The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

( 203 )

Overview

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 ...

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
An ancient well. A wind-up bird. A missing cat. A pair of psychic sisters. Like portents in a dream, animals, images, and people materialize and vanish throughout Haruki Murakami's ambitious, Kafkaesque new novel. Alternately alienating and seductive, the narrative's effect on the reader is one of profound disorientation: Where, Murakami asks, does the line between fantasy and reality lie? How responsible are individuals for atrocities their country committed in the past? And can the overwhelming power of history in fact change the course of the present?

These questions and others are filtered through Murakami's narrator, a gentle, 30-something ex-law firm gofer named Toru Okada. Okada has recently quit his job, lives in suburban Tokyo with his wife, Kumiko, and cat, Noboru Wataya (named after his despised brother-in-law, a politician on the rise). Singularly unambitious, he spends his days cooking and cleaning, until one day, suddenly, his cat disappears, unleashing an avalanche of bizarre events. Okada begins receiving obscene phone calls. Next he encounters the mysterious Malta Kano and her younger sister Creta, a former prostitute who has graduated to become a "prostitute of the mind," seducing strangers in their dreams. The tragedies of Creta's life were catalyzed, she claims, by her "defilement" by Okada's brother-in-law — an incident that sapped her completely of her identity. Soon after, Kumiko inexplicably abandons Okada, who, unmoored, befriends his adolescent neighbor, May Kasahara, a high school dropout who conducts sidewalk surveys for a wig manufacturer.

Eventsbecome yet more surreal when Okada discovers a dry well on the grounds of a neighboring house and begins descending it regularly in search of solitude. In its depths, he discovers he can "pass through" the subterranean well wall, accessing a hotel room that may or may not be a figment of his imagination. (Did I mention that psychoanalysts will love this novel?) In the room he is seduced by an unnamed woman, an encounter that leaves his cheek marked with a feverish deep blue spot, a stigma that later links him to the story of another marked man, a Japanese veterinarian, in a Manchurian zoo in the waning days of World War II.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is not just the story of Okada's descent (or perhaps ascent) into the surreal, however. The narrative is a pastiche of the stories of all the characters who appear in Okada's life: among others, Creta Kano, May Kasahara, and Lieutenant Mamiya, the ex-soldier who fought in the war with Mr. Honda, a now-deceased family friend of the Okadas. Each is seeking to understand a certain hollowness at the core of their beings. And each of their stories presents an elegant riddle, full of symbols, signs, and events that echo details in each other's tales, giving the narrative a dense, Rashomon-like quality. Mamiya's chapters describing his experiences in outer Mongolia during World War II are particularly mesmerizing. After watching a fellow officer, Yamamoto, being skinned alive, Mamiya is thrown into a well and left for dead, where he experiences an epiphany that he later recounts to Okada.

What I wanted to convey to you was my feeling that real life may have ended for me deep in that well in the desert of Outer Mongolia. I feel as if, in the intense light that shone for a mere ten or fifteen seconds a day in the bottom of the well, I burned up the very core of my life.... [A]s honestly and simply as I can state it, no matter what I have encountered, no matter what I have experienced since then, I ceased to feel anything in the bottom of my heart. Even in the face of those monstrous Soviet tank units...a kind of numbness was all I felt. Something inside me was already dead. Perhaps as I felt at the time, I should have died in that light, simply faded away. That was the time for me to die. But, as Mr. Honda had predicted, I did not die there. Or perhaps I should say that I could not die there.

Okada himself experiences that same emptiness decades later at the bottom of his neighborhood well:

It felt extremely strange not to be able to see my own body with my own eyes, though I knew it must be there. Staying very still in the darkness, I became less and less convinced of the fact that I actually existed.... My body began to lose its density and weight, like sand gradually being washed away by flowing water. I felt as if a fierce and wordless tug-of-war were going on inside me, a contest in which my mind was slowly dragging my body into its own territory.... The thought struck me that my own body was a mere provisional husk that had been prepared for my mind by a rearrangement of the signs known as chromosomes. If the signs were rearranged yet again, I would find myself inside a wholly different body than before. "Prostitute of the mind," Creta Kano had called herself. I no longer had any trouble accepting the phrase....

This sense of incorporeality, of the permeable membrane between substance and air, flesh and fantasy, reality and dream, pervades the book. As a set piece, the skinning of Yamamoto is a literal — and grotesque — representation of the book's persistent themes: What constitutes identity? What lies beneath our surfaces? What separates us from one another? If the "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" is occasionally too cryptic, it is also true that the philosophical labyrinth Murakami has created is rich and engrossing. (One other quibble: The book is too long and could have benefited from additional editing.) When Okada, in one chapter, is given a present left for him by the now-deceased Mr. Honda, he unwraps layer after layer of carefully sealed wrapping paper only to discover an empty box. Improvise your own meanings, Murakami seems to dare us. In doing so, he is rapidly becoming one of the most provocative novelists at work today.
—Sarah Midori Zimmerman is a writer and editor in New York City.

