The Murakami Project: Each week leading up to October 25th, the on-sale date of Haruki Murakami’s long-awaited 1Q84 in its English translation, a different BookPerson will review one of Murakami’s previous titles. Folks who haven’t read Murakami yet can familiarize themselves with what the book world will be buzzing about come October (and maybe discover a new favorite book), and established fans can remember why they fell in love with him in the first place.
Book: The Wind Up-Bird Chronicle
Ever had a nightmare in which your teeth are falling out? The Greeks would have said that someone close to you will soon become sick and possibly die. The Chinese would say that you’ve been keeping secrets or telling lies. How about a dream in which you’re drowning? Some would argue that you’re feeling overwhelmed by life and others that you’re feeling sexually repressed. The idea here is that this is about that.
To understand Haruki Murakami’s work, you must grasp the fact that this is about that. This is never more true than in the case of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This is a book in which a man is trapped in a well only to (maybe) pass through its walls. It’s a book in which a boy watches his father (maybe) climb a tree with superhuman speed and agility and then abruptly stops speaking. It’s a book in which a cat disappears (the cat definitely disappears). And there are a couple of dreams about sex. Unless that wasn’t a dream.
But it’s also a book about people divided. A country in crisis over its own past, a couple in crisis over a failing marriage, a man in crisis over his conflicted self. It’s just that the only way to properly communicate the crisis these folks are facing is to create a world that is a sort of dream and sort of nightmare.
As a result, Wind-Up Bird Chronicle can feel disjointed and confused. Murakami’s brilliance is revealed in the fact that this confusion only piques our interest instead of diminishing it. What would simply be a fruitless and frustrating exercise in the hands of a lesser author is an exciting and frightening experience instead.
Because, here’s the thing; what if you were keeping a secret and then your teeth actually started falling out? What if you were feeling overwhelmed by life but, more specifically, by the fact that you were literally drowning? If Wind-Up Bird Chronicle were simply an allegory it would feel overwrought. This isn’t a story about a guy who can’t address the problems in his failing marriage. This is a story about a guy who cannot address the problems in his failing marriage because he is stuck in a well and CANNOT FIND HIS CAT!! You see this is about that.
I wish I could capture what a weird and wonderful book this is. I can’t. Words fail me. In his review of Wild Sheep Chase, Brian Contine referred to Murakami’s work as “breech babies” and that is apt. They get all twisted and turned around inside, but it doesn’t make their births any less miraculous. Perhaps it makes them even more so.