“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
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.
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
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
Murukami is a genius.
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
Murakami has written a bold and generous book. -- The New York Times Book Review
Magnificent. . . .[Murakami] has taken a pre-millennial swing for the fences a la David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo.
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 himand 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 welland 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.