From the Publisher
“Dreamlike and compelling. . . . Murakami is a genius.” —Chicago Tribune

“Mesmerizing. . . . Murakami’s most ambitious attempt yet to stuff all of modern Japan into a single fictional edifice.” —The Washington Post Book World

“A significant advance in Murakami’s art . . . a bold and generous book.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A stunning work of art . . . that bears no comparisons.” —New York Observer

“With The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Murakami spreads his brilliant, fantastical wings and soars.” —Philadelphia Inquirer

“Seductive. . . . A labyrinth designed by a master, at once familiar and irresistibly strange.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“An epic . . . as sculpted and implacable as a bird by Brancusi.” —New York Magazine

“Mesmerizing, original . . . fascinating, daring, mysterious and profoundly rewarding.” —Baltimore Sun

“A beguiling sense of mystery suffuses The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and draws us irresistibly and ever deeper into the phantasmagoria of pain and memory. . . . Compelling [and] convincing.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Digs relentlessly into the buried secrets of Japan’s past . . . brilliantly translated into the latest vernacular.” —Pico Iyer, Time

Chicago Tribune
Murukami is a genius.
Laura Miller

For a guy who rarely leaves his own block, Toru Okada, the decent, if hapless, hero of Haruki Murakami's new novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, has a lot of adventures. At the book's beginning, he's left his job as a paralegal and spends his days reading and cooking dinner for his magazine editor wife. First, an obscene phone call from a woman who seems to know him awfully well disrupts his sleepy routine. Then he meets Malta Kano, an enigmatic psychic who's supposedly searching for his lost cat; her sister, Creta, who dresses like Jackie Kennedy and relates a life history of overwhelming physical pain, attempted suicide, prostitution and a traumatic encounter with Toru's sinister brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya; Lt. Mamiya, a WWII vet who tells him of the atrocities he witnessed on the Mongolian front and Soviet prison camps; and, eventually, an extremely well-dressed mother-son duo who introduce him to an unusual way of making lots of cash. When he needs a break, he pals around with the 16-year-old girl who lives down the street -- or mulls things over while sitting at the bottom of a dry well behind a vacant house.

Murakami is that unusual creature, a metaphysical novelist with a warm, down-to-earth voice and a knack for creating credible characters and spinning a lively yarn. Best known in this country for his 1989 novel A Wild Sheep Chase, Murakami leavens the arresting philosophical symbolism of modern Japanese fiction with a goofy sensibility shaped by American pop culture -- he's like Paul Auster with a heart and a sense of humor. From the beginning, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has the easy authority of the work of a natural-born storyteller, and each eccentric character and odd development only adds to the anticipation that Murakami will tie it all up in a satisfying resolution. He expertly twines themes of suffering and inner emptiness with Toru's covert battle against the evil Noboru Wataya, an economic pundit of slippery charisma. Profoundly vacant, Wataya realizes that "consistency and an established worldview were excess baggage in the intellectual mobile warfare that flared up in the mass media's tiny time segments." He parlays this cunning into a political career, of course. Wataya is the precise opposite of the humble Toru, and at first this appears to be the sole source of their antipathy.

The first 600 pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle offer much unadulterated reading pleasure, and it's only as the remaining pages grow ominously sparse that the proverbial sinking feeling sets in. Even if he does provide for Toru, Murakami can't, in the end, gather all his novel's intriguing subplots and mysterious minor characters together convincingly, and he summarily drops whole handfuls of loose ends. Like the mark in a brilliant con game, I closed The Wind-up Bird Chronicle feeling somewhat bereft, but still so dazzled by Murakami's skill that I couldn't quite regret having come along for the ride. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly

Amazingly long, incredibly pricey, wildly experimental, often confusing but never boring, Murakami's most famous novel has been brought to audio life with extreme dedication: by Naxos, a company that regularly wins prizes, and by a reader with an uncommon combination of skills. Degas is already a Murakami veteran, having read the audio version of A Wild Sheep Chase(Naxos), and has worked on radio, stage and even cartoon voice (including Mr. Bean). He catches the constantly changing mental landscape of Murakami's fertile imagination—which moves from detective story to explicit sexual fantasy, heartbreaking Japanese WWII historical flashback, everyday details of married life (cooking, shopping and pet care) and even the occasional burst of satiric humor. Degas treats it all with the clarity and calmness of a very deep, very still pool. Certainly not for everyone's taste or budget, but anyone interested in this important author will find something to enlighten them. Available as a Vintage paperback (Reviews, Aug. 18. 1997). (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Jamie James
Murakami has written a bold and generous book. -- The New York Times Book Review
Newsweek
Magnificent. . . .[Murakami] has taken a pre-millennial swing for the fences a la David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo.
Chicago Tribune
Murukami is a genius.
Kirkus Reviews
Not merely a big book from the broadly respected Murakami (Dance Dance Dance, 1994), but a major work bringing signature themes of alienation, dislocation, and nameless fears through the saga of a gentle man forced to trade the familiar for the utterly unknown.

