliness is palpable, intensified by the emotional abandonment and odd disconnect he exerts towards these outlandish occurrences.
“You soon become immersed in this chaotic yet magical story”
Though disorientating in its strangeness, there are recurring themes explored in the book: war, pain, loss, lust, sex, dreams and reality. These themes intertwine throughout the plot in a dizzying manner, and you soon become immersed in this chaotic yet magical story.
“A disturbing glimpse into both emotional and physical hurt”
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle at times seems unnecessary: a disturbing glimpse into both emotional and physical hurt, both solemn and perverse interactions. It has sorrow and it has violence, and as a reader, you can sometimes become frustrated with Toru’s apparent apathy towards the destructive mayhem happening within his life.
“This turmoil is never bleak, but rather overwhelmingly vibrant due to Murakami’s masterful embrace of magical realism”
However, this turmoil is never bleak, but rather overwhelmingly vibrant due to Murakami’s masterful embrace of magical realism. As a reader, you are encompassed in a finely crafted tale: a dark and horrifying dream, a beautiful and dynamic nightmare.
Murakami puts forward a unique and essential message in the book: you cannot foresee the future, you cannot predict; when your Wind-Up Bird calls, the direction in which your life is plunged into is inevitable. And though the book deals heavily with the idea of melancholy, it never conveys a sense of hopelessness. On the contrary, it places much more emphasis on the idea of vital human interactions and individual perseverance.
The true purpose of Murakami’s surrealist plots was best explained by the author himself: “People say my books are weird, but beyond the weirdness, there should be a better world. It’s just that we have to experience the weirdness before we get to the better world […] you have to go through the darkness, through the underground, before you get to the light.”
“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a wildly entertaining and thought-provoking journey into the ambiguities of human consciousness
Just as Toru doesn’t know what dark rabbit hole his life will be thrown into next, and just as nobody can ever really know where their life will end up taking them, so this book also accomplishes this strange sense of essential unpredictability, whilst never neglecting an overarching feeling of endurance and hope. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a wildly entertaining and thought-provoking journey into the ambiguities of human consciousness, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Mateus de Sá
Featured Image courtesy of Haruki Murakami Official Facebook Page.