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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

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THIS THREAD WILL OPEN ON



1st NOVEMBER

 

IT IS ASSUMED YOU HAVE READ THIS BOOK BEFORE READING THIS THREAD, THEREFORE SPOILER TAGS MAY NOT HAVE BEEN USED IN ORDER TO FASCILITATE EASIER AND MORE OPEN DISCUSSION

 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murukami

 

Synopsis:

 

Toru Okada's cat has gone missing. It is this, very mundane event, in a very mundane life, in a mundane part of suburban Tokyo, that leads on to a series of increasingly bizarre but interlinked events which never fully crystalise. Multiple themes re-emerge, from exploration of the subconscious, to the rarely spoken of (in Japan) atrocities of World War II.

 

Frankly, it's almost impossible to make any sense in a one para synposis, so I'll stop now.

 

--

 

Some basis questions to start discussion off, then, beyond the general:

 

What did you think of Toru Okada? Did his passivity, and acceptance, bother you?

 

Are you content or frustrated by the way the book concludes, leaving so many loose ends and so much to your own imagination?

 

What is your opinion of the interplay between the mystical/magical, and the mundane, in this book?

 

 

--

 

Other Works by Haruki Murukami published in English



Pinball, 1973

Hear The Wind Sing

Norwegian Wood

Hard Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World

A Wild Sheep Chase

Dance Dance Dance

The Elephant Vanishes

South Of The Border, West Of The Sun

Underground

Sputnik Sweetheart

After The Quake

Kafka On The Shore

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

After Dark

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

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Well, I've managed to order this one from an alternative source, so it'll hopefully be with me within the week and I can start reading it and joining in with the discussions!

 

Andy, you're something of a Murukami fan, aren't you? Have you read very many of his books? And is this one very typical of his style? (I'm rather dying to get into this one!).

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I have read two books by Haruki Murakami before this one. "Norwegian Wood" and "Sputnik Sweetheart". This is a lot longer, maybe even a bit too long. On the other hand, it twists and turns and tells many different stories, so it doesn't get boring.

 

Toru Okada: I really loved one thing about him, he was willing to quit a job that didn't feel right to him, even if he hadn't figured out an alternative. Sometimes you need to be passive, and have a break to think things over. I think sometimes passivity and acceptance are a sign of strength, not weakness.

 

I'm usually frustrated by loose ends, but I guess I was expecting it in this book.

 

I'm always a bit disturbed by the role sex plays in Murakami's books. In my world, sex is something private and intimate, certainly not something I would do with someone I didn't love, and certainly something I wouldn't NOT do with someone I did love. In Murakami's books, it seems it's always more complicated than that.

 

These were some thoughts I had.

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Kell - yes, I've read a fair few Murakami's, and I'd say this is pretty indicative of his style, representative. It's very long, though, compared to most of his novels.

 

Sara - the sex thing in Murakami is very peculiar, because it's always open, but it's also always described in a very functional and cold way, very similar to the way he describes cooking pasta, I think. That cold and functional thing I find very interesting, because he is deliberately using sex as a tool in the book to represent something else - often the emotional (or just practical) linkage between people, rather than as erotica.

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I have read most of Haruki Murakami's novels and 'The Wind Up Bird Chronicle' is my favourite. :)

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I've read this one and Norwegian Wood. Prefered this one. I was worried that it would be too long but it actually ended up feeling a bit open ended, like there could have been more. I didn't really mind that, I wasted to know if 'Mrs Wind-Up Bird' came back but I kind of liked that it was left to the reader to decide for themselves.

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I've read this one and Kafa on the Shore and like Lucybird, preferred this one. It was long but there were some scenes that were riviting ....not to mention graphic. As for the loose ends ....I found I wasn't overly frustrated. I guess I had expected that from Murakami.

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I don't know really, I guess found it more involving, I was always wondering at all the mysteries and strange occurances in it, I enjoyed Norweigen Wood but I didn't find I was as compelled to read it.

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My copy arrived today and I read the first chapter in the bath tonight (I'm going out or I would have read more). So far it seems totally random with the missing cat and the phonecall and the girl in the garden!

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Gyre, Lucy, Nova - as this is your favourite of the Murakami's that you've read, what is it about the book that appeals to you?

 

In what way is it your favourite?

 

Its a number of things for me Andy, the main one being how all the characters are connected in so way, apart from May Kasahara to Noboru Wataya and I liked how the story progressed you found out why.

 

Lieutenant Mamiya's letters and conversations were interesting, a lot of insights into Japanese history.

 

Toru is a flawed character in so many ways but there is a potential in him.

