Review: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

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For this week’s review, I decided to do the first book review I’ve done in a long while. I couldn’t resist, because I just finished Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I was so excited by it that I had to write about it right away.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, translated from the Japanese, begins with a young man cooking pasta who receives a mysterious phone call from a stranger. In short order, his cat has disappeared, and during the search for the cat, the man’s wife disappears as well. Our hero is soon pulled into a dreamlike and ominous world of mysterious characters, psychic disturbances, sinister villains, and shocking memories of violence and destruction. This novel is large in scope, but stays deeply compelling because of the very personal, intimate nature of the husband-wife relationship at the core of the story.

Murakami is a celebrated author of the surreal, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle could certainly be called surreal: most of the time as you read, you won’t be sure whether you’re walking through a dream or reality. Most books like this I find tiresome and contrived, but this novel keeps you on the edge of your seat, completely engaged with the action. It is more like a noir crime novel than a dreamy meditation; you’re kept wondering what will happen next.

The writing (in translation) is beautiful, but what will hold you most is the plethora of compelling stories. At times, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle begins to seem like The Arabian Nights as new characters come forward and tell their stories. Each has something shocking to tell, whether it is about World War II atrocities, lurid sexual pasts, or troubling family dramas. The final climax had me practically tearing at the pages as I read on the subway. I couldn’t read fast enough, which is always an exciting experience to have with a book. It had been a while since I was so delighted and enthralled by a novel; now I know why so many people have raved about this book. If you can tolerate surrealism, this is a book to read. I’ll be eager to try Murakami’s other novel, Kafka On the Shore.