Arguably the most well-known book by Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was the seventh novel of his that I’ve read. I was reasonably impressed by it, though not as blown away as a good number of people seem to be.
The book carries the tone familiar to all the books of his that I’ve read. The world within this novel is surreal and dreamlike; and while much of the book is rooted in reality, there are distinct aspects of the supernatural or the fantastic mixed in. The fact that this is common in most of his work is the reason why he isn’t my #1 favorite writer. My favorite book of his, and the one that will most likely remain my favorite of his, is Norwegian Wood because it’s based solely in reality.
Now, that small criticism aside, Wind-Up Bird is well worth-while. Although the plot is slow at times, the text is stimulating and easy to fall into. It’s thought-provoking in ways that most other novels I’ve read recently are not. At one point I had to put the book down in order to consider a question that was posed: one of the protagonist’s young friends, May Kasahara, ponders whether humans would bother with philosophy or religion if they knew without a doubt that they were immortal (I’m convinced that yes, they would, but perhaps someone else is of a different opinion).
An interesting thing to note about this novel is its insight into a side of World War II that few Westerners could know anything about unless they made a special effort to study it. Much of the book is focused on the Japanese Manchuria campaign, and having once been a history major some moons ago, I found it fascinating. I may have to do some more reading about it in order to satisfy my remaining curiosity. If you’re not into history, don’t let this aspect of the book deter you from reading it; the parts that focus on the campaign are just as well-written as the rest of the book, less textbook than period novel. So no fear!
One thing that keeps me coming back to Murakami is his use of rhetorical devices. His metaphors and similes are always fresh and original, not cliché. For example, at one point the protagonist is describing how he couldn’t stop thinking about something, how he was “thinking about it over and over, like a cat watching the rainfall.” Notice he didn’t write “like a broken record player;” instead he invoked a new and equally fitting image, and he does this consistently. It’s most welcome and refreshing. (By the way, I just spent the last minute trying to come up with a simile for how refreshing it is, but decided I’d just embarrass myself.)
All-in-all, a great 645 pages!