Published October 1997 by Knopf Publishing Group
Source: paid to download this one to my Nook
Ti of Book Chatter has been raving about Haruki Murakami as long as I've been following her blog (years now). Recently
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.
I'd like to tell you that at the end of over 600 pages, I at least had a concrete idea of what I thought happened even if it had not been what Murakami had in mind. I'm not sure even Murakami knows what happened. As Ti has pointed out, Murakami has admitted that he never knows where a story will end when he begins it. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, he seems to have developed several roads he could take his story down and leaves it up to the reader to figure out how each of them plays into the meaning of the book.
I'm left with as many questions...no, more questions...than answers a week after finishing the book. Here's the strange thing. I'm okay with that. What happens in the well? How do the two different well scenarios tie together? What, exactly, happened to Kumiko, Toru's wife? Why does Murakami insert the war stories into the novel? What's real and what is fantasy?
I'm somewhat settled on an explanation that there are dual realities, certain characters being present in both present times with the ability to move back and forth between them. At the same time, I believe there's a time twist to this as well, allowing certain characters to embody the evil from different times and places, for example.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is that Murakami is able to make his readers care about a protagonist who is mired in ennui, intentionally unemployed and blind to what is going on in his marriage. Well, that and the fact that I really, really liked this book even if I had no idea what was going on a good deal of the time and had to skim some really awful war scenes.
Thanks, Ti, for pulling me way out of my comfort zone and hosting a readalong that really got people thinking and talking!