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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.

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

Wind-Up Bird Read Along Button 2013

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

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

In a nutshell, what takes place in book three? 

Book three was pretty exciting. Toru is determined to find his wife Kumiko even though Kumiko’s powerful brother Noboru, advises Toru against it. In his heart, Toru believes that Kumiko did not leave by choice. He is so convinced of this, that he decides to purchase the abandoned property by his home known as the hanging house. The house is considered to be bad luck for anyone who lives there, but Toru doesn’t care because that is where the dried up well is and he needs more time in the well to figure out what is going on. Toru is unemployed with little in savings so the cost of purchasing such a property, no matter how undesirable it may be, proves to be too much for him. The money becomes available when he accepts a position as Nutmeg’s replacement in the “fitting” room.

The fitting room is where Toru meets with strange women to remove whatever is bothering them. After a small test of sorts, Nutmeg has the hanging house leveled and builds a compound in its place. This allows Toru to work as a fitting room consultant without the peering eyes of neighbors, and it allows him access to the well when he needs it. A lot of strange things happen in the well and compound. He visits the “other side” when he goes down in the well and he receives communication from Kumiko by way of online chatting. Some of the characters who played prominent roles in book two come back and there is a large chunk of the book dedicated to the Manchurian Incident.

Things happen and discoveries are made. It was quite a book and I was worried when I got down to the last 45 pages that I’d be left hanging, but I did feel there was a resolution of sorts. Not one with perfectly tied bows but I did feel satisfied with how it ended. I still have a lot of questions though.

Murakami has admitted in the past that he never knows how a story will end when he begins to write it. Based on interviews, this was particularly true with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Do you feel that this technique added something to the story? Or do you feel that it had the opposite effect?

As I was reading, I enjoyed the “wild ride” and was often surprised at where Murakami’s mind took us. When I finished the book though, I spent an entire week trying to piece it together to make sense of what took place. It’s not an impossible story to piece together because in my mind. There are clues from the past that help you makes sense of the stuff going on, but there must have been about five possible outcomes and I don’t think any of them are wrong.

When I finished, I immediately wrote-up what I thought had happened and then shared it with a few others who I knew were done with the book and they came back with other possibilities that I had not considered. After spending a week trying to come-up with the one outcome that Murakami wanted us to take-away as readers, I’ve decided that since he didn’t know how it was going to end himself, that the outcomes mentioned are clearly up to us as readers.

I know this drives some people nuts because so many of you want a firm resolution to sit back on, but this is not the case with this book and I am 100% okay with it. I felt that it came together enough to give me the satisfaction I needed as a reader and the meandering nature of the plot, set my imagination on high. I’m not sure this meandering technique works with all of his books, but I do feel that it worked with this one.

What do YOU feel happened to Kumiko?

There are a lot of theories floating around about Kumiko’s disappearance and I’ll mention a couple that came to mind:

  • That she was always there, but transparent. I got the impression at one point that Kumiko’s self-worth was lost after she became a prostitute for her brother. Another blogger questioned this saying that she was never a prostitute but the reason why I thought this, was because of her mention of “many men” and we know Noboru’s history with Creta so I thought that this was how he was controlling her. The transparency thing was something I considered when Toru mentions that someone is always there, but not visible. In my mind, she turned within herself and vanished only to be seen in this other place on the other side of the well wall. 
  • Another thing I considered, is that physically she was holed-up somewhere, but that she visited Toru in the form of Creta. Creta had the same body type and often reminded Toru of Kumiko. Later, when Creta’s baby is discussed, another blogger and I could not help but think that this “baby” was the baby that Kumiko aborted early in the marriage.

Crazy, huh? I had a lot of fun coming up with possibilities. Especially when I realized that no theory is really wrong, considering Murakami had no idea where he was going with the story when he wrote it.

Who was the guy without a face?

In the final hotel scene, Toru gets some assistance from a man without a face. I took this to mean that his face was not visible to Toru (for whatever reason). Many ideas ran through my mind. At first, I thought it was Ushikawa, the loser guy that was a messenger for Noboru. Then, I thought it was Toru from the other side. What I’ve settled on, is that it was Cinnamon. That Cinnamon took the bat from the well and put it in that hotel room for Toru to use later. This also fits if you think about Cinnamon leaving the computer accessible so that Toru could read the Chronicles if he chose to do so. It’s as if Nutmeg and Cinnamon were hired to help him out. I sort of liked this idea so that is what I am sticking to.

What do you think?

What part did you least enjoy in book three?

I really, really did not like the bits about World War II. I didn’t mind the mining camp too much but when it went back to discuss the 2nd massacre and we got to know Boris the Manskinner a little bit more, I really had to  focus as I was tempted to skim. However, now that I am done with the book, I think if any true answers are to be found that they are to be found in those sections.

Your turn! What’s your final verdict?

Did you enjoy the experience? If this was your first experience with Murakami’s writing, will you be reading his other books at some point? Or have you decided he’s not for you?

Finally, Thank you!

Thank you for reading along with me. I know many of you went outside of your comfort zone to join me and I appreciate it! It’s been fun and I will miss the interaction. I spent the last week going through withdrawals but I think I’m good now!

And the mysterious black/blue mark that I reported having last week seems to be fading. This is my final update post but I may write-up a short review that includes all of the updates posts and a little bit more. Other than that, we are done!

Blue Black Mark - Wind-Up

If you missed the read-along but are intrigued but what you’ve seen here, follow the conversation on Twitter! (#winditup2013)

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