Toru Okada’s cat, named after his brother-in-law Nomuro Wataya, has disappeared and this has unsettled his wife, Kumiko, who is growing more distant every day. Then there are the increasingly explicit telephone calls he started to receive. Okada’s suburban’s life – spent cooking, reading, listening to music, doing the laundry and running the errands – are turned inside out, as he embarks on a bizarre journey, guided by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.
Some of these characters are:
May Kasahara – is teenager who is taking leave from school to recuperate from her motor accident, where her boyfriend is killed. With nothing much to do, she look out of the window and notice movement at the back alley of her house, where Toru Okada walk past in search of his cat. May has a fetish with bald men and wigs, hence for the later part of her acquaintances with Toru she worked in a factory in a village making wigs, at the same time writing hundreds of letters to Toru. May is the one who gave Toru his nickname “Mr. Wind-up Bird.”
Malta Kano and Creta Kano are sisters. Malta is a clairvoyant and a water expert specialises in studying water. Creta Kano is the woman that appeared in Toru’s “fantasy” besides another woman who made explicit calls and remain hidden in the dark. Creta has a tragic life, enduring pain, and eventually defilement by Noburo Wataya.
Mr. Honda is an occultist who performs prediction and Counselling for both Toru and Kumiko. He prophesised warning on the danger of water, advised Toru’s against coming close to water.
Lieutenant Mamiya met Toru to fulfill Mr. Honda’s request to leave Toru a gift after his death. While Lieutenant Mamiya sat through long hours (and a another long letter) narrating his life story, and near death experiences in the dessert and labour camp, haunted with the evil Boris, the man skinner.
Nutmeg and Cinnamon Aksana – Nutmeg a fashion designer, and son, Cinnamon Aksana, runs a healing practice for rich middle aged women. Nutmeg told a story of her father’s life as the vet in the Hsin-Ching Zoo, when animals had to be massacred to save resources and bullets to fight the Russians. Cinnamon experienced a horrendous shock in his childhood which made him stopped talking after that. Cinnamon is also an IT whiz and introduced Toru to first taste of online chatting by connecting two computers (we are talking about the days before internet and online social networking). He is also responsible for the wind-up bird chronicle in which he kept files of other people’s life stories in his computer.
Wind-up for suspense? Yes. Maybe my thinking is too linear, by 500 pages on, I am not any closer in solving the puzzle. Wind-up for disappointment? Very much so. If you read a 607 thickster and you would expect the ending to be really, really good and then you found such a Bluh! ending.
I have mixed feeling about this book. This is my second Marukami book. With my first, The Hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world every illusions and extraordinary phenomenon are explained and justified, therefore I’m convinced. But in this book, strange phenomenon crops up for mere fun of it, why is there a blue mark in his cheeks? Why do you need to reflect at the bottom of the well? How does Okada acquire healing powers? Where did the cat go for the entire year? What happened to the hundreds of May Kasahara’s letters if it’s not received by Okada? What happened… (I think I better stop, else I’ll be receiving tons of hate mails from Murakami’s fan!) The characters and their stories are just there, individual stories of the characters that show up in his life that has got nothing to do with the crux of the story or issue.
If there is any consolation, I haven’t given up with Murakami yet, for the next Murakami book I’ll probably read Norwegian Wood.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is published in 1994 / 1995.. This novel fuses his realistic and fantastic tendencies, and contains elements of physical violence. It is also more socially conscious than his previous work, dealing in part with the difficult topic of war crimes in Manchuria (manchukuo). It won him the Yomiuri Prize, awarded to him by one of his harshest former critics, Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994.
Verdict : 3/5
What I like most about the book: The narrative style, the moral message that prevails, the metaphor used for people who try to live a normal life albeit horrific past, of the mind trying to escape from the reality to the other-world, is superb.
What I like least about the book: The ending. It’s too long. I didn’t like the detailed descriptions of physical violence and sexual innuendos, I thought it is unnecessary.