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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicleby Haruki Murakami
Synopses & Reviews
Haruki Murakami is generally considered the greatest Japanese writer of his generation, but at times he seems more in tune with the culture of the West than of his native country. Throughout his work, the food, music, movies, and literature references will generally be familiar to western readers. When one of his characters makes dinner, it is just as likely spaghetti as sushi; when they read a novel it is probably Hemingway or Salinger; when one of his characters puts on an album it is British or American pop (he even named a novel after a Beatles song). This preoccupation with the cultural trappings of the West makes Murakami highly accessible to westerner readers, and accounts, in part, for his tremendous popularity here.
But he is even more successful in Japan (his elegiac Norwegian Wood sold an astounding four million copies). Perhaps Murakami is so popular with the Japanese in part because his characters seek their cultural anchors abroad. A central theme in Murakami's work is the feeling among many Japanese that they have lost the clear sense of self, the firm identity, they had before the war. And nowhere in his impressive body of work has he explored this experience more deeply, or expressed it more powerfully, than in his most ambitious work to date, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
The story begins with the disappearance of Toru Okada's wife's cat, which is immediately followed by the disappearance of the wife, herself. Mild-mannered Toru sets out to find out where they went and why. He discovers much more than he bargained for: a precocious teenager, a pair of psychic sisters, a haunted veteran of Japan's war in Manchuria, a perfectly corrupt politician, and a strangely appealing well in a neighbor's yard. In his quest, Toru only succeeds in raising more perplexing questions, but his discoveries do shed startling light on the roots of the Japanese malaise. Surreal, insightful, quirky, and surprisingly affecting, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle has further proved Murakami's status as a world-class writer. C. P. Farley, Powells.com
Japan's most highly regarded novelist now vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel, which is at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II.
In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan's forgotten campaign in Manchuria.
Gripping, prophetic, suffused with comedy and menace, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a tour de force equal in scope to the masterpieces of Mishima and Pynchon.
"Not merely a big book from the broadly respected Murakami, but a major work bringing signature themes of alienation, dislocation, and nameless fears through the saga of a gentle man forced to trade the familiar for the utterly unknown....On a canvas stretched from Manchuria to Malta, and with sound effects from strange birdcalls to sleigh bells in cyberspace, this is a fully mature, engrossing tale of individual and national destinies entwined. It will be hard to surpass." Kirkus Reviews
"A stunning work of art...that bears no comparisons." New York Observer
"Magnificent....[Murakami] has taken a pre-millennial swing for the fences a la David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo." Newsweek
"Just what kind of book is it? That's the befuddling part. Plot summary is nearly useless....This overwhelming tidal wave of story washes over Toru Okada, who absorbs each new revelation implacably, hoping but usually failing to make sense of it. Murakami is utterly at ease with multiple subjects, genres, and styles surrealism, deadpan comedy, military history, detective fiction, love story. His canvas is as broad as twentieth-century Japan, his brush strokes imbued with the lines and colors of American pop culture. Oddly, it all holds together on the stoic shoulders of Toru Okada and his single-minded determination to reclaim the woman he loves no matter how absurd the world around her becomes. In the scary but never boring vastness of this novel, it's nice to find one buoy on the horizon we recognize." Booklist
"The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a wildly ambitious book that not only recapitulates the themes, motifs, and preoccupations of [Murakami's] earlier work, but also aspires to invest that material with weighty mythic and historical significance. But...he is only intermittently successful. Wind-Up Bird has some powerful scenes of antic comedy and some shattering scenes of historical power, but such moments do not add up to a satisfying, fully fashioned novel. In trying to depict a fragmented, chaotic, and ultimately unknowable world, Murakami has written a fragmentary and chaotic book....Wind-Up Bird often seems so messy that its refusal of closure feels less like an artistic choice than simple laziness, a reluctance on the part of the author to run his manuscript through the typewriter (or computer) one last time." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"[A] big, ambitious book clearly intended to establish Murakami as a major figure in world literature....The new book almost self-consciously deals with a wide spectrum of heavy subjects....[It] marks a significant advance in Murakami's art....Murakami has written a bold and generous book, and one that would have lost a great deal by being tidied up." Jamie James, The New York Times Book Review
"Dreamlike and compelling....Murakami is a genius." Chicago Tribune
"This very long journey is much less magical than simply strained. There are detours into the history of Japan's occupation of Manchuria and accounts of Japanese prisoners' lives in Siberian coal mines. Though interesting in parts, taken as a whole, this latest from Murakami labors diligently toward some larger message but fails in the attempt." Library Journal
"Murakami's most ambitious work to date....Ingeniously, Murakami links history to a detective story that uses a mannered realism and metaphysical speculation to catapult the narrator into the surreal place where mysteries are solved and evil is confronted." Publishers Weekly
"Murakami is that unusual creature, a metaphysical novelist with a warm, down-to-earth voice and a knack for creating credible characters and spinning a lively yarn....From the beginning, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has the easy authority of the work of a natural-born storyteller, and each eccentric character and odd development only adds to the anticipation that Murakami will tie it all up in a satisfying resolution....The first 600 pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle offer much unadulterated reading pleasure, and it's only as the remaining pages grow ominously sparse that the proverbial sinking feeling sets in....Murakami can't, in the end, gather all his novel's intriguing subplots and mysterious minor characters together convincingly, and he summarily drops whole handfuls of loose ends. Like the mark in a brilliant con game, I closed The Wind-up Bird Chronicle feeling somewhat bereft, but still so dazzled by Murakami's skill that I couldn't quite regret having come along for the ride." Laura Miller, Salon.com
"Murakami lets the narrative lines, so carefully laid, snap; you're suspended midair, your tender attentions scattered to the winds.... Murakami's story ran away with him. Too little too late, his impulse to tidy resolution testifies more to his discomfort with an expanded canvas than to his plug-and-socket skills." Lakshmi Gopalkrishnan, Slate
"Whether his target is Japan or the world, Mr. Murakami's work sums up a bad century and envisions an uncertain future....The novel is a deliberately confusing, illogical image of a confusing, illogical world. It is not easy reading, but it is never less than absorbing." Phoebe-Lou Adams, The Atlantic Monthly
About the Author
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. The most recent of his many honors is the Yomiuri Literary Prize, whose previous recipients include Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe, and Kobo Abe. He is the author of the novels Dance, Dance, Dance; Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World; A Wild Sheep Chase; South of the Border, West of the Sun; and Sputnik Sweetheart; of The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of stories; and of Underground, a work of non-fiction. His work has been translated into 14 languages.
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