January 23rd, 2011


Book Review: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

One-line summary: Unemployed loser Toru Okada goes on a trip to rival Alice's when his wife disappears, but his rabbit-hole is a well, the vanishing cat shares his evil brother-in-law's name, and his quest is weirder and bloodier.

Vintage, 1997 (in English; first published in 1994 in Japan), 613 pages. Translated by Jay Rubin.

Japan's most highly regarded novelist now vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel, which is at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II.

In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan's forgotten campaign in Manchuria.

Gripping, prophetic, suffused with comedy and menace, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a tour de force equal in scope to the masterpieces of Mishima and Pynchon.

3 books in one volume: The Thieving Magpie, Bird as Prophet, The Birdcatcher. This translation by Jay Rubin is in collaboration with the author.

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Verdict: This is a strange, surreal story of domestic disruption, horrific war crimes, dark deeds vaguely described, and metaphysical experiences, written in a prose style that may not appeal to everyone. You might call it a hero's quest to uncover a mystery in a world of magical realism, or maybe that's trying to force a Western paradigm onto it. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle frustrated me at times, but it was worth reading, and keeps me fascinated by Murakami's writing.

I did not read this book for the books1001 challenge (I happened to be reading it already), but it is one of the books on the list of 1001 literary novels we are trying to read and review before the end of the year, and it could be yours! Join us for a reading challenge that will introduce you to books you likely would never have read, and enjoy YA-vampire-romance-free reviews.