Narrator Toru Okada quit his law-office job in Tokyo. Then he and his wife Kumiko lost their cat. Then Kumiko goes to work one day, and he never sees her again. The loss is overwhelming, but when two psychic sisters take an interest in Okada, to the point of entering his dreams, and a teenage neighbor shares with him her obsession with death, to the point of almost killing him, Okada realizes he's into something over his head. Of course, if he hadn't climbed into the dry well of a nearby vacant house, the teenager wouldn't have had a chance to get at him—and neither would he have had an out-of-body experience that left him with a bluish mark the size of a baby's palm on his cheek. And if he hadn't heard the chilling reminiscence of an old soldier who'd been thrown by his captors into a well in the Mongolian desert at the start of WW II, he never would have wanted to see for himself what a well-bottom was like. And if he hadn't married Kumiko, he wouldn't have the ire of her powerful, venomous brother now turned on him. And yet even so, suddenly, subtly, Okada's fortunes change: Brought through the mark on his cheek into an alliance with another team of psychics, this one mother and son, he acquires the vacant house and its well—and moves deliberately toward a confrontation with the evil that took Kumiko away and all but destroyed him.

On a canvas stretched from Manchuria to Malta, and with sound effectsfrom strange birdcalls to sleigh bells in cyberspace, this is a fully mature, engrossing tale of individual and national destinies entwined. It will be hard to surpass.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679775430
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Pages: 624
  • Sales rank: 921
  • Product dimensions: 7.98 (w) x 5.10 (h) x 1.33 (d)

Meet the Author

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo.  The most recent of his many honors is the Yomiuri Literary Prize, whose previous recipients include Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe, and Kobo Abe.  He is the author of the novels Dance, Dance, Dance, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and A Wild Sheep Chase, and of The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of stories.  His latest novel, South of the Border, West of the Sun, will be published by Knopf in 1999.  His work has been translated into more than fifty languages.

Biography

The The story of how Haruki Murakami decided to become a novelist says a lot about his work, because it is as strange and culturally diffuse as the works he writes. While watching a baseball game in Toyko in 1978 between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp, Murakami witnessed an American hit a double. At the crack of the bat, Murakami -- who had never had any ambition to write because he assumed he didn't have the talent -- decided that he should begin a novel. He then started his first book, in the night hours after work.

If you're waiting for a connection between the double and the epiphany, there isn't one. It's often that way in Murakami's fiction, where cultures blend and seemingly incongruous, inexplicable events move the story forward. People disappear or transform as quickly as the worlds around them, and the result is a dreamlike atmosphere that blends mystery, magic realism and sci-fi while remaining unmistakably distinct from all three.

Murakami was brought up in a suburb of Kobe by parents who were teachers of Japanese literature; but the literature of his parents did not interest him and he read mostly American authors, listened to American jazz and watched American shows. For this reason, though his books are set in Japan and originally written in Japanese, they do not seem terribly foreign to English speakers. South of the Border, West of the Sun's title derives from a Nat King Cole song; and you're as likely to find a reference to McDonald's, Cutty Sark or F. Scott Fitzgerald as you are to anything Japanese.

Murakami began his career with the coming-of-age novels Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball 1973, but he hit his stride with A Wild Sheep Chase, a novel about a twentysomething ad executive who is drawn into the quest for an elusive, mutant sheep. The novel appeared in the U.S. seven years after its 1982 publication, introducing American audiences to this unclassifiable author. It contained many of the traits that mark Murakami's novels: a solitary male protagonist who drifts just outside society; first-person narration; and philosophical passages nestled within outlandish, unconventional plots. An admiring New York Times Book Review called Murakami a "mythmaker for the millennium."

The author's commercial breakthrough in Japan had come with the publication of Norwegian Wood in 1987, which sold two million copies. The story of a man who becomes involved with his best friend's girlfriend after the friend's suicide, it stands alone as the author's most straightforward, realistic work. Murakami acknowledges the book's impact on his career, and stands behind it; but he is also aware that it represented a departure from the surreal books that had made him a "cult" author with a modest following. "After Norwegian Wood, I have not written any purely realistic novels," Murakami said in a 2001 publisher's interview, "and have no intention of writing any more at this time."

Murakami's return to surrealism with Dance Dance Dance (the sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase), however, did not slow his career growth. Further translations of his work and publication of his stories in the New Yorker assured a growing following in the States, where his best known (and, to some, his best) work is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which appeared here in 1997. It's a masterful work that draws together all of the themes Murakami had been exploring in his fiction up until then: modern ennui, the unpredictability of relationships, a haunting backdrop of Japanese history.

In addition to his sublime and profoundly strange short stories and novels (Sputnik Sweetheart; Kafka on the Shore; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, etc.), Murakami has made occasional forays into nonfiction -- most notably with Underground, a compilation of interviews with victims of the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, and his 2008 memoir of the New York City Marathon, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. He has also translated several works by American authors into Japanese, including title by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, and John Irving.

