On Murakami

Grant Snider

I’ve just finished my third Murakami novel, and am going through the usual analysis, interpretation, re-imagination that usually happens whenever I read his books. It’s a strange process, and I won’t pretend to know how to write book reviews, or be an expert on literary matters, but instead will use the words of others to frame my own thoughts about it. But first, an introduction.

My first book was Kafka on the Shore, a book I hold responsible for Jazz, my 5-year old adopted cat. My roommate and I only later realized that we probably chose the only black, green-eyed cat at the adoption center because we had been primed by our books’ covers (my roommate was coincidentally reading the book in Swedish at the same time). I remember being conflicted by the book and forever questioning what was real vs. imaginary, and constantly trying to understand how the characters and stories connect to each other. The only reason I finished was my attempt to find some sort of resolution to the increasing number of questions, mysteries and puzzles the book posed.

My second book, Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was recommended by a friend who absolutely loves Murakami and was trying to show me that there’s an even better side to Murakami’s writing. And he was indeed right. The second book offered much more in terms of story-telling, surrealism and had the unfortunate effect of converting me into one of those devout Murakami fans who spent time anticipating his next novels and searching for his obscure musical references in an attempt to enrich their reading experiences.

And that brings us to my latest reading of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. There’s no correct way to describe it. Here are some thoughts on it:

“I absolutely adored the book upon starting out. It is exquisitely crafted, with each seemingly casual word chosen to illustrate the world into which we have entered. It is a lonely world full of half finished stories, abrupt departures, missed connections and deep silences. “Poor Mr. Wind-Up Bird,” lives on an alley with no exits, in a borrowed life that he could never afford to live without the kindness of his uncle. He’s just quit his job, as he has no idea of where to go with his life, but is dissatisfied with its current course. He lives with a wife that he never seems to really speak to, in a routine existence in which she is often late or absent, or spends her time repressing everything she chooses to say to him. Murakami meticulously illustrates this quietly painful existence in all of Mr. Wind-Up Bird’s movements, whether it is missed phone calls, a wasted dinner, or a frozen statue of a bird never able to take flight. This sort of language kept me going throughout the book even when I lost my patience with other things.” (Kelly, Goodreads)

“Parts of ”The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” have the bluntness of Hemingway, and the characters frequently speak to each other in noirish riddles. Yet the novel’s biggest debt is to Kafka, whose influence may have filtered down to Murakami by way of Kobo Abe, Murakami’s great category-smashing predecessor. The pervasive atmosphere of alienation in Murakami’s work bears a much closer affinity to the waking dreams of the German Jew in Prague than it does to the belligerent angst of the American Gen-Xers. And a resonant Kafkaesque chord is struck by another interpolated story, about a young boy whose identity is snatched by a doppelganger who steals into his bed at night. The next morning, ”the room seemed unchanged. It had the same desk, the same bureau, the same closet, the same floor lamp. The hands of the clock pointed to 6:20. But the boy knew something was strange. It might all look the same, but this was not the same place where he had gone to sleep the previous night. The air, the light, the sounds, the smells, were all just a little bit different from before. Other people might not notice, but the boy knew.”” (Jamie James, The New York Times)

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a metaphysical roller coaster ride that involves both Toru’s search for his estranged wife and his battle with his polar opposite, an evil brother-in-law named Noboru Wataya. This is signature Haruki Murakami – a delicate balance of mystery, surrealism and erotic departure delivered through an increasingly complex structure comprising dreams, letters, magazine articles, and wartime reminisces. The novel proceeds with the arrival and departure of so many mysterious characters and subplots, it becomes unlikely that the author will ever tie the ever-increasing threads into a cohesive unit. And ultimately, he doesn’t.” (Mark Flanagan, About.com)

During the four years of writing The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I was living in the U.S. as a stranger. That “strangeness” was always following me like a shadow and it did the same to the protagonist of the novel. Come to think of it, if I wrote it in Japan, it might have become a very different book.

My strangeness while living in the U.S. differed from the strangeness I feel while in Japan. It was more obvious and direct in the U.S. and that gave me a much clearer recognition of myself. The process of writing this novel was a process similar to making myself naked, in a way.” (Haruki Murakami, interviewed by John Wray for The Paris Review)

For me, it was a fascinating book. I particularly liked the intertwined stories by the book’s secondary characters that seemed to add depth to the main story, and raise questions about humanity, faith, and identity. However, the book will not be appealing to everyone. Reading Murakami is different than reading any other works of fiction, and you sometimes need to let go of needing things to be logical, of story lines to be finished, and simply lose yourself in the flow of the story, trusting that all the elements will somehow fall into place at some point.


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