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"The Wind Up Bird Chronicle" review

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was given to me by someone who had a rather profound experience while reading it. It literally shook him completely and caused him to take a keen eye to the state of his life at the time. Knowing this going into it, I spent most of the book seeking the moment that would be profound enough to make me feel something that intensely.

I can't say that moment ever happened for me. To be sure, "Wind-Up Bird" is engrossing. The protagonist is going through a crisis of life that begins banal: his wife leaves him after seven very uneventful years of marriage; and then he slips into an underworld of psychics whose powers are never fully explained, war veterans whose mental injuries are never fully explained, and finally to an alternate reality whose entire basis is never fully explained.

There lies my real problem with the book. It feels as if Murakami spends hundreds of pages creating a world overflowing with symbolism, but none of the symbols are ever cashed in. I understand that everything and everyone in the novel is connected, but I have little idea why they are or what it means. Near the end, the protagonist says of the ordeal, "Well, finally, the events I've been through have been tremendously complicated. All kinds of characters have come on the scene, and strange things have happened one after another, to the point where, if I try to think about them in order, I lose track." Indeed, there are an incredible array of characters, settings, objects, and events colliding with each other. But by the end, I feel I'm hardly closer to understanding WHY they were brought together. I have no doubt that this is purposeful. Murakami seems to be giving only exactly as much information as he wants you to have, and all inferences are welcome.

There are quite a few passages of real emotional resonance in the book, but they are usually those that are separate from the "main" narrative, such as the horrific/fantastical experiences of a man in China during wartime, or letters from a 17 year old girl who is attempting to simplify and understand her life. These short passages really work because they contain Murakami's great imagination within a very digestible package while the main narrative rambles on and on. For me, the most beautiful parts of the book were the simplest in structure: the repeated memory of his wife's back as he zipped up her dress on their last day together, the endless descriptions of the the everyday details of preparing meals, the warmth of holding a cat, or the quiet of watching the yard from the porch as it rains. I loved these parts, and I was floored by the complexity of the world he was able to create. But ironically (or not) by the end I felt just like the protagonist, who spends most of the book asking the constantly enigmatic characters around him to tell him, "one concrete fact." I just hoped the complexity and beautiful prose would add up to something more concrete in the end.

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December 2008

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