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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 1998
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Haruki Murakami is a master of subtly disturbing prose. Mundane events throb with menace, while the bizarre is accepted without comment. Meaning always seems to be just out of reach, for the reader as well as for the characters, yet one is drawn inexorably into a mystery that may have no solution. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an extended meditation on themes that appear throughout Murakami's earlier work. The tropes of popular culture, movies, music, detective stories, combine to create a work that explores both the surface and the hidden depths of Japanese society at the end of the 20th century.
If it were possible to isolate one theme in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, that theme would be responsibility. The atrocities committed by the Japanese army in China keep rising to the surface like a repressed memory, and Toru Okada himself is compelled by events to take responsibility for his actions and struggle with his essentially passive nature. If Toru is supposed to be a Japanese Everyman, steeped as he is in Western popular culture and ignorant of the secret history of his own nation, this novel paints a bleak picture. Like the winding up of the titular bird, Murakami slowly twists the gossamer threads of his story into something of considerable weight. --Simon Leake --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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But what the previous reviews do not mention is that the American publishers, Knopf, forced Murakami and his translator, Jay Rubin, to significantly abridge the original Japanese text. The casual reader would have no way of knowing this, and, indeed, I only noticed because I was reading alternating chapters of the book in English and Russian translations. Half-way through the novel, entire chapters suddenly started disappearing from the English-language text. Puzzled, I went back to the copyright page of the English-language edition, where, for the first time, I noticed the cryptic notation that the book was not only translated but also "adapted from the Japanese."
How much of the original text was "adapted" away? I don't read Japanese, but, based on a comparison with my Russian-language translation, which appears to be complete (no Russian publisher would commit such a travesty on an award-winning novel), it seems that something like 15-20% of the text has been cut. For those of you who find the English-language text of the "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" choppy, or puzzling, or seemingly incomplete, at least some of the blame lies at the feet of the American publishers who decided, unilaterally, that American readers cannot handle a long book.
Anyway, the upshot is that if you can comfortably do so, try to read the "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" in a non-English translation. Or, if you can't, demand that Jay Rubin's original and complete English-language translation be published.
Encountering The Wind-Up-Bird Chronicle is like encountering a delicate origami crane for the first time. From the very beginning, you wonder how it got in that shape. You wish to know the secret of its structure. To do so, you must work at it slowly and carefully, undoing each fold with the utmost care and caution in order to discover the pain-staking sequence that led to its beautifully complex and elegant shape. Reading The Wind-Up-Bird is like unfolding a bigger, more-complex crane -- so complex in fact that you might be confused when the entire thing is laid out in front of you, creases spanning the entire page. If you are like me, you might spend weeks or months trying to figure out how to put that crane back together.
Without giving too much away, allow me to share some of the things that engaged and enwrapped me:
* The possibility that every experience in our life contains deep and profound philosophical meaning.
* Discovering the mysterious nature of life and the vagaries of chance fate; realizing that the place we inhabit and the family we are born into are givens that guide us, not things we can ultimately choose.
* Questioning the extent to which we can fully understand other people -- from the man why walks by us in the street to the significant other who sleeps on the other side of our bed.
* Realizing the deep and intricate continuity between dreams and waking life. More to the point, discovering how the two realities affect each other and blend together in a seamless fabric called reality.
* The possibility that our most profound insights about life might only be found in the bottom of a dry well in a deep meditative, trance-like state.
* Finally, the book made realize that a story is quite possibly the best tool with which to convey historical reality. Sounds strange, I'm sure, but after doing a lot of deep research about Japan's involvement in Manchuria during WWII, Murakami is perhaps in the best possible position to give voice to what is often omitted from non-fiction historical texts, simply because history (which is almost infinite) is never fully uncovered or told by finite, fallible and imperfect historians.
Hmm, I suppose I should discuss names a bit too. All Japanese names have meaning as written in kanji. Tanaka means 'in the rice field'. Kobayashi means 'small forest'. O'Hara means 'big field'. It wasn't until the entrance of Mr. Ushikawa (bull river) that I remembered this and began to wonder how each character's name was written in the original Japanese version. Indeed, Mr. Ushikawa's speaks openly about the significance of his name at one point. As he says, he sort of grew to fit the name, instead of the name growing to fit him.
The main character's name is also significant, but more so when he comes to known as "Mr. Wind-Up-Bird." (I'll leave that one to you.) Mr. Wind-Up-Bird and Mr. Ushikawa made me realize that I might be missing some important context, so I decided to research every name that appears in the book. It wasn't hard for a man in my position. After buying a Japanese edition in Tokyo, I spent a good hour talking over the names with a kind English-sensei that just happened to be handy. From this, I was able to flesh out many hidden nuances. One of the character's names, a certain Noboru Wataya, turned out to be of critical significance.
