Sometimes books can be exactly like beautiful, perfect pieces of art; created with skill and finesse and care and brilliant ability to the point where the reader might feel they are holding the equivalent of the Mona Lisa in their hands. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami is one of those magical novels that many readers consider to be a perfect work of art; it in fact represents the best this bestselling Japanese author has to offer. His other works employ elements of his mastery, whether its compelling fully-rounded characters that are just fascinating to read about; or a great storyline that sucks you in from the very beginning and keeps you going until the very end; or strong themes that force the reader to think more on the story they are reading, and what meaning and resonance it might have on their own life. But The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the pristine of example employing all these attributes in a perfect work of fiction.
Our unusual and flawed hero is one Toru Okada, who begins the story with a simple quest: to find his lost cat. Okada is unemployed while his wife, Kumiko, spends her days busy at work at a publishing house and he sees her but briefly in the early mornings and late at night before they go to sleep; it is clear that their marriage and relationship is on shaky grounds. Okada challenges himself to find this cat that has gone missing, spending his time searching up and down the streets of this ordinary Tokyo neighborhood. While there is no cat in sight, he soon befriends a most enigmatic teenage girl named May Kasahara who is a classic Murakami character with quirks and unusual characteristics that just make her fascinating to read.
As time passes, no cat is found, and then Kumiko suddenly disappears and Okada finds himself now searching for his wife as well as his cat, as he burns through his savings. Before he knows it, he finds himself unavoidably inveigled in circumstances and experiences that grow weirder by the chapter, as he finds himself sitting at the bottom of a dark well looking up at that small circle of light and sky. Along the way he meets more unusual characters, such as Malta Kano, named after the island of Malta, who has been asked by Kumiko to help find the cat. Then there is her even stranger sister, Creta Kano, named after the island of Crete, who is essentially a psychic prostitute.
Eventually Okada discovers the reason for Kumiko’s disappearance, and has to deal with her weasely and despicable brother, Noboru Wataya (whom they named the cat after), who is a political celebrity well revered in public circles. Okada also meets and begins working with Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka in a most unusual business, as he hopes to find an answer to the strange blue-black spot on his cheek that won’t go away. And finally there is Lieutenant Mamiya who befriends Okada after the passing of a friend in common, and begins to tell him stories of his experiences during the Japanese military efforts in Manchukuo, sharing his own similar experience of spending a long time at the bottom of the well.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the type of lengthy book that can be interpreted in so many different ways, with readers getting different ideas and thoughts and concepts from it; the same reader may even reads it multiple times over a long period and see different aspects and stories in a different light. No matter what preconceptions the reader has as they begin reading this very special book, they will be transported to somewhere they never imagined existed by the very skilled hands and mind of one Haruki Murakami.
Originally written on May 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.
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