The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Title: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Author: Haruki Murakami
Published: 1997
Number of pages: 607
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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. (Murakami’s site)

When I close the pages of a Murakami novel, I feel that I have to sit quietly for a while. A long while. The pieces of the story that he’s told me float through my conscious, and my subconscious; some of them make sense. Some of them will need time to coalesce into one cohesive whole. Perhaps it’s too early to write a review…

On one hand, the story is very simple: Toru Okada has lost his job, his cat, and within the first 150 pages of the book, his wife, Kumiko. During the course of his search for the missing cat, he encounters an array of unusual people and experiences. First, there is May Kasahara, a teenage girl who exchanges many conversations with Toru as he searches for his cat in her yard; Malta Kano who was hired by Toru’s wife to help find their cat; her sister Creta Malta who is described as a “prostitute of the mind”; Kumiko’s uncle, Noboru Wataya, a politician who is abhorred by Toru. There is also Lt. Mamiya whose experiences in the war seem to mirror those of Toru. These two characters have endured much pain and suffering although not in identical circumstances. Finally, we meet Nutmeg Akasaka and her son, Cinnamon, who run a strange business behind closed doors which I never did completely figure out.

But, what about the bird? I haven’t mentioned the wind-up bird, and that, afterall, is from where the title originates. Surely the wind-up bird must be important. That is where I want to dwell while I’m waiting for the other pieces to fall into place.

The wind-up bird becomes Toru Okada’s nickname. When he’s talking one day with May, she asks him if he has a nickname.

I couldn’t recall ever having had a nickname. Never once in my life. Why was that? “No nickname,” I said…

“Gee,” she said, “Think of something.”

“Wind-up bird,” I said.

“Wind-up bird?” she asked, looking at me with her mouth open. “What is that?”

“The bird that winds the spring,” I said. “Every morning. In the tree tops. It winds the world’s spring. Creeeak.” (p. 62)

This is how we’re introduced to the idea that our hero is the Wind-Up Bird. And the whole book is his chronicle. The chronicle that tells, in part, the chaos of the world.

It was a narrow world, a world that was standing still. But the narrower it became, and the more it betook of stillness, the more this world that enveloped me seemed to overflow with things and people that could only be called strange. They had been there all the while, it seemed, waiting in the shadows for me to stop moving. And every time the wind-up bird came to my yard to wind its spring, the world descended more deeply into chaos. (p. 125)

Not only is Toru subject to chaos, he also suffers life as an empty shell.

I close my eyes and separate from this flesh of mine, with its filthy tennis shoes, its weird goggles, its clumsy erection. Separating from the flesh is not so difficult. It can put me far more at ease, allow me to cast off the discomfort I feel. I am a weed-choked garden, a flightless stone bird, a dry well.” (p. 368)

This sentiment is echoed by other characters in the novel, particularly Lt. Mamiya.

To tell you the truth, I have no idea what this long, strange story of mine will mean to you, Mr. Okada. Perhaps it is nothing more than an old man’s mutterings. But I wanted to-I had to-tell you my story. As you can see from having read my letter, I have lived my life in total defeat. I have lost I am lost. I am qualified for nothing. Through the power of the curse, I love no one and am loved by no one. A walking shell, I will simply disappear into darkness. Having managed at long last, however, to pass my story on to you, Mr. Okada, I will be able to disappear with some small degree of contentment.

May the life you lead be a good one, a life free of regrets. (p. 564)

I’m left to puzzle over the disappearance of Kumikyo, Toru’s wife, for whom he’ll wait. I’m left to ponder the correlation between Toru and Lieutenant Mamiya. I’m left to presume that all of us, to some degree, are wind-up birds: actually able to control very little in our lives.

While Kafka On the Shore is my favorite so far, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle will share a special place in my heart. Because, of course, it is written by the brilliant Murakami.
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45 thoughts on “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

  1. Oh, great review! I was debating getting Kafka On the Shore at Open Books yesterday, but I had heard more about Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, so I decided to let it go and wait a while to see if the other book by him came in. Now I know- I should just get that one 🙂

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  2. Kafka on the Shore is the only Murakami I've read, but The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is next on my list. It's nice to hear so many good things about it. Makes me even more excited!

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  3. A wonderful review, indeed.I have two puzzlements. One is the ambiguity about the bird. It seems, from what Okada says, that the "wind up bird" is the one in control – that it is the one who winds the world's spring each morning. Rather than seeing each of us as wind-up birds, it seems fruitful to ask, "Who is winding the spring of our world?"And then there is the cat. Was the cat found? What was its name? If it wasn't found, how was its absence dealt with? And most important – what was the relation between the cat and the bird?Cats are notoriously uncontrollable, after all!Obviously, these are mostly rhetorical questions. This is a book I'm going to need to read. Thanks for an enticing introduction.