Edited by Kell
Spoiler tags removed - not required in this thread

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(You don't need to use the spoiler tags on this thread, Gyre; the assumption is that everyone's already read the book)

 

Anyway, I agree very much with what you say. I love the way the lieutenant Mamiya stuff works with the rest of the book, but also the way that the Japanese history in World War II resonates throughout the book, particularly given the way that a lot of Japan tries to bury some elements of this part of their history. I'll probably come back to that history stuff later in the month, but I really think it's very important.

 

Also interesting is that it all takes place pre-1939, which is when us westerners think the war started. I've often heard people from the far east referring to the 1933-45 war.

 

Given the way that the book interplays lots of western behaviour (drink beer, make spaghetti, music is all 60s jazz and western classical) with eastern elements (hints of shinto and buddhist mysticism - although I don't know enough about these to pinpoint where they link to the mystical/fantastical elements of the book, the Japanese and Mongolian/Manchurian locations, the divining and fortune-telling, and so on), it seems to me that Murakami is deliberately making a point about how it's not just Japanese understanding and recollection of the war is flawed and informed by local ideas; but also that Western understanding is flawed, or at least informed, by our own experience, that we conveniently ignore the wars between Japan, China and the Soviets for the first 6 years.

 

Which is, incidentally, what us Europeans often complain about when Americans sometimes describe the war as really starting with Pearl Harbour...

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So, some more thoughts of mine on the book.

 

First up, I think maybe more than other Murakami books, there's a strong narrative drive to it. As Kell mentions, lots of things seem to happen at random, but perhaps unlike something like After Dark, it coalesces more clearly, and things drive towards a potential goal, a potential conclusion. Even if that conclusion is never quite reached properly, I find it a more rewarding and engrossing read.

 

There's also something about the style of writing that I really, really like, although I don't know whether that's Murakami himself, or the translation. But the prose is all very simple, and almost crystal clear. And there are little digressions of observation - such as the way he always described the food, or always describes the ambient music, that fill out and pad atmosphere without swamping the novel with annoying adjectives.

 

Or for Toru Okada, I have huge sympathy for him, because I think I'm a similar character - if I don't want to do anything, I'm really inclined to just do nothing and let the world wash over me. I'm happy not talking to friends for ages. And I think I take weird events in my stride, generally. Although, obviously, not as weird as the weirdnesses in the book.

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Sorry about the spoilers, I forgot :tong:

 

Great insights Andy, I did think the war started after Pearl Harbour, its interesting to know that in fact it began in 1933 and is referred to as that. Haruki Murakami is very much a westernized lead author, throughout most of his books you see that with his music and book taste but at the same time never forgetting his roots.

 

He does explore a lot of history in 'The Wind Up Bird Chronicle' which I did find interesting, as brutal as his story was, I found Lieutenant Mamiya's story and his connection to Mr. Honda, and how it scarred them both very sad, as Mr Honda says, 'Dying is the only way to float free', it obivious I know but I felt that related to his experiences in the war.

 

I find reading it again how unaware Toru is of his wife, you, as the reader,you know she is unhappy, while Toru continues to do what he has done since leaving work, so as much as I like Toru, you want to shake him because he is so unaware, it does not occur to him that she might leave him, why would it? he feels that he and Kumiko have a solid marriage, they don't talk to each other.

 

I liked the fact that May's ears were mentioned, Haruki Murakami likes ears, in every book I have read by him, he mentions a girl's ears. :exc: and of course, their cat, with the unforgettable name of 'Noboru Wataya' (Toru's brother in law).

 

I like your insights on Toru Andy, very apt indeed :(

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And since posting yesterday, I've been reading about the Nomonham incident that Mr Honda talks about.

 

The history of it is fascinating, and it's stuff I really never knew anything of at all. But is actually all fundamental to how World War II panned out.

 

Firstly, it was squabbling over a very small border area. But the Mongolians, and therefore the Soviets, encroached slightly, and the Japanese fought back. The next thing, though, was that the Soviets reacted by effectively invading Manchukuo, and there was a substantial bit of war.

 

The important elements of this were

 

1 - The Japanese relied on manpower and the resolve of their soldiers; the Soviets were heavily mechanised and used that to defeat the Japanese. The Japanese didn't really learn the lesson from that, and as a result were ill-prepared to fight the US later in the war. Whereas the Soviets were much more capable late in the war.

 

2 - It was where Georgy Zhukov learned many skills and made his name. It was because of Nomonham that he had the tactics he used at Stalingrad.

 

3 - The treaty that was forced on the Japanese meant that they were forced to look south in their expansionism, which meant they focussed on the Pacific and South-East Asia, and therefore, it led directly to Pearl Harbour and the US involvement

 

4 - The treaty was signed in August 1939, which immediately liberated the Soviets to stop thinking about East Asia altogether and could move all their forces to the the west, and be involved in the invasion of Poland, so in many ways it was the trigger that started the war in Europe.