Good To Know

Murakami owned a small jazz bar in Tokyo for seven years after college, an experience that he enjoyed and called upon when creating the main character of South of the Border, West of the Sun, who also owns a Tokyo jazz bar.

Murakami's first three novels, -- Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball 1973, and A Wild Sheep Chase -- comprise The Trilogy of the Rat.

His most often cited influences are Raymond Chandler, Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan.

Murakami told an interviewer from Publishers Weekly in 1991 that he considers his first two novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball 1973 "weak," and was not eager to have them translated into English. The translations were published, but are not available in the U.S. Third novel A Wild Sheep Chase was "the first book where I could feel a kind of sensation, the joy of telling a story. When you read a good story, you just keep reading. When I write a good story, I just keep writing."

Daniel Handler, aka children's author Lemony Snicket, is a vocal fan of Murakami's who once wrote a review/paean to the author in the Village Voice entitled "I Love Murakami." "Haruki Murakami is our greatest living practitioner of fiction," he wrote. "....The novels aren't afraid to pull tricks usually banned from serious fiction: They are suspenseful, corny, spooky, and hilarious; they're airplane reading, but when you're through you spend the rest of the flight, the rest of the month, rethinking life."

Murakami has taught at Princeton University, where he wrote most of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Tufts University. The twin disasters of a gas attack on the Tokyo subway and the Kobe earthquake in 1995 drew the author back to Japan from the United States.

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    1. Hometown:
      Tokyo, Japan
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 12, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Kyoto, Japan
    1. Education:
      Waseda University, 1973
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Book One: The Thieving Magpie
June and July 1984

1

Tuesday's Wind-Up Bird

Six Fingers and Four Breasts

When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini's The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.

I wanted to ignore the phone, not only because the spaghetti was nearly done, but because Claudio Abbado was bringing the London Symphony to its musical climax. Finally, though, I had to give in. It could have been somebody with news of a job opening. I lowered the flame, went to the living room, and picked up the receiver.

"Ten minutes, please," said a woman on the other end.

I'm good at recognizing people's voices, but this was not one I knew.

"Excuse me? To whom did you wish to speak?"

"To you, of course. Ten minutes, please. That's all we need to understand each other." Her voice was low and soft but otherwise nondescript.

"Understand each other?"

"Each other's feelings."

I leaned over and peeked through the kitchen door. The spaghetti pot was steaming nicely, and Claudio Abbado was still conducting The Thieving Magpie.

"Sorry, but you caught me in the middle of making spaghetti. Can I ask you to call back later?"

"Spaghetti? What are you doing cooking spaghetti at ten-thirty in the morning?"

"That's none of your business," I said. "I decide what I eat and when I eat it."

"True enough. I'll call back," she said, her voice now flat and expressionless. A little change in mood can do amazing things to the tone of a person's voice.

"Hold on a minute," I said before she could hang up. "If this is some new sales gimmick, you can forget it. I'm out of work. I'm not in the market for anything."

"Don't worry. I know."

"You know? You know what?"

"That you're out of work. I know about that. So go cook your precious spaghetti."

"Who the hell—"

She cut the connection.

With no outlet for my feelings, I stared at the phone in my hand until I remembered the spaghetti. Back in the kitchen, I turned off the gas and poured the contents of the pot into a colander. Thanks to the phone call, the spaghetti was a little softer than al dente, but it had not been dealt a mortal blow. I started eating—and thinking.

Understand each other? Understand each other's feelings in ten minutes? What was she talking about? Maybe it was just a prank call. Or some new sales pitch. In any case, it had nothing to do with me.

After lunch, I went back to my library novel on the living room sofa, glancing every now and then at the telephone.
What were we supposed to understand about each other in ten minutes? What can two people understand about each other in ten minutes? Come to think of it, she seemed awfully sure about those ten minutes: it was the first thing out of her mouth. As if nine minutes would be too short or eleven minutes too long. Like cooking spaghetti al dente.

I couldn't read anymore. I decided to iron shirts instead. Which is what I always do when I'm upset. It's an old habit. I divide the job into twelve precise stages, beginning with the collar (outer surface) and ending with the left-hand cuff. The order is always the same, and I count off each stage to myself. Otherwise, it won't come out right.

I ironed three shirts, checking them over for wrinkles and putting them on hangers. Once I had switched off the iron and put it away with the ironing board in the hall closet, my mind felt a good deal clearer.

I was on my way to the kitchen for a glass of water when the phone rang again. I hesitated for a second but decided to answer it. If it was the same woman, I'd tell her I was ironing and hang up.

This time it was Kumiko. The wall clock said eleven-thirty. "How are you?" she asked.

"Fine," I said, relieved to hear my wife's voice.

"What are you doing?"

"Just finished ironing."

"What's wrong?" There was a note of tension in her voice. She knew what it meant for me to be ironing.

"Nothing. I was just ironing some shirts." I sat down and shifted the receiver from my left hand to my right. "What's up?"

"Can you write poetry?" she asked.

"Poetry!?" Poetry? Did she mean . . . poetry?

