Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

The more I think about this book the more I liked it. It had a confusing and overcomplicated plot, but the style and imagery was captivating and I found myself in a state of eager anticipation each time I picked it up. Toru Okada is the main character and the story opens with him receiving a crank call. In short order we find he has recently quit his job, his wife leaves him, and his cat has vanished. These losses set Toru on three separate quests: to find his identity, to find his wife, and to find his cat. The crank calls act as both conscience and oracle and quickly escalate, arriving not only via telephone but through his dreams and even in person in a fashion. With a few other odd characters Toru starts down a series of vignettes that are increasingly strange and entirely unpredictable. Along the way we take huge tangents that don’t really advance the plot, but they are so entertaining that my usual complaint about poor editing doesn’t come close to applying. I found the ending a bit abrupt with too many unanswered questions, but oddly satisfying.

Originally written in Japanese, the images painted with words are both vivid and surreal. The translation by Jay Rubin is amazing; with only one exception (a passage where the speaker drops into English to make a point) there was no stilted or off-kilter phrasing indicating that English wasn’t the originating language. Three random quotes I particularly liked:
    “If the Dalai Lama were on his deathbed and the jazz musician Eric Dolphy were to try to explain to him the importance of choosing one’s engine oil in accordance with changes in the sound of the base clarinet, that exchange might have been a touch more worthwhile and effective than my conversations with Noboru Wataya.”
    “"Oh well, never mind," she said, her voice like a little broom sweeping off the dust that had piled up on the slats of a venetian blind.”
    “It was fairly nice music, but the kind that seems to melt into the air the moment it emerges from its source.”

First Sentence:
When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.

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