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  4. Oh, beautiful review, Bellezza! So well done, and so…right. I can see it again: the alley, the tree, the wind-up bird and Toru talking with the girl. Now to ponder it again. Which means reading it again. Sigh…That's why this is so wonderful. Thank you.Have I mentioned that I love the new look? I love the new look!

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  5. Nice review! Probably the first review I've read that throws any light on this book, which says something about Murakami. He is an enigma I think. I have both this book and Kafka on the Shore to read for your challenge, but I haven't gotten to them yet. I need to get right on this!

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  6. I read this a couple of years ago but it's been chosen for my book group in January and I think it requires a reread; there is so much subtlety in Murakami's writing that I've forgot most of its nuances. It was my first of his novels and I've read a few more since there and was considering reading Kafka on the Shore after my reread of Wind-up.

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  7. This was my first exposure to Murakami and I loved it too. It was big, bold and so different to the other novels I had been reading at the time. My favourite is Norwegian Wood, but this comes a close second together with Kafka on the Shore.

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  8. Isn't it funny how the next novel you pick up after finishing a Murakami seems absurdly trite? That's what I'm experiencing now, anyway. I've not read Norwegian Wood, yet, but I hope to complete it before the JLC3 ends.

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  9. JoAnn, I think the choice of After Dark is a great one to begin reading Murakami. It's short, and not too confusing. Although I wouldn't assume it's perfpectly clear, either. 😉 The only work I've read of Banana's is Kitchen so I need to pick up more of hers.

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  10. claire, I wonder if I don't need to reread all of Murakami's work once I've first read it. I'd like to be able to think I can grasp it all in the first read, but I think that would be just kidding myself. There's so much he says, in so many layers, that for me rereading is a necessity. I'll be interested to see your thoughts if you read it again in January. (I love, love, love Kafka on The Shore.)

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  11. Sandy, I had to laugh when I was looking up a few sites about Wind-Up Bird, and Wikipedia doesn't even begin to attempt to tell you what it's about. They merely give a list of characters; what a riot, if an online encyclopedia veers away from a summary. Needless to say, I would agree that he is an enigma. Although not a completely elusive one.I realize you didn't like A Wrinkle In Time, and I said you should join in the read-along Kailana is hosting, but I meant that if you read more of the quartet you might gain an appreciation for L'Engle's series. On the other hand, it may not be your cup of tea at all. 😉

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  12. ds. I'm so glad that you can see it again!!! I'm so glad you knew of what I was trying to speak about. Thanks for "loving" the new look…I was looking for something better suited to Winter, and I think I really like this template.

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  13. Shoreacres, as usual, you give me pause to think. Hmmmm, now I'm even more baffled about the bird because it's true, he says it winds the world…but, ultimately, I saw it as a machine caught in events rather than doing the winding. (Indeed, who is winding the spring of our world? That is a huge question, and I choose to believe it's God, not that I understand all of His ways, either.)The cat was indeed found, and Toru changed it's name from the evil brother-in-law (who names a cat after an evil brother-in-law?) to Mackerel. Quite innocuous, that last name. Perhaps it's because the issues with the brother-in-law have been resolved to some degree. But, when you talk about the relationship between the cat and the wind-up bird that opened a whole new thought in my mind. Cats typically chase birds, right?, or at least dominate over them. And in many ways, Kumiko (the cat) dominates Torus (self proclaimed wind-up bird). Fascinating, your questions, and you haven't even read the book.I'd love it if you would, because you are so very insightful.

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  14. Bermuda, there's one month left in the Japanese Literature Challenge 3. You could read one if you wanted, which I'd love if you felt so inclined. It's such a mind-opening genre, at least to me.

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  15. Love your review here Bellezza! It's interesting, especially after reading your thoughts on this book, how I managed to completely miss mentioning the wind-up bird in my own post! There are so many questions left over after the book ends. Like, where exactly is Room 208? How does the well connect to that room, or that 'other world', for that matter? And why did water suddenly come gushing back?What I found interesting as well, was that when Cinnamon and Nutmeg appeared, Malta and Creta Kano seemed to have disappeared from the story. Could they have been 'related' somehow? Or mere coincidence?I'm really looking forward to Tanabata's read-along now. There will be some interesting and insightful comments and conversations, I reckon!PS: New look for a new year? It's great. =)

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  16. Thanks, Susan. I didn't like the garish red and green ornaments as much as the peaceful baby Jesus, and I'm so happy WordPress offers the snow option! 😉 I hope you do pick up a Murakami. He's my favorite author of late.

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  17. I could only skim this because of my strong desire to read this one day. The fact that you are a fan and rated this so highly assures me that I have one fantastic reading experience ahead of me one day. I certainly understand the sitting and thinking part. There are some books that just do that to you when you are finished, the experience is so precious or powerful or what have you that you don't want to rush into the next book, you just want to bask in the glow of the one you just finished.

