By Oliver Davis
Have you ever had an out of body experience? Experienced a strangely placed feeling of deja vu? How about when you visit a quiet spot and have inexplicable flashes of tranquility and timelessness? Well, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicles is essentially the culmination of all those ethereal experiences you’ve ever had rolled into a fantastic journey for love and understanding. Through the use of magic realms, quirky characters, and bizarre encounters, Murakami’s work explores what makes us human.
Reading The Wind Up Bird Chronicles is much akin to embarking on a quiet boat ride into the uncharted waters of the soul. The book begins deceptively ordinarily, with our main character, Toru Okada, out of a job and without ambition, searching for his missing cat. From there, the story slowly spirals into the fantastic as Toru’s search brings him to encounter a pair of whimsical psychic twins, a teenage girl who’s obsessed with death, a mysterious phone-sex operator, and into an old neighborhood house with a tragic past and a gateway to the dream world within its well. As Toru progresses through these encounters, the shrouded personal struggles between him and his wife, Kumiko, as well as their failing efforts to keep their marriage alive, are slowly brought to light.
One day, Toru wakes up to find that Kumiko has mysteriously disappeared without warning and from here, the story enters the rapids of the bizarre and fantastic. Toru’s quest to find his cat evolves into a full blown mission to rekindle his marriage and figure out whether human beings are really able to understand each other. This mission of Toru’s, leads him to discover a whole realm of fantastic oddities ( in addition to the ones already mentioned) including WW 2 veterans who can tell the future, dream sequences that span time and individuals, and pair of clothes designers who practice soothe saying on the side. However that’s not all, in order to Kumiko back, Toru has to go up against the biggest nemesis he has ever encountered, his brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya.
Kumiko’s family shares an ominous secret, within their lineage lies a mysterious and dark power, a power that in the wrong hands gives the user horrific control over others. With a mind tortured by childhood and enormous power in hand, Noboru will stop at nothing to not only keep Toru away from Kumiko, but also to encompass the entirety of Japan and possibly the world within his will. Faced with this indomitable threat, Toru’s to overcome is to use his experiences of self-discovery within his dreams and the relationships he builds with others, in order find the emotional and mental fortitude necessary to resist Noboru’s soul rendering will and get Kumiko back. The novel beautifully captures Toru’s adventure to find whether or not two people can learn to really understand each other in beautiful and brilliant detail that makes the novel a joy to read.
It’s impossible to sing the praises of The Wind Up Bird Chronicles without talking about its author, Haruki Murakami. A man of unique sensibilities, born in Post WW2 era Kyoto, Japan, Haruki Murakami was raised by bibliophiles and surrounded by American and English literature. Spurred on by the love of stories that his upbringing provided, he later went on to study drama, work at record store, become a marathon runner, and open a coffeehouse as well as a jazz bar. Anything that would acquaint him with interesting experiences and new stories. Citing much of these experiences as his inspiration, Murakami draws from his multi-faceted past in order to infuse his works with a very intimate and colorful composition. This intimacy manifests in the way Murakami lovingly describes every detail of his work and explores its grander significance to the story. His characters too, have their quirks explored and their personas fleshed out. To put simply, Murakami loves what he does and the reader can feel that love through this work.
In summation, there is nothing quite like The Wind Up Bird Chronicles. It’s surreal story of a man seeking love and the true meaning of understanding is a compelling original tale as well as a testament to the power of literature to explore the human persona. For those looking for something philosophical, full of flair, lovingly crafted, or just plain different, then I cannot recommend enough Haruki Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicles.