May 22, 2013

Review #26: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Knopf
Format: Paperback
Pages: 607

Goodreads Summary:
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.

Three books in one volume: The Thieving Magpie, Bird as Prophet, The Birdcatcher. This translation by Jay Rubin is in collaboration with the author.


I finished this book like a month ago but it has been really challenging putting my thoughts on this book into words.  I finally decided to just write something!

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is off-beat, confusing, beautiful, at turns funny and depressing, both simple and complex, and a bit dystopian. 

As you can see, it's pretty hard to describe!

First, the story is just about his ordinary life after quitting his job that he didn't particularly enjoy.  Then, his cat goes missing.  Then, his wife, Kumiko, goes missing.  Then, things become even more odd.  Plus, there's like eight characters, a few of which don't even show up for 400 pages.  There's even a plot line that pretty much exists only to serve as a metaphor.  I liked the vivid imagery and the way it invites you to question your life and the universe.

While the writing was beautiful, much of the story could have been tidied up, and that's considering that apparently 200 pages of the novel were cut out for the English-language version.  My main problem with the book, however, is that everything was wrapped up in a neat little package.  It seemed like a pat explanation, if you will.  It wasn't convincing.  It was like Murakami wasn't sure how to wrap up all of the different subplots together so he just threw it all in the same box and put a bow on it.  I was hoping I was going to at least be surprised after sticking with the massive tome, but instead I was left feeling robbed of time more than anything.  

This is not just because I don't like Murakami, because I enjoyed Norwegian Wood, but this book, to me, fell short of my expectations.  Perhaps my expectations were higher than they would be if the novel had been shorter.  While that is probably unfair, I personally feel that if I am going to read about one man for 600 pages, it better knock me off my feet.  Plus, after reading another Murakami novel, I was expecting, or at least hoping, to like it about the same amount.  When I read the last sentence I remember thinking, seriously?  

Now with that said, there are interesting themes of desire, suffering, fate, and obsession.  The reader is given the opportunity to make profound conclusions about these and I enjoyed that part the most, I believe.  I also found the book to be highly quotable (I've included some favorites below).  

All in all, it was not my favorite book and I wish I had gotten more out of it than I did.

"Even now I can recall each tiny detail with such terrible clarity. I feel I am remembering events that happened yesterday. I can hold the sand and the grass in my hands; I can even smell them.  I can see the shapes of the clouds in the sky. I can feel the dry, sandy wind against my cheeks.  By comparison, it is the subsequent events of my life that seem like delusions on the borderline of dream and reality."

"Once it has taken root in your heart, hatred is the most difficult thing in the world to shake off."

“I don't know -- maybe the world has two different kinds of people, and for one kind the world is this completely logical, rice pudding place, and for the other it's all hit-or-miss macaroni gratin.” 

“I'd be smiling and chatting away, and my mind would be floating around somewhere else, like a balloon with a broken string.” (I like this one because my A.D.D. mind is sooo like this.)

This Book Qualifies for these Challenges:


  1. I'm interested to read this one one day. I liked Norwegian Wood and After Dark, and this one seems to be where his fiction steps off into the surreal. Those other two were relatively "normal" and linear.

    1. This book is very surreal. It's like a weird dream!

  2. It sounds very complicated. I suspect it might be over my head.

    1. At times I felt like that, Kathy, but then it comes back around.

  3. This sounds way too complicated for me.

  4. This sounds really quite boring-I can't believe they cut 200 or so pages and the book was still slow. I don't think this is my kind of read.

    1. I think it would have given more depth to that part of the story, but there was so much going on already that I certainly did not want to read 200 more pages of it.

  5. I just noticed I had like 3 grammar issues in this! Fixed! lol

  6. You felt it was wrapped up with a tidy bow?? I felt it was all left wide open. The ending was left up to the reader and I know that bugs the $hit out of some readers but I was okay with it.

    Did I get all of it? No. Was I supposed to? Probably not. I think it's more about the experience than the end result. I don't have a problem with a large book as long as it stretched me in some way and this one did.


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