Seth T.'s Reviews > The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
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it was amazing
bookshelves: bookclub
Recommended for: anyone smarter than a bag of hammers

Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is actually probably the best novel I've read in a long time. Granted, many of the novels I've read over the last two years have not been spectacular. There was The Lovely Bones. And then The Ass and the Angel. And then His Dark Materials. And others, none of which I would recommend spending any time with.

Wind-Up Bird on the other hand was worth every moment spent burning through its 610 pages. It was mysterious, absorbing, and informative. Murakami writes in a form and style that makes the act of reading as simple as consuming a volume of Harry Potter. His prose is neither dense nor confusing. It's not his words that propose depth but his ideas.

On top of engaging philosophies of death and identity and epistemology, Murakami couches his world here in a system of reality far more encompassing than our own. His is both reality and meta-reality and the boundary between both permeable and malleable. Things from the realm of mystery make themselves known in the realm of the normal. And contrawise. A wound taken in a dreamworld manifests itself in the waking world and a weapon carried in the waking is available in the dream.

So then is there really any difference? And if so, then does such a difference matter.

At heart, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle seems to be an exploration of fate, of destinies unbidden and prophecies unalterable. Murakami's flaccid protagonist, Toru Okada, moves from passivity to activity as he struggles either to engage his destiny or bend fate to his own need (which one, which one?). There are so many aspects to the story that move characters around outside of their own willpower that Fate clearly has the upper hand, but still, it's fun to watch the struggle.

The story begins when Okada's cat goes missing and his wife Kumiko asks him to find it. Or maybe it begins earlier, when Kumiko gets pregnant. Or maybe it begins still earlier when Kumiko's sister dies. Or earlier still, during the years leading up to WWII. Whatever the case, everything is connected through gossamer tendrils of fate and pain and anguish and collective identity.

And then there's the wind-up bird, the unseen bird whose cry sounds like a spring being wound—the bird who winds up the world, a stand-in for fate who propels things and people to and fro, loosing and staunching the flow of life and the stream of reality.

This was the second book of Murakami's I have indulged—the first was [book:Kafka on the Shore, a number of years ago—and I can't wait to read it again. Wind-Up Bird is actually far more easily understood that Kafka and despite the same presence of such a magical reality, the story elements more easily combine to paint a sensible landscape. Still, Wind-Up Bird leaves plenty robed in mystery and will give readers a feast of afterthoughts (I spent my lunch break scouring the internet for critique—to little avail, alas!). The dialogue is crisp and occasionally crackles, especially where the Kasahara character is at play.

I have only one thing to say in criticism of the book. In a climactic chapter, the protagonist explains everything (to some extent) to the reader and another character. I felt ripped off by this, as if the author couldn't trust me to be engaged enough to piece things out on my own, though my conclusion had been identical. (Though from reading some of the Amazon reviews from people who still didn't get it, I suppose it was necessary after all.) Unless we're not meant to trust Okada's interpretation... Okada certainly has his own doubts, but it didn't seem to me that Murakami was trying to capitalize on the whole untrustworthy narrator bit—he seems more interested in more interesting matters.

In any case, awesome book. High recommendations for everyone except stuffy evangelicals ^_^
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
April 10, 2008 – Shelved
October 8, 2009 – Shelved as: bookclub

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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Kristen This book is on my 2010 to-read list based on your recommendation... and the fact that you love it enough to make it Sonata's nom de womb. No pressure, I usually dig what you like, general fiction wise. (Not enough of a comic and graphic novel reader to extrapolate that far.)


Seth T. Let me know what you wind up thinking about it. I assigned it to our bookclub last year and for the most part, people were very engaged in it and the discussion was lively.


message 3: by Chad (new) - added it

Chad Sayban I'm nearly finished with 1Q84 and have fallen in love with the subtlety of Murakami's writing. Based on your review, this is going to be my next book of his.


Seth T. I enjoyed 1Q84 quite a bit, but still think it sits only in the upper middle pack of his books. Wind-Up is my favourite. If you want something a little more mundane, South of the Border, West of the Sun is fantastic and much more tightly wound.


Annie Matsumoto Incredible review. Thanks a lot!


laura Wind-Up actually passes in terms of cohesion and conclusion where other samples of Murakami's writing have "failed" (for lack of better words). He tends to rely on the same characters and thematic elements novel after novel. You were right on target with your comment about his “ideas” being the main appeal in his writing.

My personal Murakami favorite is Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. From what I can gather from your review above, I think you will “get” this book, where other readers may miss the point… Thanks for the thoughtful review; I’m considering embellishing my thoughts after reading yours. Nah, I’m tired! J


Seth T. Hardboiled Wonderland is one of his books I've been saving. I hear so many good things about it, that I'd like to use it as a the capstone of his current bibliography. I did read the first couple chapters several years ago and deeply enjoyed the visual imagery he employed.


laura Not a bad plan. That book seriously blew my mind. For weeks I couldn't remove the content from my head. I told everyone that I knew about it. My twin sister had recommended it to me, and it was the first book I read by Murakami. It is completely different from any of his other works that I have encountered thus far. The ending still completely blows me away, just reminiscing about it. Wow.


Seth T. I can't imagine a better recommendation! Thanks.


message 11: by Sheva (new) - added it

Sheva It's an interesting review. Makes me want to buy this book soon. What I have in mind is: Is there any relationship between Toru Okada and Toru Watanabe? I mean, they have the same family names.


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