Read-Along Wrap-Up & Review: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

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

The Short of It:

A wildly imaginative work. Quite possibly the most interesting literary experience I’ve had. Ever.

The Rest of It:

If I had to sum this book up with one sentence, I’d say this:

Nothing, is as it seems.

Toru Okada is a normal guy. But when his cat goes missing, and then his wife Kumiko follows shortly thereafter, what at first seems normal suddenly becomes surreal and odd. So odd, that Toru apends time in an abandoned well to sort it all out.

In the mean time, he meets a cast of very strange characters:

  • May Kasahara – a young neighbor girl who thinks about death a lot. She has a very matter-of-fact way of talking and acts as a sounding board for Toru.
  • Noboru Wataya – the brother of Kumiko. Toru cannot stand him as his political ideals differ from his. He’s also a bully when it comes to his sister Kumiko. The lost cat is also named after him, which is odd in and of itself given that Kumiko and Toru really do not like the guy.
  • Lieutenant Mamiya – an officer who witnessed the brutal death of a another officer. He is scarred over that event and has spent his own time down in a well. He has been tasked with carrying out a request in a will which is what brings him to Toru.
  • Malta Kano – acts as a medium. Kumiko hires her to help them find their cat. She sees things, but she’s not all that clear when she translates it to those who need the information.
  • Creta Kano – Creta is Malta’s sister. She too, has a talent but her talent is unpracticed and involves inhabiting people’s minds. She is also called a “prostitute of the mind” and gets to know Toru quite well.
  • Nutmeg Akasaka – the businesswoman who first sees Toru while observing people in the city. She is attracted to the blue\black mark on his face. A mark that her father also bore many years ago. Later, she makes him a proposition that he finds hard to refuse.
  • Cinammon Akasaka – the son of Nutmeg. He does not speak but uses a strange form of sign language to communicate. He carries out the wishes of his mother but is exceptionally good at what he does and what he does involves looking out for Toru on many levels.
  • The Wind-Up Bird – a bird that only certain characters hear. This bird makes a screeching noise and when Toru hears it, he is immediately reminded of a spring and how it needs to be wound in order to keep the world going. If you pay attention while reading, the appearance of the bird can clue you in to what is going on at that point in time.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to describe this book. The story is simple, but the things that happen within the story beg to be discussed. The personalities of the characters, their history and how they all play their own part in the story is what makes a Murakami book an “experience” more than just a good read.  It’s walks a crazy fine line between what’s normal and what’s not and throws in bits and pieces to shake you up and to jolt you back into reality, or what you think is reality. It’s the type of book that will have you asking questions for days, but somehow Murakami manages to bring it all together by those last few pages. Not to say that your questions have been fully answered. No, can’t say that. But I can say that as a reader, I was satisfied when I turned that last page.

Murakami’s writing is very accessible and simple to follow. Most first-time readers feel intimidated by what they’ve heard about him, but the writing is not complex. The meaning behind what is written though, can boggle the mind, but not in a bad way. His books have a palate cleansing effect which I find very pleasing. He challenges you to think outside of the box and if you give in to it, usually you’re rewarded with a positive reading experience.  Usually. There are those that are completely turned off by the oddness of it, and I understand that too. Murakami is not for everyone but what a reading experience it is!

Reading this book was like taking two Benadryls, drinking a couple glasses of wine and then having one heck of a strange dream afterward. You wake, but you don’t wake and you sort of like it that way.

As with his other novels, this book shares many of the same themes but mostly alienation and loneliness. There are some graphic depictions of sex and rape but not as much as some of his other novels. There is also a particularly gruesome act of violence but it’s brief and not drawn out so I found it tolerable although some of the other readers in the read-along found it hard to read.

Compared to his other books, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is probably one of my favorites. It’s right up there with Kafka on the Shore but I found it much easier to follow than Kafka. It’s long. Over 600 pages long but much of it reads very quickly. In the six weeks that we had to finish the book, I think most finished well before the deadline. However, it was maybe 50 pages too long. I understand that two chapters were removed from the English translation and that they had to do with Toru’s relationship with Creta. I know it would have made the book longer but I wish I had those chapters now.

If you are intrigued and want to give it a try, do so with an open mind and give yourself plenty of time to absorb what you’ve read. It also doesn’t hurt to take a week or two when done to just ponder the story. I found it very hard to focus on other books after finishing Wind-Up.

The book is made up of three books and I posted updates after finishing each book. The updates are noted below. Check them out if you decide to read the book. I sure hope you do. Reading it with 80+ people was a lot of fun, even though many of them remained silent. I felt their presence. I truly did and it was a pleasure to be a part of it. This reading also counts for the Haruki Murakami 2013 Challenge. Click on the button below for more info.

Wind-Up Bird Read Along Button 2013

Murakami Reading Challenge 2013

#winditup2013 Read-Along Update Posts:

Book One
Book Two
Book Three

Read the discussion on Twitter! Use #winditup2013!

