Friday, June 12, 2009

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

I've been meaning to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Japanese author Haruki Murakami for quite some time, but its length (just over 600 pages) kept me back. I am so glad I finally decided to read it - this is a fascinating book, and it is an impressive showcase of Murakami's skill and imagination.

The protagonist is Toru Okada, 30-ish Tokyo resident with few ambitions, a pretty and successful wife, and a cat who's gone missing. Until Kumiko, his wife, decides to consult a rather odd psychic regarding the cat's disappearance, his days are spent cleaning the house, grocery shopping and cooking their meals, doing the laundry, and trying to decide what next to do with his life. From that point on, however, Okada spends his time searching for the missing cat, and later for his wife, when he's not mulling things over in the bottom of the dry well behind an abandoned house or hanging out with a death-obsessed teenager.

In addition to Malta Kano, the psychic, Okada encounters a whole host of interesting and bizarre allies and antagonists: Malta's sister Creta who also possesses unique mental abilities, an elderly war veteran whose wartime experiences oddly forshadow Okada's own, wealthy Nutmeg Akasaka and her non-verbal son Cinnamon, and Okada's charismatic (and evil) brother-in-law.

Chronicle is incredibly ambitious, and the narrative is captivating. Murakami blends the realms of dreams and reality, the present and the past, and the pages fly. Characters drift in and out of Okada's life, generally without explanation, but somehow it all fits together. If there is a criticism to be made, it is that the ending does leave some strings dangling. With a plot as thick and entangled as this, however, that is hardly unexpected. This isn't the kind of book you expect to tie up neatly in a bow. But it is the kind of book that will take you on a very enjoyable ride.

Up next: To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

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