"I know the publisher of a story magazine for girls. They're looking for somebody to pick and revise poems submitted by readers. And they want the person to write a short poem every month for the frontispiece. Pay's not bad for an easy job. Of course, it's part-time. But they might add some editorial work if the person—"

"Easy work"? I broke in. "Hey, wait a minute. I'm looking for something in law, not poetry."

"I thought you did some writing in high school."

"Yeah, sure, for the school newspaper: which team won the soccer championship or how the physics teacher fell down the stairs and ended up in the hospital—that kind of stuff. Not poetry. I can't write poetry."

"Sure, but I'm not talking about great poetry, just something for high school girls. It doesn't have to find a place in literary history. You could do it with your eyes closed. Don't you see?"

"Look, I just can't write poetry—eyes open or closed. I've never done it, and I'm not going to start now."

"All right," said Kumiko, with a hint of regret. "But it's hard to find legal work."

"I know. That's why I've got so many feelers out. I should be hearing something this week. If it's no go, I'll think about doing something else."

"Well, I supposed that's that. By the way, what's today? What day of the week?"

I thought a moment and said, "Tuesday."

"Then will you go to the bank and pay the gas and telephone?"

"Sure. I was just about to go shopping for dinner anyway."

"What are you planning to make?"

"I don't know yet. I'll decide when I'm shopping."

She paused. "Come to think of it," she said, with a new seriousness, "there's no great hurry about your finding a job."

This took me off guard. "Why's that?" I asked. Had the women of the world chosen today to surprise me on the telephone? "My unemployment's going to run out sooner or later. I can't keep hanging around forever."

"True, but with my raise and occasional side jobs and our savings, we can get by OK if we're careful. There's no real emergency. Do you hate staying at home like this and doing housework? I mean, is this life so wrong for you?"

"I don't know," I answered honestly. I really didn't know.

"Well, take your time and give it some thought," she said. "Anyhow, has the cat come back?"

The cat. I hadn't thought about the cat all morning. "No," I said. "Not yet."

"Can you please have a look around the neighborhood? It's been gone over a week now."

I gave a noncommittal grunt and shifted the receiver back to my left hand. She went on:

"I'm almost certain it's hanging around the empty house at the other end of the alley. The one with the bird statue in the yard. I've seen it in there several times."

"The alley?" Since when have you been going to the alley? You've never said anything—"

"Oops! Got to run. Lots of work to do. Don't forget about the cat."

She hung up. I found myself staring at the receiver again. Then I set it down in its cradle.

I wondered what had brought Kumiko to the alley. To get there from our house, you had to climb over a cinder-block wall. And once you'd made the effort, there was no point in being there.

I went to the kitchen for a glass of water, then out to the veranda to look at the cat's dish. The mound of sardines was untouched from last night. No, the cat had not come back. I stood there looking at our small garden, with the early-summer sunshine streaming into it. Not that ours was the kind of garden that gives you spiritual solace to look at. The sun managed to find its way in there for the smallest fraction of each day, so the earth was always black and moist, and all we had by way of garden plants were a few drab hydrangeas in one corner—and I don't like hydrangeas. There was a small strand of trees nearby, and from it you could hear the mechanical cry of a bird that sounded as if it were winding a spring. We called it the wind-up bird. Kumiko gave it the name. We didn't know what it was really called or what it looked like, but that didn't bother the wind-up bird. Every day it would come to the stand of trees in our neighborhood and wind the spring of our quiet little world.

So now I had to go cat hunting. I had always liked cats. And I liked this particular cat. But cats have their own way of living. They're not stupid. If a cat stopped living where you happened to be, that meant it had decided to go somewhere else. If it got tired and hungry, it would come back. Finally, though, to keep Kumiko happy, I would have to go looking for our cat. I had nothing better to do.

I had quit my job at the beginning of April—the law job I had had since graduation. Not that I had quit for any special reason. I didn't dislike the work. It wasn't thrilling, but the pay was all right and the office atmosphere was friendly.

My role at the firm was—not to put too fine a point on it—that of professional gofer. And I was good at it. I might say I have a real talent for the execution of such practical duties. I'm a quick study, efficient, I never complain, and I'm realistic. Which is why, when I said I wanted to quit, the senior partner (the father in this father-and-son law firm) went so far as to offer me a small raise.

But I quit just the same. Not that quitting would help me realize any particular hopes or prospects. The last thing I wanted to do, for example, was shut myself up in the house and study for the bar exam. I was surer than ever that I didn't want to become a lawyer. I knew, too, that I didn't want to stay where I was and continue with the job I had. If I was going to quit, now was the time to do it. If I stayed with the firm any longer, I'd be there for the rest of my life. I was thirty years old, after all.

I had told Kumiko at the dinner table that I was thinking of quitting my job. Her only response had been, "I see." I didn't know what she meant by that, but for a while she said nothing more.

I kept silent too, until she added, "If you want to quit, you should quit. It's your life, and you should live it the way you want to." Having said this much, she then became involved in picking out fish bones with her chopsticks and moving them to the edge of her plate.