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

25 thoughts on “Read-Along Wrap-Up & Review: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”

  1. You did a great job organizing this readalong and keeping us all on track! I fell behind on Book 3, but finally finished and returned the book to the library after multiple renewals!

    1. Thank you! I wanted to provide a little structure for those who wanted it, but didn’t want to come off as pushy for those that wanted to go at their own pace. I think it was fun. I know that I really appreciated having others to talk to about it once I was done.

  2. I attempted this book a couple years ago and soon learned that it wasn’t for me–neither the subject nor the style. But I enjoyed this review and I appreciate the open-minded and generous way you approach these “outre” books.You are a true lover of words.

    1. Thank you! I first heard of this book when I was in my last year of college. That was back in ’93. A classmate told me to read it. Said it was “trippy” and from what he said I was immediately turned off. Never picked it up. But after reading Kafka on the Shore a couple of years back, I remembered Wind-Up and what that guy had said about it. I made a mental note to read itafter all. I’m glad I did but I know it’s not for everyone.

  3. I will, at some time, read this book. I really want to. And, like I told you, I have the book now. It is just a matter of fitting it into the schedule. You know how that is. But I like that I can now use your posts to help me through it. Thanks.

  4. Ti, this was the first Murakami book I ever read and I loved it. I thought it was just so special and different. I had no idea that 2 chapters had been removed from the English translation – what a bummer! I would have loved for them to have been included – the size of the book never bothered me, because it was so engrossing. I’m telling you, we have to learn to read Japanese – then we wouldn’t miss out on anything Murakami 😉 Hope you are feeling better!

    1. I do feel a bit sad that my reading of Wind-Up has ended. I didn’t feel its length too much. Maybe a little with the war story but definitely not enough for me to knock a star off its 5-star rating. I find myself rationing out his work so that I will always have something of his to read but it’s difficult when his translations take so long!

      1. I know what you mean. When I read a book of his, I take my time with it, because I know that there are only so many left of his that I need to read and then I’ll have to wait FOREVER until his next one gets translated. Luckily, I still have quite a few left of his to read, so I’m okay for now 🙂 I was thinking of starting Kafka on the Shore or his Rat trilogy. Then again, his short stories might be nice to dive into. Hmmm…

        1. Kafka is great. I am upset that the first book in the rat trilogy is not available in the states though. I bought Sputnik Sweetheart so that will be my next one, but I don’t plan to read it until Mid-Summer, maybe Fall.

  5. I also didn’t know two chapters had been removed and would be really interested in reading them, Creta was probably the part of the book I felt was left most “unsettled” at he end. When I first finished the book I felt satisfied with the ending, but the more I think about it the more questions I still have! Also, is it just me or did May Kasahara remind you a little bit of Midori from Norwegian Wood?

  6. A Murakami novel is definitely one to go into with an open mind. After years of debate I finally loaned Kafka to my dad. All I told him (mainly because now I don’t remember all of the details except bits and pieces that have stayed with me in a dreamlike way) was that it is “interesting.” When I saw him just a few days ago he told me that he started the book and said…well…it’s interesting. #toldyouso

    Like Hannah I would have liked to have known more about Creta and even Malta. They were the most mysterious characters for me in the whole novel. Thanks for hosting the readalong Ti! I didn’t love it as much as I did Kafka but I’m glad to have read it and will look forward to my next Murakami. Hopefully another three years don’t pass before I dive in!

    1. Kafka was so disturbing to me at first but I kept reading for the characters. I remember being about 50 pages in and thinking that this guy was having a major drug trip when he wrote the book. But then, I was hooked on Johnny Walker and his horrible deeds.

  7. I’m really glad you pressed the issue and had this read-along. I’d had the book on my shelf for a long time (ever since my sister highly recommended it) but it just scared me. Turns out I loved it, but it did wring me out. I have Kafka loaded on my Kindle…maybe this summer…

    1. Something tells me you will like Kafka more. There is a lot of cat violence but with all the critters that show up headless at your back door or in your pool…I think your thick skin will shield you from it and you’ll see it for what it is. An absolute mind-fuc*!

  8. Well, now I’m mad at myself. Being a bad blogger and reader this year means I missed out on participating in this readalong, a book I’ve wanted to read for quite a long time. Argh. Looks like a compelling book and there are no excuses for me to pick it up one day.

  9. Applause! I am glad you did this – such fun posts getting me to re-awaken my thoughts and rethink my own experience. Beautiful job.

  10. I’m saving this post to come back to should I ever read this book — I’ve never attempted Murakami and I’m not exactly sure I want to — but so many people have raved about this one I obviously need to push aside my disinclination!

  11. I agree …it was definitely an “easy” read but not an easy book. I found it very accessible and never found it to be difficult or intimidating but do I fully understand it all — NO. But I don’t think we meant to. Like you said, it is a long strange trip and you just gotta go along for the ride. And now I get that Murakami Challenge button. Cool.

  12. hi… this is a very interesting challenge. unfortunately, i am just starting to read the book this year. is there any chance that you can host something like this again this 2014? i would gladly join! :))

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