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  18. There are so many questions after the end! I have no idea where Room 208 is, but I suspect the well is a time portal kind of thing, connecting him to Lt. Murakami to whom he may have provided some healing, or comfort. I think the water came suddenly gushing back because as everyone was healing, becoming fulfilled, there was no reason for the well to be dry any more. Empty well equals empty shell of a person? That's what I think.Cinnamon and Nutmeg leave me totally confused. Did you ever figure out what their business was? It seemed something sexual to me, but I'm a bit unclear on the women coming to the fitting room, and exactly why she was licking the blue-black mark on Toru's face…bizarre.I ended up thinking that Malta (I think it was her) was really Kumiko in disguise. I also think that Kumiko's brother abused her in some terrible mental way, and that's why she had to leave and seek revenge. I hope she'll return to Toru someday.I read a review that Toru was a completely useless person, but I didn't see him that way. I saw him as accepting his circumstances to some degree, but also fighting for what he wanted: the return of his wife.Thanks for enjoying the new look. For the New Year.

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  19. Great review. I just experienced Murakami. I finished "After Dark" in the beginning of the month and now am on "Kafka on the Shore" and wow am I super excited about starting this one. He is like the Japanese Coelho.

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  20. This is the next book group choice for January in the group I am in. I loved Kafka on the Shore so am very excited about reading this book over the New Year, I should make more of an effort to read more of his work.

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  21. Savdigereads, which book group is that? Is it a private one, or an online one? I'd be so interested in hearing any reflections or thoughts you'd care to share after reading it, before I lose the threads of the story. 😉

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  22. Me too… that's funny isn't it 🙂 I'm really looking forward to re-reading this and a brilliant review Bellezza. You're spot on about how you kind of have to sit for a while and contemplate Murakami's writing afterwards.

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  23. I'm so glad you liked it. The Wind-Up Bird is my favorite Murakami along with Norwegian Wood. I loved the book so much it's the book I lend most to people. I have TWO battered copies that have exchanged hands so many times! I was in a state of wonder the whole way through reading. (Okay the third part wasn't as amazing as the first two, but still 🙂

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  24. I too had many questions after I read the book. I was lucky to have a friend to discuss it with, since he was the one recommended it to me. Then I lent the book to some more friends so I could discuss it with them lol. I don't remember much of the questions now as there were too many of them (did I write them on my review?). But I remember pondering about the boy watching some men digging at the front of his house. Who are the boy and the men? What were the men doing? Admittedly I was a bit dissatisfied over some loose ends.

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  25. Ooooh, look what you did to your background! I like! I just stopped by to thank you for the link, Bellezza. I've printed that out to take to the vet, since Miss Spooky and I have to go in twice a week. Thanks for the laughs!

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  26. Dolce Bellezza: thanks for letting me know about your review. I haven't finished the book as our library has only one copy in the entire system and it's out! And, i have yet to go back to the bookstore and either continue reading it there or buy it! I suspect I might have to buy it as the bookstore will be too busy these days for me to sit and read it in installments! Besides, i may want to send my copy later on to my son!

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  27. A battered copy is a well loved copy! I must read Norwegian Wood. That will be my next Murakami, as I work my way through everything he's written. Eventually.

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  28. If I were you I'd begin with something 'manageable', although lots of people said they started with Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka On The Shore. I would suggest picking up After Dark, or a collection of his short stories such as Blind Willow, Sleeping Women. But, the thing I wish I'd known before reading Murakami is that you have to suspend your disbelief. He has a lot of magical thinking, a lot of 'riddles' if you will, and I wouldn't expect to understand it all right away. If you do, fill me in!

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  29. Our library is deplorable with its collection of Murakami as well. I wonder if we even have one copy of Wind-Up Bird in our town. I've purchased all my Murakami novels used off of eBay, and it was worth every penny because now I own them even if they're not in perfect condition. I wouldn't like reading it in installments because I'd lose the thread of the story, but that's just me, and your son my very well cherish your copy if you buy one. Seriously, check out eBay. Or, Amazon.com used books.

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  30. I agree that his writing is so multi-layered that to fully appreciate his subtleties and complexities rereads are indeed necessities.Novel Insights, Savidge Reads and I all attend the same book group (Riverside Readers) and information can be found on Simon's blog; we will all review Wind-up Bird once we've discussed it in person.

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  31. I won't read your review till I finish it! 😀 But you have got me addicted to Murakami! Haha thank you so much for your wonderful challenge!

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  32. Alex, I wanted to reply on your beautiful blog and I couldn't find where to do that (only something about 'email this'? Anyway, I loved your review of Kafka on The Shore (what a great drawing to accompany it!) and I couldn't agree with you more about how the more one discusses it the more one tends to lose the mood. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I'm so glad that you're enjoying Murakami as I do. Blessings, Bellezza

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  33. Bellezza: The reason i haven't finished this book as yet is that it requires so much time and thought, to get the most out of it. I'll finish it slowly, when there is time to really concentrate! I have enjouyed the first 4 chapters and am curious about the rest of the book, especially about his WWI thoughts! This book is so complex, it really is a treasure.

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