 

It's fascinating history, and stuff I knew nothing of before, and is in some ways as crucial to WWII as, say, Munich, Molotov-Ribbentrop, or Pearl Harbour. It was the key that forced almost all of WWII to proceed as it did.

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That Malta Kano seems a bit of an odd character. I can't understand why her sister wouldn't report that she'd been raped by Noboru Wataya though! Even if it would be a very public thing, having the culprit caught and punished, perhaps preventing a repeat with someone else, is surely more important?

 

Toru's wife seems a bit of a chore. Also, how can they have been married and living together for 6 years and know so little about each other's likes and dislikes? I mean, I can understand there being an occasional something that comes up and suddenloy you find out something new, but silly things like blue tissues, floral toilet paper and beef with green peppers are everyday things - how could Toru be so clueless about his own wife???

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That Malta Kano seems a bit of an odd character. I can't understand why her sister wouldn't report that she'd been raped by Noboru Wataya though! Even if it would be a very public thing, having the culprit caught and punished, perhaps preventing a repeat with someone else, is surely more important?

 

Toru's wife seems a bit of a chore. Also, how can they have been married and living together for 6 years and know so little about each other's likes and dislikes? I mean, I can understand there being an occasional something that comes up and suddenloy you find out something new, but silly things like blue tissues, floral toilet paper and beef with green peppers are everyday things - how could Toru be so clueless about his own wife???

 

The Kano sisters are very odd, I think the reason that Creta did not report Noboru Wataya because of his position, etc, which is not a good move, as Kell pointed out it would prevent him from doing it again. I always got the impression that Noboru Wataya got away with a lot of things, even within his own family, I also felt that Noboru Wataya would get his just desserts in some way, thanks to the Kano sisters.

 

I think Kumiko is a chore because Toru is so unaware and Kumiko has come from a household where various things have happened, and I feel that Kumiko hoped her marriage would save her so to speak, which is not really healthy because she is obiviously not happy and leaves Toru, nitpicking over floral toilet paper and green peppers is someone of an unhappy mind and Kumiko is unhappy, Toru does not see it as important but its important to Kumiko.

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I think there's also the element that Creta was a prostitute, maybe she thought nobody would believe that it had truly happened without her consent? But that she just didn't want it anymore once it had started, or that she was trying to get money out of having had such a famous 'client'.

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I think there's also the element that Creta was a prostitute, maybe she thought nobody would believe that it had truly happened without her consent? But that she just didn't want it anymore once it had started, or that she was trying to get money out of having had such a famous 'client'.

 

That's a good point Lucy :tong:

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I took Creta Kano's "rape" to be Noburu Wataya "taking" something from Creta sexually/sensually, rather than a literal rape, so it was impossible for Malta or Creta to report it.

 

As for Kumiko and Toru not knowing each other, I think that's a key part of the book - they're married but as Toru is such a passive, blank character, he's never tried to explore anything with Kumiko that she hasn't already told him.

 

But perhaps the blue toilet paper incident where suddenly he starts doing things she doesn't like - which he never knew about - is all part of the same stuff where the "flow" gets obstructed. Suddenly, from everything being very natural, everything breaks down and stops "working" in their relationship. It happens when the cat disappears, the wind-up bird appears, and so on.

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I don't know if it's the same in Japanese, but in English, to "wind someone up" is to ge them riled. To me, the wind up bird seems to be indicative of Kuniko and Toru being wound up by each other and their spiralling situation (from what little Ive read so far - I'm only onto about chapter 4).

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Malta says that her sister was 'defiled' and 'violently raped' by Noboru Wataya, so I would take that as an literal act, on some level the sisters know that Noboru Wataya would get away with it.

 

I agree with Andy that the flow has been obstructed but there is many aspects of the story relating to water, Mr Honda's experiences in Nomonhan with the lack of water, etc

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I'm with Andy on the rape, that it wasn't a literal rape but some other kind of "taking", something that was impossible to report.

 

Regarding the toilet paper/ green pepper, I thought it was the case that Kumiko had done most of the shopping and cooking up until Toru quit his job, and that Toru just hadn't paid any attention to these things before he began to cook and shop. Also that he hadn't paid a lot of attention to his wife, because things were just rolling along one day after another.

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And the way that Kumiko reacted to the toilet paper/peppers, is a sign of their marriage beginning to go to wrong, even though Toru has no clue :)

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So, a couple more questions for you:

 

(1) What do you think of the role of water in the book? Is there a direct link between the flow of Toru's life and the flow of water, or is it all, actually, metaphorical?

 

(2) (and this is really, just based on ideas of mine) Rather than the more obvious links to something like Alice in Wonderland and similar fantasy type books, do you also see a common thread with modern science fiction, Matrix-style or cyberpunk stuff, where, rather than using "technology" to get sucked into the computer matrix, the linkage is made through a form of eastern mysticism?

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