Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another?
We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone” – Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
How I discovered the book:
It was just by chance that I came across this book. I had been searching for Japanese authors out of curiosity when I came upon Haruki Murakami, who is considered to be Japan’s best contemporary writer. His book, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is considered to be his magnum opus (just a fancy word meaning his greatest work). This book took me nearly three months to read.
Toru Okada does not know where his life is headed. After quitting his job at a law firm his life has come to an absolute standstill. He spends his long empty days cooking spaghetti while listening to classical music. Then one day, unexpectedly, Toru Okada’s cat vanishes and cannot be found.This seemingly mundane event triggers a motion of bizarre scenarios leading Toru Okada to lose his beloved wife and encounter an array of strange characters ; from a teenage girl who spends her days counting the number of bald heads at an intersection, a war veteran haunted by his days in the Japanese army, and a psychic medium who can enter another’s subconscious. Will Toru Okada’s life ever return to normal?
About the Book
Title: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Jay Rubin
Series: The original Japanese version of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is separated into three books: The Thieving Magpie, Bird as Prophet, and The Birdcatcher. The translated English version is only one book with a few omitted chapters.
Year Published: 1994
Genres: fiction, mystery, adult, war, Japan, magical realism, fantasy
If you are looking for a book with a clear-cut plotline and a conclusion that will resolve all the confusion you will experience while reading this novel, this is not the book for you. It is a long and winding narrative with so many twists and turns that will leave you wondering “What kind of book is this anyway!” With that said, there is something very attractive about a book that follows an atypical structure.
The story is sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic, sometimes violent, sometimes mysterious and introspective. It is not a story like The Fault in Our Stars whose goal to try to make us stop an think and appreciate the life we have. Murakami provides no direction, no sense of a theme or underlying moral. There is only a man searching for his cat. While on this seemingly futile mission, Toru Okada happens upon characters whose stories parallel his own life’s journey. These mini narratives are occasionally filled with unbearably violent scenes that expose the worst measures of human cruelty.
At first, I had my doubts whether I would be able to read this novel without getting utterly bored. When a novel is translated (the original language of this book is Japanese), there could be elements lost from the original translation. When a translator adapts a book, they are seeing the author’s words through their own lens. This ends up distancing the reader from the author’s words, which could be disastrous. It is almost like a game of telephone. The author is on the left, the translator is in the middle, and the reader is on the right. The author writes the book, the translator translates the book (i.e: the message), and the reader has to understand what the author wishes to say through the translator. Thankfully, this book has been well-translated. Jay Rubin, the translator of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the official translator of most of Murakami’s novels. This gave me confidence to read the book because Rubin collaborates with Murakami during the translation process. Not to mention that Murakami can read English and has said that he has no qualms with the English translation.(1)
If there is one thing that can be taken away from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, it would be that life is full of coincidences, there are always events of the past that will have an effect on life in the present. As people come in contact with others, their histories will naturally intersect with each other. The past, although seemingly far away in the distance, will continue to haunt the lives of those living in the present.
Final grade: A (Excellent!)