Kumiko earned pretty good pay as editor of a health food magazine, and she would occasionally take on illustration assignments from editor friends at other magazines to earn substantial additional income. (She had studied design in college and had hoped to be a freelance illustrator.) In addition, if I quit I would have my own income for a while from unemployment insurance. Which meant that even if I stayed home and took care of the house, we would still have enough extras such as eating out and paying the cleaning bill, and our lifestyle would hardly change.

And so I had quit my job.

I was loading groceries into the refrigerator when the phone rang. The ringing seemed to have an impatient edge to it this time. I had just ripped open a plastic pack of tofu, which I set down carefully on the kitchen table to keep the water from spilling out. I went to the living room and picked up the phone.

"You must have finished your spaghetti by now," said the woman.

"You're right. But now I have to go look for the cat."

"That can wait for ten minutes, I'm sure. It's not like cooking spaghetti."

For some reason, I couldn't just hang up on her. There was something about her voice that commanded my attention.

"OK, but no more than ten minutes."

"Now we'll be able to understand each other," she said with quiet certainty. I sensed her settling comfortable into a chair and crossing her legs.

"I wonder," I said. "What can you understand in ten minutes?"

"Ten minutes may be longer than you think," she said.

"Are you sure you know me?"

"Of course I do. We've met hundreds of times."

"Where? When?"

"Somewhere, sometime," she said. "But if I went into that, ten minutes would never be enough. What's important is the time we have now. The present. Don't you agree?"

"Maybe. But I'd like some proof that you know me."

"What kind of proof?"

"My age, say?"

"Thirty," she answered instantaneously.

"Thirty and two months. Good enough?"

That shut me up. She obviously did know me, but I had absolutely no memory of her voice.

"Now it's your turn," she said, her voice seductive. "Try picturing me. From my voice. Imagine what I'm like. My age. Where I am. How I'm dressed. Go ahead."

"I have no idea," I said.

"Oh, come on," she said. "Try."

I looked at my watch. Only a minute and five seconds had gone by. "I have no idea," I said again.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 203 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 205 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2007

    A reviewer

    Haruki Murakami is known for his casual narration, his lack of conventional plot structure, and for the many metaphysical happenings in his books that more often than not go completely unexplained. The latter of these things may seem off-putting to a first time reader, but I think of this as a strength. To put it another way, finishing a novel by Haruki Murakami is like awakening from a dream that you know instantly was important and meaningful, but whose meaning still remains unclear. It is a powerful experience, and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is among his deepest and most complex works. The plot is centered around Toru Okada, who wakes up one day to find that not only has his cat gone missing, but his wife has left him, disappearing without a trace or a reason. As Okada seeks to find her and to reconcile with her, he meets many unusual people who either help or hinder his progress: sisters Creta and Malta Kano, the former of whom describes herself as a 'prostitute of the mind'...a wealthy former fashionista identified only as Nutmeg, and her deaf son Cinnamon...war veteran Lt. Mamiya who survived an encounter in World War II but still feels his life has been taken from him...opinionated teenager May Kasahara who lives in his neighborhood...and his well-known politician brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya. Hovering aroung this narrative is a mysterious bird, often heard but never seen, that Okada feels is winding the world's springs, ensuring that reality continues another day. The story culminates in a most likely metaphysical hotel that can only be reached by descending to the bottom of a dried-up well. There are many side stories and characters that make the book more interesting, giving it more depth and casting different lights on the situations. And while the ending is open to interpretation of the reader, it is a satisfying and ultimately victorious ending, for in many cases Murakami deals not with achieving success at life, but at achieving success at being able to live. Subtle and complex, this is perhaps the greatest of Haruki Murakami's works.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 1, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Down the well of modern thinking

    Haruki Murakami is known for his casual narration, his lack of conventional plot structure, and for the many metaphysical happenings in his books that more often than not go completely unexplained. The latter of these things may seem off-putting to a first time reader, but I think of this as a strength. To put it another way, finishing a novel by Haruki Murakami is like awakening from a dream that you know instantly was important and meaningful, but whose meaning still remains unclear. It is a powerful experience, and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is among his deepest and most complex works. The plot is centered around Toru Okada, who wakes up one day to find that not only has his cat gone missing, but his wife has left him, disappearing without a trace or a reason. As Okada seeks to find her and to reconcile with her, he meets many unusual people who either help or hinder his progress: sisters Creta and Malta Kano, the former of whom describes herself as a 'prostitute of the mind'...a wealthy former fashionista identified only as Nutmeg, and her deaf son Cinnamon...war veteran Lt. Mamiya who survived an encounter in World War II but still feels his life has been taken from him...opinionated teenager May Kasahara who lives in his neighborhood...and his well-known politician brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya. Hovering aroung this narrative is a mysterious bird, often heard but never seen, that Okada feels is winding the world's springs, ensuring that reality continues another day. The story culminates in a most likely metaphysical hotel that can only be reached by descending to the bottom of a dried-up well. There are many side stories and characters that make the book more interesting, giving it more depth and casting different lights on the situations. And while the ending is open to interpretation of the reader, it is a satisfying and ultimately victorious ending, for in many cases Murakami deals not with achieving success at life, but at achieving success at being able to live. Subtle and complex, this is perhaps the greatest of Haruki Murakami's works.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2008

    Fantastic Book

    Usually I don't write reviews, but I felt that this was such an amazing book I had to. This book compels me to continue reading, and right when I think I know what's happening, the plot shifts. Even four hundred pages into the book I still couldn't tell you how the book will end. This is such a great book that I highly recommend it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2007

    Sitting at the bottom of a well, clenching a baseball bat.

    Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a mind-bending work that offers both beauty and terror. The plot unravels much like a David Lynch film i.e. it is terrifying, difficult, and at first glance, seemingly random. One is exposed to an array of characters of war, mysticism, politics and history, and each is tied into the story in such a way that one can hardly manage to lose interest. The only point one may feel some plot drag is in the beginning of the third part. At this point, you lose many of the characters from the first two parts ('The Kano Sisters' specfically), and hear little from them for the remainder of the novel. Shortly thereafter, the book picks up with a whole new group of interesting beings. It has been stated many times that the book leaves much to be desired in terms of a 'happy ending', however rest assured that the feelings of both catharsis and accomplishment are felt assuming that one has given Murakami the time and attention he deserves.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2004

    The Under Where of Japan

    Murakami does an amazing job capturing the amazing ennui of suburban Japan: the quiet steets, the orderly backyards and the sometimes tedious monotony of Anytown, Japan. Into the mundane and the boring Murakami drops a load of strangeness and unusual occurences. The contrast betweent the seemingly normal and banal, and the 'far out' of the protagonist's new reality makes the unreal strangely real. Anyone who has spent time in Japan has probably come away with the uncomfortable feeling that there is more going on than meets the eye of the casual, Western observer; Murakami's odd mix of reality, quasi-science fiction and the supernatural lends support to the idea that multiple levels of existence might just exist in contemporary Japan. Like all of Murakami's work, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is finely crafted, sparing in its use of language and addictive. His are some of the few works that you wish would just go on, and on, and on.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bizarre but Unforgettable

    I had no idea what was going on in this book, but couldn't put it down. I still couldn't tell you what it was about.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2013

    First time reading this author

    Picked this book to read on a whim, so glad i did! Story is absolutely mesmerizing. Some of the historical bits were not as easy to get through, but worth it. I'm a huge Dean Koontz fan and this book has a somewhat similar feel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Fantastical Metaphysical Masterpiece

    Haruki Murakami's The Wind Up Bird Chronicles is perhaps one of the best fiction books I have ever read and further solidifies Murakami's position as one of the best authors alive. While most writers, fiction or otherwise, are usually not recognized until after their deaths, it is hard for one to read any of Murakami's works and not be completely swept away. The same is true with this work. Even from the opening of the book, author's imagination overwhelms the readers. Fighting is futile for soon you, the reader, are completely swept away from everything you know to be true about the ways of the world and swept into Murakami's warped metaphysical reality where even the most bland individual, Toru Okada, l is subject to a fantastical adventure that he cannot escape. Soon the waves of this new world overtake you and you find yourself drowning in the complex personalities of Malta and Creto, only to discover that they may serve no grand purpose. The looming presence of a far reaching villain combined with the peculiar emergence and disappearance of Toru's cat keep you trying to keep your head above water and figure out where Murakami will take you next. Though understated compared to other more popular books, this is definitely one of Murakami's greatest works.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Trainwreck Garbed in Pseudo-Surrealism

    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle would not be a bad book if the first 150 pages and the last 60 pages were removed from its current edition. Put simply, it is a miserably convulted book with vague and often unbelievable (I'm quite sure even surrealists were lost several times) plot "twists" that chop the rhythm of the novel into a clunking mass, slowing down just as the reader is finally starting to get red-cheeked. Though Murakami's style has been compared to that of Thomas Pynchon, this book alone seems to be more than enough to disprove any allegation of the sort.

    The beginning of the text is boring but promising, making you believe that soon you'll be given something really worth while. However, the reader is only rewarded with a good bit of writing that, while skillfully penned in terms of composition, leaves them feeling as if sections of the book (primarily those explaining major plot elements) have been ripped from their copy. Characters walk in and out of view all at once with little or no introduction and, in what appears to be the author's last-ditch effort to suddenly correct this, suddenly decide to spill every personal detail save their shoe size and PIN number with the main character 200 pages later.

