To say that The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an epic novel wouldn’t be an overstatement. Stories within story, plots within plot, heady concoction of surrealism and dreams, stretching over a time period that encompasses World War II and Japan’s military exploits, and deep exploration of the dark recesses of the human psyche –all these elements combine to make it a fascinating and intoxicating read. Haruki Murakami – Japan’s most famous novelist – packs so much in one book that it looks formidably like a tome but don’t get daunted by its thickness. It’s such an easy read – translated into English from the original Japanese – that you don’t feel at all the intrusion of language in the story that unfolds but at the same time it’s deep and reflective and this is where you need to be careful – the simplicity of the language can be deceptive. Murakami spins his yarn and carves an intricate plot that’s guaranteed to submerge you in it.
It is the story of a young man named Toru who is bored with his mundane life and struggling to save a disintegrating marriage until their cat goes missing. He gets an anonymous phone call and there the story leaps off. Toru finds out that his seemingly mundane life is veiled in the opacity of secretiveness and things are not what they seem to be. His life spins out of control and he feels as if a seemingly implacable power is at the helm of his life. The missing cat triggers a chain of events and soon his wife Kumiko goes missing too for unexplained reasons. He embarks on an epic journey to bring back his wife and more so to return the normalcy and sanity to his life shattered by the whirlwind of bizarre events. Like a river meandering along hills and valleys, unaware and uncertain of the obstacles which may come in its way and obstruct its flow but fully certain of its goal - which it has to reach - Toru’s life hobbles forwards from one journey to the other in a maze of mysteries and bizarreness, in search of his wife Kumiko. In the course, he not only learns more about Kumiko and the people around him, meet an aging war veteran permanently scarred by the hideous things he witnessed during military exploits of Japan, a shady politician who is the embodiment of evil, a psychic woman whose life is equally bizarre and complicated and whose father bears an uncanny resemblance to Toru but also about himself, the unexplored attic of his mind and the deep, dark secrets hidden beneath the veneer of ordinariness.
The novel is on the darker side and explores evil and good, human psyche, fatalism and Japan’s obsession with psychic powers and western culture. Murakami’s knack of exploring the ominous and menacing signs in the innocuous, mundane events in life is dizzying. Tension grips, plots give way and secrets are laid bare as the story lurches towards the climax which is a bit disappointing and also depressing because Murakami poses more questions than he answers, creates more puzzles than he solves and builds more mysteries than he reveals but then this is Murakami’s forte. This is the kind of novel Murakami writes where the reader cannot remain impassive and detached. He compels the reader to do introspection and reflect over their own life and seek the answers. The novel is contemplative, historical and deeply reflective. If you love dark novels with huge dollops of reality, if you want to explore yourself and go on soul-searching then this is the book for you. Go for it.
(This book is reviewed by Ajay Kumar. Ajay, is pursuing engineering and is in the fourth year at IIT, Kharagpur .He blogs at http://ajaykgp.wordpress.com)