The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (I read the German translation, Mister Aufziehvogel) wiggled its way onto my bookshelf thanks to my amazing friends, who gave it to me for my birthday. I’d been wanting to read one of Murakami’s novels for quite a while, but somehow other books were always faster. You know how these things go.
Anyway, I’m very glad the opportunity finally presented itself. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about a young Japanese man, Toru, who has given up his job at a law firm because he knows that working there isn’t what he wants. On the other hand, he doesn’t know what he does want either, so for the moment he’s unemployed and taking care of the household while his wife Kumiko works for a magazine.
And then things somehow go funny. It begins with the disappearance of their cat. Strange people with strange names and abilities (Malta Kano and her sister Creta) suddenly appear in his life instead. Then Kumiko also vanishes. From this point on, nothing in Toru’s life is like it was before. As he tries to find out what happened to Kumiko and how to find her, he descends deeper and deeper into a labyrinth of strangeness, populated by people with mysterious qualities. Each of the characters has a complex story, which is told as the main narrative strand moves along. This is how the novel comes to rake up 765 pages (the German paperback version). Some of the stories are more like mini-novels inside The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, such as the story of Lieutenant Mamiya, a former soldier, and his experiences during the Japanese military involvement in Manchukuo.
Now you might think it would be easy to get confused by all this weirdness. But Murakami has such an arresting, clear – almost laconic – narrative style that at least to me, this didn’t happen.* I was engaged by the story from the start and actually finished it in a record time given its length. Also, as opposed to The Golden Notebook, of whose slow descent into craziness it reminded me a bit at times, the strange ongoings didn’t weird me out. Neither did the fantastic elements (those who know me can attest to the fact that I’m rather, and perhaps unfairly, prejudiced against fantasy). Although fantastic, it’s never ridiculous. Instead, it’s deep, often dark, and sometimes ironic. Never does Toru take himself too seriously, and this gives The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle a relaxed quality its themes might not allow for otherwise.
The bottom line is: I enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t One Of My Favourite Books, but that’s a personal thing I can’t even really explain. Maybe it’s actually the laconic style I just praised. While it makes The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle a fluid read, perhaps it prevents you from identifying more with the main character. I actually just read a post on BookRiot compiling several reviews of Murakami’s latest novel, 1Q84, where his style as commented on varying from “the dullness of his prose” (Sam Sacks in The Wall Street Journal) to “he knows how to make dialogue, even philosophical dialogue, exciting” (Michael Dirda in The Washington Post). Have you read any of Murakami’s books? What do you think?
Either way I thought it was very, very good and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone willing to attempt its over 700 pages.
German title: Mister Aufziehvogel
Spanish title: Crónica del pájaro que da cuerda al mundo
*At this point I have to give some credit to the German translation. Interestingly, it wasn’t translated directly from the Japanese, but via the English version. The translation is by Giovanni and Ditte Bandini. While I don’t know the first thing about Japanese, at no point did the translation sound like germanified (why yes, of course this is a word) English. I thought it was pretty awesome.
Update on the translation: As I wrote above, this was an indirect translation from the English. Some very knowledgeable commenters (see below) alerted me to the fact that the English version was actually truncated (!). I went on to check whether the truncation was carried over into the German version – and of course it was (I found out here). Since this discovery, I feel quite cheated and am much less convinced of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in its German version than previously.