    While many Kafka readers will be drawn to the feeling of unnatural normalcy that Murakami's work usually exudes, they will starve to death trying to leech off of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. There's nothing to see or read here except a series of unorganised events.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 8, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Murakami at his best

    I have read several of his other books, but this one was a true masterpiece. A great combination of fantasy and Japanese culture.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2007

    Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

    I guess, full understanding of this book is a hard task for the most of readers. But seems it makes book even more entertaining. Murakami entertains his readers exposing a world of subconsciousness, which is managed by an invisible hand - an invisible energy that we generate. In the book, many characters are subconsciously connected to each other and take actions subconsciously. I guess, it is the reason why Murakami left them unexplained, leaving many readers unsatisfied. The main plot of the book is the resentment between two individualists with good and evil morals: Toru Okada and Naboru Wataya (or likewise Lieutenant Mamyia and Boris Manskinner). Other characters and plots are supportive. The main purpose of Corporal Honda sending empty box to Toru Okada through Lieutenant Mamyia was to connect these two people in similar situation, psychologically fighting with evil. By connecting them, Corporal Honda helps Lieutenant Mamyia relieve his long time suffering, letting him to open his secrets to Toru Okada. It adds Toru's hatred to Naboru Wataya and gives strength to defeat him. From the book I sense Toru Okada is a Lieutenant Mamaya, living in different time. He is similar to the reincarnation of Mamiya (or other people who suffered in WWII), takes actions, to fulfill Mamyia's dream: defeating evil like people and being loved by someone or having sex with woman (Creta Kano) in both real and dreamlike world. This book tells that evil and poisonous people, like Naboru Wataya always exist and succeed far. They exist in the context of different situations and the impact of their negative, powerful energy is fatal. Book gives impression that Murakami explodes his own personal hatred to evil like people and dislike to the dominant social psychology (people's confusion) through his book. I feel like I see Murakami in different characters of his book. Appearance of teenager girl, May Kasahara makes Toru Okada's character clearer. She is strong and bright individual and helps Toru to shape his own view. Murakami perfectly exposes deeper feelings of different people, in the context of different circumstances. Story about Mongolian man who skins people is shocking, because I'm Mongolian and I never heard this kind of things happened during WWII. I'm not really sure whether it is based in historical fact or it is fiction. Anyway, this did not affect at all my feelings towards Murakami and his books. He is great. Even though the book was excellent, I have to admit that, in most of cases I fell asleep while reading. But it does not mean that the book was bad may be I felt the same way as Toru Okada was feeling while sitting in the well.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2004

    Amazing

    This was the first Murakami book that I had read and I was spellbound. It has been a very long time since I couldn't put a book down, but this book was one of those. I read the whole thing in 4 days while on a business trip, and even the annoyances of airplanes didn't tear my attention from this book. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Remember: Pay attention to every detail of the book, because they are all connected in some intricate way!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2002

    RUN RUN RUN

    Murakami is undoubtedly the most gifted and amazing writer of our times. When I finish one of his novels I feel an urge to run out and buy another one. It is such a pity that I read faster than Murakami writes novels.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2002

    Occidental Reader Meets Oriental Mind

    I've always had a strange attraction to things Oriental. They say opposites attract, and since Japanese culture is so opposite to ours, I guess that makes the attraction all the more strong. I also like a book that doesn't give up its secrets easily. I just finished wading through Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon, a book that fought me tooth and nail, but was definitely worth the effort. I wouldn't begin to try to explain the story line of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but if you like your art abstract, and have a taste for sushi and koto music, or not, give this book a shot. I think you'll find it hard to get out of your mind, like a dream you don't really understand, and yet can't forget.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2001

    Top notch, again!

    I've read several of Haruki Murakami's books: Wild Sheep Chase, Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, The Elephant Vanishes (collection of short stories). Each has been creative and engaging - he writes in a style which keeps you guessing what will happen next, always balancing the surreal with the familiar. The WindUp Bird Chronicle throws in history, relationships, mystery, and a vibrant world you can clearly envision. Well worth reading, I found myself picking it up at every opportunity.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2001

    awesome book by a highly recommened author

    The imagry that the author creates is very vivid, but he leaves some things left for you to imagine. Maruakami brings so many different, unconnecting worlds together with a single thin thread, managing to give their puny existing a world of meaning. The story flows like life does, with characters coming in forever or leaving forever, but their memory stays. He also creates a new keywhole for the reader to peek through- a way of looking at one situation completely different as though you were seeing it for the very first time! This book is fantastic. It's a little hard to follow, but as a High-School student I managed pretty well. I finished it within 3 weeks.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2000

    A Stunning Read

    This is easily one of the most powerful reads availiable today. I can't reccomend this book to the uninitiated reader, but if you are interested in entering a world anew for about 700 pages of adventure and contemplation, you have found the right book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    || ☼ Dawnstar's Den ☼ ||

    Request if you need to become an apprentice, or warrior. Or other things.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013

    Starts simply and gets darkly convolute

    An interesting and unique read. The narrator seems a simple sort in the beginning. His character unfolds through his actions and external dialogue. His internal dialogue witholds. This makes for an intriguing journey that spirals to dark places of a fantastical creation with real consequences. Are some of the characters alter egos, imaginations ? Are we being played? If we are, we love it and follow along hooked until the unfolding at the end. I beg for a sequel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2013

    Once you start reading....you are committed!

    Beautifully written, but very graphic and sometimes depressing. The author is constantly moving from reality to a dream world. It is your job to determine which!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 205 Customer Reviews

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