Noboru Wataya's first name was written in katakana in the Japanese version, but any Japanese reader would know that "noboru" has two corresponding kanji: One means "to rise" and the other means "to climb." The kanji representing "to rise" has the further significance of pictographically representing a rising sun, and thus in Japan it is often referred to "taiyo noboru" -- taiyo meaning sun. Although written without a corresponding kanji, Noboru implies something moving up -- quite possibly sun itself, and thus the very symbol of the Japanese people.
The last name, Wataya, appears in kanji, and it simply means cotton valley. Not just any valley, though. It has the connotation of a hidden, secret or mystical valley. The image of shrouded Shangri-La comes to mind. While reading the book, it is important remember that Noboru Wataya might be rising or climbing something in both the literal and figurative sense of the term. Is he rising in the social ranks, or perhaps climbing the social ladder? Again, I'll leave that to you. Of particular note, though, is the fact that Wataya is not a common Japanese name. According to my source, it is extremely rare, if anybody of Japanese origin bears the name at all. All of this overlaps very with the myterious and unique character of Noboru Wataya himself, so I was glad to have gotten the scoop.
I will say no more about the book, because it is simply too complex to unravel in a review like this. If you want to know whether or not the book is for you, try reading into it for a good ten minutes. It is amazing how much you can get from ten short minutes if you really invest your attention. I hope you find this book as intoxicating and rewarding as I did. Feel free to write me and let me know either way. I'm good like that.
Evil, though, is a such a culturally grounded concept. Is evil sin? Maybe in monotheistic cultures, but I think in Murakami's novelistic universe--and this is a recurring feature of many discussions of Japanese religion, culture, and art--a more insightful way of comprehending evil is as "defilement," and this is the term Jay Rubin uses in his translation time and again. Defilement is what ties every character together: some inner filth that each character is trying to purge in some way. May Kasahara's idea of the physical manifestation of death as an oozy gray thing is the clearest picture we have of that unrelenting ghost that haunts everyone intersecting with Toru Okada's life. It is not regret or guilt. It is not emotional scarring. It is a sickening tangible object poisoning a person's life and threatening to overwhelm it. It must be washed off, or it will destroy whatever it comes in contact with.
Because defilement is such a defining feature of the work, it functions to create two broad sets of characters: the defilers and the defiled, where Kumiko's brother (Noboru Wataya) is the archetype of the defiler and Kumiko herself the archetype of the defiled. Confusion arises and the border between the two sets becomes blurred because the nature of defilement is to spread, and once Kumiko herself becomes defiled, she spreads that to those around her, principally to the central character, her husband Toru.
The third character type is found in Toru, whose beautiful quality is to absorb all the defilement, find a way to stop the spread of it, and then to wash it away, to expunge it in the final defeat of Noboru Wataya. Toru's beautiful quality is not easily won, though. The whole of "Wind-up Bird" tells of the immensely difficult quest for it, an encountering of many different faces of defiler and defiled, a repeated tasting of others' defilements, in order to learn the method of purification.
In a sense, then, "Wind-up Bird" is a classic love triangle, but it has been made archetypal: the defiled is fought over between the defiler and the purifier. Because of its reduction to the archetypal, all defiled characters are functionally the same, and all defilers are functionally the same. Malta Kano and Creta Kano, May Kasahara and Lieutenant Mamiya are all defiled; Noboru Wataya and the Russian intelligence officer, the woman on the phone and the man with the baseball bat are all defilers. Faces shift; functions remain the same. In every story, Toru is fighting for Kumiko, trying to wash out the defilement she is letting herself be destroyed by. In every story, Noboru Wataya is reaching out in every direction, to taint everything with his evil (defiling) intelligence.
Once the flimsy physical borders between these characters are down, the focus of the novel takes on a focused, white-hot intensity. It is almost as if the fire of it is so scorching that Murakami had to cloak it in an array of different facades. Also, by giving so many faces to the defiler and defiled, he insures that the reader will respond to one of them. One of the defilements will connect and lead to self-identification, and in this lies the great humanity of the novel, the thing that makes it so very intriguing for so many readers, the thing that makes it more than just a good yarn.
In the end, Toru is no closer to Kumiko. But he has fully become himself. He has merged with his unshakable purpose. Water flows unhindered in the long-dry well.