I decided my first introduction to Haruki Murakami would be The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The book sat on my shelf for months because I never felt ready enough to open it up. However, if I’ve learned anything after finally picking up this book, it’s that no one can ever be ready for Murakami, so stop procrastinating and just do it.
Toru Okada’s cat is missing. Since he’s unemployed and has so much time on his hands, Toru’s wife, Kumiko, urges him to locate their pet. As he begins to look around the neighborhood, strange individuals begin to infiltrate the story. His daily life is turned upside down by increasingly odd interactions and soon Toru discovers that Kumiko has also gone missing. Toru must rely on the cast of characters to guide him through a chronicle of an average man in not-so-average situations so that he can find Kumiko and bring her home.
Murakami is an incredible storyteller. His writing is descriptive and all-consuming; demanding your full attention. The journey he takes Toru through is somehow both rooted in reality and in the abstract. There was no chance I could have anticipated the story’s direction. It was a wild, weird ride, and I’m a little disoriented but absolutely in awe of his writing.
Toru is a fascinating character. I have never read about someone who is so unfazed by the fantastical, disturbing, and heartbreaking situations unfolding around him. Toru is leveled and approaches each interaction with a gentle acceptance. No matter what level of wild Murakami reached in character interactions, Toru nodded along and moved forward. It was surreal, like an out-of-body reading experience. I would hover over a scene horrified by one of Lieutenant Mamiya’s stories, yet Toru would sit quietly, letting the horror wash over and through him like it was nothing. Toru’s detachment was a balm to the chaos unfolding around him, and I enjoyed it very much.
After finishing this story I asked myself, “What was the purpose?” It’s been many weeks, and I still don’t have an answer. But I’ve been sitting with a different question lately: does a story have to have a purpose? Now I’m not so sure. Even though I struggled to grasp the book’s ultimate goal, I was absolutely captivated by Murakami’s tale. From Toru’s daily goings to May Kasahara’s morbid rants to the descriptive war tales from Lieutenant Mamiya, Murakami had my undivided attention. I was content following Toru as he goes from one strange encounter to the next. His main goal is to locate his missing cat, but the story gets so much bigger and stranger to the point where it was hard to remember its humble beginnings. The book does have a resolution, of sorts, but did every acid trip encounter reveal its true purpose? Not exactly, and I’m okay with that.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle challenged my expectations and made me grow as a reader. I ignored my initial reactions to fight the story and let myself loosen up and go where Murakami took me. That was definitely the right approach to this mesmerizing story, and I’m glad I got over myself enough to enjoy it.
Rating: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – 8.0/10