Tuesday, August 25, 2009

235. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

July 2009
History: This book was published in 1997.
Plot: Make-believe and reality are fluid concepts in the universe of Haruki Murakami, and as as Toru Okada tries on the worldviews of his different friends, peculiar things begin to happen to him.
Toru Okada has left his job as a “gofer” in a law firm, and instead of studying to pass the bar, he settles into a routine of housekeeping, doing laundry, buying groceries, cooking dinner and waiting for his wife Kumiko to come home from her work as editor of a health food magazine. Also listening to the cries of the curious bird which gives the volume its title. The family cat disappears, and Toru's wife insists that Toru should spend his time wisely by looking for it. While searching near a neighbor's land, he meets May, a precocious sixteen year-old, who says what she likes and likes what she says, and who regards her visitor as something of an interesting specimen, who might be his best ally or his most dangerous adversary—it’s hard to tell. She calls him Mr Wind-Up Bird. She is a high-school dropout obsessed with death.
In the first pages we are introduced to a strange woman caller, who doesn’t identify herself but urges Toru to participate in phone sex. He hangs up on her. But Kumiko is also calling, and tells him to meet with someone who will help with getting the cat back. This is Malta Kano, who is a mystic and medium. She gives him advice but, clouded as it is in a typical Murakami fog, her guidance is far from straightforward. She introduces him to her sister, Creta Kano, who is a psychic prostitute. Creta visits him in his dreams as well as in reality, and has cerebral- or brain-sex with him, many pages before indulging, as it were, in the real thing. Creta reveals to Toru that while she was a prostitute, paying off loans, she was raped by his wife's brother, who is a powerful politician whom Toru has always detested. A strange old soldier, Lieutenant Mamiya, literally comes to his door to share a long, disturbing story about his activities in Outer Mongolia during the 1930s. This involves being thrown into a well and left for dead. The well is also a huge hinge in the story.
The other, even more central male character in this novel is Toru’s brother-in-law Noboru Wataya. As the book evolves, this disagreeable figure becomes poised as the antithesis and adversary of Okada. If Toru is indecisive and passive, Wataya is driven and
power-hungry. If Toru is a failure in the eyes of the world, Wataya is a prodigious success. He has parlayed his notoriety as an author into fame as a media pundit, and now politics looms as his next arena of dominance. He is a symbol of the leaders of Japan during WWII.
Then Kumiko, Toru's wife, also disappears, much to the delight of the politician character, who detests Toru right back again. Because the reader has already seen some of the telltale signs of her adultery (the long hours at work, the unreliability of her phone calls, the gifts of perfume), it is all the more heartbreaking when Toru learns that she has left him for a man who is better in bed. Needless to say, he does not take the news very well; Toru lowers himself to the bottom of a well, the better, in the dark, to get in touch with his true feelings and to introspect. Then May takes away the ladder that will lead him back up to his freedom and leaves him there, hungry and thirsty, for three days...
While he's down there, he has a bizarre experience, which might or might not be another dream: he passes through the subterranean stone wall into a dark hotel room, where a woman seduces him. This experience leaves a blue-black mark on his cheek that gives him miraculous healing powers. Eventually, he's rescued by Creta Kano, who reveals to him that she has been defiled in some hideous, unnatural way by Toru's brother-in-law, a politician whose rising career appears to be propelled by demonic powers.
Toru spends months wandering the streets, remembering Kumiko, her abortion a couple of years ago and the night he spent in a club afterwards, her stories of her childhood, the death of her sister, and her brother. As he is sitting in a subway station one day, he meets a woman who calls herself Nutmeg. She is also a mystic and medium, and runs a mother-and-son partnership that occupies a haunted house and operates a healing parlour for rich women under the guise of a chic boutique. The land that has the well is purchased, because that land has connection with the supernatural. Somehow, the author doesn’t go into much detail, the blue mark on Torus face is healing for women, when they suck on it… I don’t know. But he does work for them for several months, also spending a lot of time in the well. Her son, Cinnamon, is mute, but has powers, with use of the computer, to get Toru back in touch with Kumiko. By use of the computer, Toru and Kumiko communicate, and Toru is able to connect her story with his experiences. Kumiko has been under her brothers power, who defiles women as control, which he did to her sister and also to her numerous times. Not only sexually, but mentally as well. It began when Toru lost his job, and eventually Kumiko left and her brother took total control of her. Toru eventually connects with her again, by going down the well again and going through the wall. He ends up in a pitch black room, with her there and they discuss it, he ends up totally solving the problem. However, someone comes in, and Toru uses the baseball bat (another symbol) to smash his head in. He runs away, comes back to the well, but wakes up to find the well filling with water. Cinnamon rescues him, and he recovers to find the blue mark has disappeared. He receives an email from Kumiko that she plans to kill her brother, and stand trial. At the end of the book, she is on trial but the outcome looks good. He has traveled to see Mae, who is working in a factory up in the mountains making wigs. He says goodbye, and rides the train home.
Review: I felt this book to be a wonderful relief from most nonfiction and makes most novels look boring. The book is unpredictable as anything, and no matter how far off the story goes, it always comes together and connects at the end of every chapter. I didn’t love the violence, but I think Murakamis writing goes all over the place, explores every nook and cranny of existence that violence is just a part of the novel, just like sex, psychics, and even materialism. He describes clothing, food, décor to detail. He goes into long paragraphs of tidying up, preparing food, getting dressed.
Opening Line: “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.”
Closing Line: “In a place far away from anyone or anywhere, I drifted off for a moment”.
Quotes: “I don’t know how to put it, but it’s kind of like by not hiking about myself I can get closer to the core of myself.”
“When someone gets on my nerves, the first thing I do is transfer the object of my unpleasant feelings to another domain, one having no connection with me. Then I tell myself, Fine, I’m feeling bed, but I’ve put the source of those feelings into another zone, away from here, where I can examine it and deal with it later in my own good time. In other words, I put a freeze on my emotion. Later, when I thaw them out to perform the examination, I do occasionally find my emotion still in a distressed state, but that is rare. The passage of time will usually extract the venom from most things and render them harmless.”
Rating: Superb.

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