The #winditup2013 Read-Along Update: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Book One)

Wind-Up Bird Read Along Button 2013

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Book One)
By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780679775430, 1998, 624pp.)

This post shares my thoughts on book one. If you are reading along with me and have not finished book one, save this post for later as it may contain spoilers.

What was your initial reaction after reading the first few chapters?

My initial reaction was that this was straight-up Murakami. It opens with the preparation of a simple meal, music is mentioned, a strange phone call interrupts the mundane. It’s expected if you’ve read any of his other books, but at the same time, it’s like coming home. It’s comforting and lulls me into a false sense of security.

What do you think of the characters? Do you have a favorite?

I am a bit further along in the book than I expected to be at this writing but what I’ve found is that my favorites keep changing. Since this is an update for book one, I’d have to say that in book one, my fave character is May. She’s odd but in a likable way. Innocent but at the same time, worldly. She puts things simply and what she says makes sense. I am intrigued by her.

What about the story? Is it interesting? Predictable?

The elements are predictable. Murakami has a thing for ears. Specifically the shape of ears. This book is no exception. Food preparation is always showcased in some way and with Toru, many of the meals are simple meals. Meals that you’d expect a single man to eat. A hint at what’s to come? Possibly.

There’s also the missing cat. Murakami loves cats or he hates them because they are often tortured or abused in some way (although we have not seen any abuse in book one). There is also prostitution and awkward sex! Let’s not forget the musical references. Murakami loves his music and will often insert musical references into his books. For 1Q84, the publisher created a Spotify playlist (might have to be logged in for that link to work) that I listened to while reading that book, but I didn’t find anything for this book. I’ve Googled a few of the musical references to hear the pieces though. Oh, and he is really into reading too so there are lots of literary references as well.

As for the story, it’s very odd. In book one, Toru lives a simple life with his wife, Kumiko. He’s unemployed and she works outside of the home. Their cat goes missing. A strange woman calls and tries to have phone sex with Toru. A rather odd neighbor girl (May) befriends Toru. There is a vacant alley that has some importance and a vacant house with bad vibes. Two sisters, Malta and Creta materialize. Both have special talents some of which are still being cultivated. There is a lieutenant with a story. It’s all so surreal and odd yet so compelling. It’s about as interesting as it can be without dropping acid before reading it.

Are you surprised by anything you’ve read thus far? If so, what?

I didn’t expect to fly through book one as quickly as I did. It’s more readable than some of his other books. I remember reading Kafka on the Shore and thinking about fifty pages in that this guy must have been hallucinating while writing the story. I didn’t have that reaction with this one. One thought seems to lead to another and there seems to be more of a flow to this story. I was a little surprised by the end of book one. I was warned that this particular part was gruesome and it was, but it didn’t weird me out as much as the cat scenes did in Kafka. Maybe because the actual scene in question was rather short and didn’t go on for that long. Or maybe the manner in which it was detailed was a little too clinical for me to be totally weirded out by it. Either way, I got through it without a hitch. I know from some of the comments on Twitter that this was not the case for most of you.

How does the writing make you feel?

Calm. Relaxed. He alternates between mundane and surreal which puts me in a dreamy state. Dreamy might be a stretch for some of the parts but I so often feel as if I am floating in a calm body of water. There is no “loudness” to his novels. Everything is quietly done, even torture! The flip side to this is that many of the characters come across as apathetic. Something happens, and their reactions are very measured. Maybe it’s a translation thing. My friend is reading it in Japanese and she said she’d let me know if the characters come across that way in Japanese. You remember the tsunami that hit Japan a few years ago? Such devastation yet the people were so calm. Maybe it’s a cultural thing.

What food or drink have you been craving since reading book one?

People that read Murakami for the first time expect there to be a lot of talk about Japanese food but most of his food references are not Japanese at all. He loves Italian food. Spaghetti is popular. Omelettes are popular too. And what is it about potato salad? But there is one dish that he cooked early on that involved beef and green peppers. I made that dish! I took pictures and everything. Here is a small photo. It was really good. But what I have been craving the most since reading book one is BEER. Yep. He mentions it quite a bit.

Beef Dish from Wind-Up

Anything else you want to add?

So far, this is my favorite Murakami book. That could change as I finish each volume but book one is staying with me far longer than any of his other books have.

What do YOU think so far? If you want to comment, add a comment to this post or use the hashtag below to find us on Twitter. If you did a write-up on your blog, use Mister Linky below to add a link to it.

You do not need to comment at all if you don’t want to! Next up, book two and we have until April 28th to finish it. Thanks for reading along!

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24 thoughts on “The #winditup2013 Read-Along Update: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Book One)”

  1. Good idea! I made a chicken stir-fry for lunch yesterday, but we can have beer with the leftovers tonight! Surreal is definitely the word for this book! We have cats that walk all around our neighborhood and reading Murakami definitely makes me look at them differently.

    1. I am not much of a beer drinker but the leftover beer from my stir fry tasted pretty good. I’m sure the reading had everything to do with it 🙂

  2. I don’t think this is my favorite Murakami. However, it’s definitely “doing my head in” like other Murakamis. The only thing for which I’m grateful is that it is being read over a longer period of time and not all at once. I don’t know if I could handle that, because it’s so surreal.

    1. I am enjoying the longer time span to read this one as well. It’s nice too because it allows me to read other books in between, which is nice to break it up.

  3. I find this book to be dreamy and surreal as well. I love that Murakami’s characters are kind of underwhelmed with all that’s going on, and it makes me feel more like they are all just kind of mildly surprised at the weirdness. I have just gotten to the part when the narrator and Kamiko fight about the tissues and toilet paper, maybe a little further. He seems like a good guy, but why does he quit his job? I don’t get that part, really. I also thought the meeting with Malta was strange, but then again, it’s supposed to to be. So far, I am loving it, and can’t wait to see what happens next!

    1. Yeah, I dig the fact that they are underwhelmed by it all too. They are so calm and reserved where as I would be, “what the heck just happened?” LOL. Book Two shows Toru in a slightly different light. He’s beginning to reach the end of his rope.

  4. Yup–the beer. Definitely the beer. You’ll have to drink one for me. Or two. 😉 Interesting that you find yourself calm when reading the book. I haven’t read in about a week now so I can’t remember but I don’t know if calm is the word I would use. And I found myself so distracted by the FOOD that I haven’t noticed much of the music (other than what you’ve tweeted).

    I’m loving the reading so far and haven’t been looking too deeply into anything yet. Mostly just along for the ride–as I suspect that it will get wild and wooly before the tale is done. Mostly what I love is the juxtaposition between the odd and the ordinary. There is no way to explain the plot of this book and do it justice. Going to hop around to a few more posts and then start Book Two! Yay!!

    1. I never drink beer but I sure had a craving for it after reading book one. I did think of you though! I just wrote-up my thoughts on book two and will schedule it in a few, but I have to tell you, book two was a little harder to keep straight AFTER reading it. I waited too long to write my thoughts down. I think with a book like this one, it pays to put something down right after you finish a section or else it all becomes one. BUT, I was mesmerized by it. REALLY hard to stop reading after book two.

  5. I am loving this book, Ti. I think my fave character so far is May, too! I am also intrigued by the sisters. I can’t wait to figure out how all of these stories come together.

    I also agree that reading Murakami is soothing in a way. I like that.

    1. I’m glad you are enjoying it. The sisters are very strange. As strange as Creta is, I like her more than Malta. Malta is a big unknown for me right now. May really piqued my interest in book one. She’s innocent, but not.

  6. I love hearing your thoughts on this. You can tell what a big fan you are. I do enjoy how everything is so mundane and then becomes bizarre but still seems mundane. And how polite everyone is even when they are doing really strange things. I like May too … but I’ve gone into Book 2 and am having second thoughts now. At first, I didn’t think of the scene you were referencing so I guess it didn’t affect me too bad. It was presented very clinically and wasn’t drawn out so it didn’t get to me like the scenes in American Psycho. In a way, I’m sorry to hear that this is your favorite Murakami book so far … I want to explore more but hate to hear this is one of best. My brother said the same thing. He’s read all of his stuff and likes this one the most. Very anxious to see how this all plays out.

    1. Are you not liking it that much? I think what we consider “the best” probably has more to do with how we relate to the characters as readers. The story lines are are often similar in feel but the characters is what draws me in but that’s me. I prefer character driven novels over plot. Some of his other books are more plot driven, so if that is your thing, then perhaps one of those would be your best. If you ask a group of Murakami fans which book is their favorite, I think you’d get ten different answers. 

  7. Sorry it has taken me so long to weigh in! Yesterday was one of those days. I agree with everything you have said here. I am intrigued with May (that feeling has continued through Book 3) more than any other character in the novel. This is my first Haruki, so all his predictable touchstones are new to me, but I keep thinking back on that Murakami Bingo Board you posted awhile back and have to chuckle!

    1. I’m anxious to get to book three. I keep waiting but so many have finished book 2 that I think it’s okay if I read on.

  8. Ti,
    Look at the Murakami Bingo and tell me by the end of Wind-up bird, how many it has hit the mark, ok? lol

    Yes, the Japanese are generally calm. If they ever shock you, it is because they had “calmly” did some horrifying things. I am generalising, but I read both fiction and non-fiction (including Murakami’s book titled “Underground” on the Poison Gas Attack, and you will see how calm they all are). I just finished another book called “People who eat darkness” true crime in Japan, again another validation of what I perceived in the Japanese society and the legal system.

    I look forward to book 2 and 3 discussion.

  9. This is my first Murakami, so it’s interesting. It has a very distinctive feel to it, which seems like maybe is a characteristic of all of his books? It is funny how it makes me want to drink beer. I don’t even like beer! The power of suggestion. The whole book is somewhat suggestive feeling.

  10. I was flying along marvelously through Book One when suddenly we were off to Outer Mongolia and I really lost steam. I must say, I was glad to get back to Toru in Book Two.

  11. I honestly can’t believe how fast I went through book one all in a half of a day! I was afraid about being behind by two weeks but no fear now. I liked book one a lot. Yes, the skinning was graphic but it only managed to make my eyes bulge out of my head for a few minutes. The ending of book one made me shake my head and contemplate the meaning of the empty box!!!!!!!!!! So glad I’m doing this RAL!!!

    1. I thought book one went by quickly as well. The empty box. The cutty sark box. Yes, I was wondering about that too. The skinning was okay because it was short and clinical. I think had a bunch of hacks been skinning him, it would have been much harder to stomach.

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